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Review of The Routledge Handbook of Language Learning and Technology

Fiona Farr and Liam Murray
Malgorzata Kurek
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Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-415-83787-3
570 pages

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1. Overview of the book

1The Routledge Handbook of Language Learning and Technology is a volume in the "Routledge Handbook in Applied Linguistics" series which offers a collection of comprehensive guides on the issues considered central to contemporary applied linguistics. The current edition, co-edited by Fiona Farr and Liam Murray, offers an exhaustive overview of six important trends and directions in using computer technologies for language learning (Computer-Assisted Language Learning, CALL). These include: "Historical and conceptual contexts (I)", "Core issues (II)", "Interactive and collaborative technologies (III)", "Corpora and data-driven learning (IV)", "Gaming and language learning (V)" and, finally, "Purpose-designed language learning resources (VI)". This structure guides the reader through a wide range of CALL-related topics and helps the editors to address the diverse and ephemeral terrain of CALL in an orderly manner.

2Altogether, the publication offers 38 insightful contributions authored by leading CALL scholars and researchers. In order to make the volume accessible to various readerships including newcomers and undergraduate students with little or no expertise in CALL, the editors made admirable attempts to assure a consistent, reader-friendly structure of all contributions. Each of them offers either a historical overview or literature review as a lead-in section, followed by a very comprehensive clarification of current trends, concepts and developments. All key terms are clearly defined, explained, and well anchored in the related literature. Importantly, each of the chapters situates the issue under study within relevant theories, and highlights the links between research and practice. A majority of individual contributions conclude by suggesting future trends in a given field. Each of the suggested trends is contextualised. In addition, each chapter includes suggestions for further reading. These will be of great value to those readers who are interested in exploring a given issue in greater detail.

3Despite its overwhelming size, the volume is easy to navigate due to its clear structure and organization. It is composed of six discrete, yet interrelated parts.

2. Historical and conceptual contexts (Part 1)

4The first section of the handbook offers an overview of the major concepts and theoretical influences underpinning CALL. This serves as useful background to the subsequent chapters and sections. It begins with Chapter 1 by Deborah Healey, in which the author investigates the roles of teachers, learners and technology in CALL classrooms. In her contribution, she looks at CALL development from a geographical and temporal perspective. She also highlights the current trends in teacher education and predicts future directions in the field.

5Chapter 2 by Philip Hubbard and Mike Levy offers a discussion of the very concept of theory in CALL research, highlighting the dominant theoretical foundations for online teaching and learning and forecasting future directions. The authors explore interactionist, socio-cultural, and constructivist foundations of CALL and show how they can inform teachers' and instructural designers' design choices.

6The theories which underlie CALL research are further revisited by Francoise Blin in Chapter 3. Blin discusses all the major ecological theories, namely dynamic systems, ecological systems, and activity theory, followed by a very useful account of the theory of affordances. Each of these issues is illustrated with explanatory examples. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of challenges faced by CALL researchers planning to adopt an ecological perspective.

3. Core issues (Part II)

7After the presentation of theoretical underpinnings, Part II aims to provide a state-of the–art overview of all the issues which remain central to contemporary CALL. In Chapter 4, Greg Kessler addresses the evolution of technology standards in teacher preparation and discusses the growing expectations for teachers and teacher trainees to combine technological and pedagogical proficiency. He begins the chapter by providing an overview of currently valid standards before moving on to the overview of challenges of adopting them and the "moving-target" reality of technology use.

8In Chapter 5, Mirjam Hauck, Rebecca Galley and Sylvia Warnecke highlight the conditions which affect participation in online learning environments. They present the outcomes of their experience in the TESOL Electronic Village Online module: "Tutoring with Web 2.0 tools–Designing for Social Presence". Their findings provide new insights into the notion of online participation and suggest that instructors should take into account the aspects of learner identity, creative agency, and participatory literacy.

9Chapter 6 sees Gary Motteram offering a practical perspective on the process of developing digital resources, including courseware. The author commences the chapter with a valuable literature review on materials development and evaluation. He also offers an overview of a range of different software options that allow teachers to design effective and targeted materials.

10In Chapter 7, Mike Levy discusses technical and theoretical obstacles and challenges that CALL researchers have to face. He also offers guidance on how to approach CALL pitfalls and limitations. In doing so, Levy investigates several research studies which draw upon Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and which are set in the context of social media and language games.

11Chapter 8 by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockney reflects on the concept of digital literacy and its application in the language classroom. The authors begin with an exploration of the traditional understanding of the term before offering readers an expanded taxonomy which includes the awareness of social practices. Finally, they examine the implications that digital literacy has for language learning activities.

12Evaluation is a key issue of Chapter 9 by Catherine Caws and Trude Heift, who address the various stages of evaluation with respect to the pedagogical affordances of technologies and focus on its iterative nature. This is achieved by emphasising the relationships between the tools, the interactions, and the outcomes in relation to the learning task. Their analysis is built around two case studies.

13Chapter 10 authored by James Dean Brown touches upon the issues pertaining to technology-enhanced testing. An extensive literature overview is followed by the exploration of drawbacks and benefits of using computers for testing purposes. The chapter also forecasts future perspectives.

14In Chapter 11, Elisabeth Gee and Yoonhee N. Lee explore key theoretical perspectives on the role of age, gender and learner identities in CALL research and practice. After discussing theoretical approaches, the authors explore implications that learner variables have for technology-mediated language learning. The authors call for developing more dynamic conceptions of learner identity.

15Chapter 12 contributed by Robert Godwin-Jones highlights the cultural and intercultural aspects of language learning, tracing them back to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and showing how they have been incorporated into language learning. In his contribution, Godwin-Jones identifies the potential of online exchanges and ensuing computer-mediated communication for developing a deeper, intercultural perspective onto the culture under study.

16Effective strategies for technology use in varied contexts are central to Chapter 13 by Hyun Gyung Lee and Joy Egbert. In the initial part, the authors identify different types of technology-enhanced language learning contexts and the challenges they pose. Attention is given to the role of specific local educational contexts and the remedial role of technology in those local contexts where opportunities for teacher education remain scarce.

17Chapter 14 by Richard Kern and Dave Malinowski explores the issue of boundaries and limitations in technology-enhanced language learning. The authors begin with definitions and examples of such limitations, followed by a discussion of how they relate to various media and how relationships between them reflect various languages and cultures. Kern and Malinowski recognise teacher education as a strong launching pad for educational change. The chapter concludes with a prediction of the boundaries which are yet to emerge.

18Chapter 15 by Elizabeth Hanson-Smith encompasses a thorough discussion of the role of technology in supporting sustaining teachers' professional development. The author examines available online opportunities including MOOCs, professional associations, and available communities of practice. The final section discusses the role of standards in teacher education and sketches the prospects for its future.

19Sustainability in CALL development is the main focus of Chapter 16 by Francoise Blin, Juha Jalkanen and Peppi Talas. The authors define the concept of sustainability and provide a review of related literature. They also examine two models of sustainable CALL, namely the institutional model and the CALL ecosystem model. Finally, they propose a four-pillar systematic view of sustainable CALL.

4. Interactive and collaborative technologies for language learning (Part III)

20All seven chapters included in Part III address a vibrant spectrum of topics related to technology-enhanced interaction and collaboration. This part begins with Chapter 17, in which Francesca Helm and Sarah Guth guide the reader from a discussion of several theoretical frameworks for and models of telecollaboration to a practical consideration of challenges involved in planning and implementing it in higher education. The chapter concludes with suggestions for future normalisation of telecollaