Cooperative vs. Individual Learning of Oral Skills in a CALL Environment ABSTRACT This study aims at finding out the extent to which two computer-mediated techniques are effective. They are particularly designed for teaching and learning oral skills, listening and speaking. The study also investigates students’ attitude towards implementing CALL approach and techniques of teaching and learning oral skills. Four small groups are involved using various techniques, cooperative computermediated technique, collective computer-mediated technique, cooperative traditional technique, and collective traditional technique. Based on a limited number of participants, findings of the study show that the cooperative computer-mediated technique is an effective method for learning and teaching oral skills. The survey conducted in the present study also indicates that students react positively to both CALL approach and the cooperative computer-mediated technique. The study recommends that CALL be integrated into oral curriculum. THE AUTHOR Ali Farhan AbuSeileek King Saud University, College of Arts, Dept. of English Language and Literature Dr. Ali Farhan Munify AbuSeileek is a Jordanian assistant professor working at the Dept. of English Language in the College of Arts at King Saud University. His major is TEFL / CALL. He has published relevant research works and designed several CALL programs for EFL learners. His major research interest is CALL and its application in ELT such as computer-based learning and testing, machine translation and CALL software. Correspondence: Current Address Kingdom of Saudi Arabia/ King Saud University/ College of Arts/ Department of English Language and Literature/ P.O. Box: 2456, Riyadh 11451. Telephone: (office) 0096614675437 (work) 0096614675429 Mobile: 00966551464049 Permanent Address: Jordan / Zarka / P.O.Box 7456 Tel. 00962 5 3654041 Email: email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org Cooperative vs. Individual Learning of Oral Skills in a CALL Environment ABSTRACT This study aims at finding out the extent to which two computer-mediated techniques are effective. They are particularly designed for teaching and learning oral skills, listening and speaking. The study also investigates students’ attitude towards implementing CALL approach and techniques of teaching and learning oral skills. Four small groups are involved using various techniques, cooperative computermediated technique, collective computer-mediated technique, cooperative traditional technique, and collective traditional technique. Based on a limited number of participants, findings of the study show that the cooperative computer-mediated technique is an effective method for learning and teaching oral skills. The survey conducted in the present study also indicates that students react positively to both CALL approach and the cooperative computer-mediated technique. The study recommends that CALL be integrated into oral curriculum. INTRODUCTION In the 1980s, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) was introduced on a limited scale because personal computers were scarce and CALL programs were still maturing. During the last two decades, however, things have changed: computers have become popular at both schools and homes. Learners receive training on how to use them, and the industry of English language programs flourish. Higgins (1995) reports that computers have become more and more popular for studying oral, listening and speaking, language skills. Warschauer (1996), Levy (1997), Crystal (2001), Na (2003) and Kedrowicz and Watanabe (2006) all point out that CALL is useful for improving the learner’s varied linguistic skills. Vick, Crosby and Ashworth (2000) also find that computer-mediated courses have a lot of potential as they provide opportunities for learning in a cooperative environment and enable learners to make synchronous and asynchronous communication between pairs and groups of different learners. The ultimate goal of learning language skills is to express “oneself effectively and appropriately during oral conversational exchange with native or expert speakers of a target language” (Payne and Ross, 2005: 35). CALL has many advantages in learning oral skills compared to traditional learning methods. Jeon-Ellis, Debski and Wigglesworth (2005) state that CALL-oriented projects have many advantages for teaching oral skills such as enabling students to benefit from the abilities of their peers when they interact around computers. Ewing (2000) quotes students as saying that they find opportunities in a CALL environment to develop the four basic language skills which are not equally available in a traditional L2 classroom. Not only can learners receive immediate relevant feedback on their errors from their peers and the system, but they are also allowed through CALL to work at their own pace. CALL is helpful in learning and teaching oral skills cooperatively. It provides learners with opportunities to use language interactively in authentic situations such as watching movies, listening to and chatting with native speakers. Mueller-Hartmann (2000) point out that CALL projects allow students to learn oral skills in authentic situations, develop and express their views, and establish cooperatively meaningful communication. Sierra (1999) notes that when students interact cooperatively in a CALL environment, the effectiveness of performing a language task increases, and the computer becomes an excellent tool for learning the skills of listening and speaking in the classroom environment. Mercer, Fernandez, Dawes, Wegerif, and Sams (2003) call for integrating computers into the teaching of oral skills, listening and speaking. Gu (2002) also argues that CALL-oriented classes in an EFL setting have provided students with opportunities to learn oral skills in authentic situations, which increases their levels of input and output, and enhances motivation, engagement, and willingness to learn collaboratively. Oral interaction around computers sets among learners is based on the use of cooperative -group or pair work- learning strategy where the computer stands for a tool of communication between concerned members. According to Tan, Gall, Jacobs and Lee (1999), cooperative learning is defined as a range of concepts and techniques used for enhancing the value of learner-learner interaction. They also confirm that cooperative learning develops the following six major aspects: achievement, liking for school, inter-ethnic relations, thinking skills, self-esteem, and enjoyment. Moreover, Phinney (1996) argues that cooperation and team effort should be the norm rather than the exception in learning. He adds that the product of teamwork is usually greater than what a single learner can produce. Schcolnik and Kol (1999) point out that teamwork skills in computerized instruction are essential for learning, and cooperative group learning should be the most commonly used technique in the teaching / learning of EFL skills. In the computer-mediated environment, learners can be taught based on two techniques: the collective computer-mediated communication technique (ColCMC) and the cooperative computer-mediated communication technique (CopCMC). In ColCMC, the computer is used as a tool for communication between the teacher and class. In other words, it is based on using the teacher to whole-class (collective) method of learning in a computer-mediated fashion. It does not include a student’s interaction with other classmates in groups or pairs; each student works on his own to receive the questions, listen to the text, think of the answer, and report it to the instructor. On the other hand, the CopCMC divides students into small groups or pairs to perform a task through using the computer as a means for communication between the pairs or members of the groups. The use of this technique in learning oral skills enables students to work at their own pace. In this study, students who are divided into cooperative groups are blinded about the identities of each other. Though they sit in the same classroom, they might hardly see or know each other. They sit in different places where they can chat. This would reduce their anxiety stemmed from face-to-face cooperative debate. NetSupport School, the system to be used in this study, enables the instructor to use the ‘electronic secret pals’ technique which includes assigning students without revealing their identities. They are given numbers instead of names to ensure anonymity. Some learners are shy, passive and afraid to speak (Hata, 2003), inhibited (Wallace, 1999), and reluctant to participate (Roed, 2003) in foreign language conventional classes. That is simply because they are worried in face-to-face cooperative debate. Bikowski and Kessler (2002) report that CMC is distinguished over conventional education by encouraging students to participate actively in communication. Moreover, NetSupport School enables students to request help electronically and individually from the instructor or other peers through sending oral or written messages. Thus, students would be less embarrassed to participate or ask because their identities are not disclosed. Using this technique would provide the learners the opportunity to interact in a non-threatening atmosphere. Pawling (1999, 166) states, “both the weaker and the more able pupils are required to complete tasks that are not appropriate for their ability which leads to frustration or boredom. Multimedia allowed for differentiation in that the pairs could work at their own pace” and motivated the shy students to be self-conscious and very keen to work in a non-threatening environment. In sum, oral interaction around computers has threefold benefits: it gives the group members a chance to make use of each other’s abilities and talents; learners will have the opportunity to have feedback through using the bulk of information available on the system. This kind of feedback is always available in a non-threatening atmosphere whenever the user wants it, and each learner can work on his own pace. CALL materials for learning oral skills have recently been developed to a great extent. EFL learners can use audio or visual programs that enable them to produce synchronous linguistic communication for learning oral skills in a cooperative way. For example, Gruba (2006) reports that the interactive computer programs provide activities for learning oral skills, as they help learners to interact in a communicative way. They include sound, graphics, video, and animation. Ayres (2002, 242) points out that “the combination of text, audio and video input make multimedia an excellent format for language learning materials and have led to the birth of an industry in computer-assisted learning (CAL)”. Tschirner (2001) also stresses that digital video materials for computers have added a further dimension to the use of CALL. They form an important part of the language learning process. This study is based on audio and visual materials initially designed to learn oral skills cooperatively. REFERENCES Anderson, A., Tolmie, A., Mcateer, E. and Demisne, A. (1993). Software style and interaction around the microcomputer. Computers and Education, 20 (3):235–250. Adair-Hauck, B., Willingahm-McLain, L., and Youngs, B. (1999). 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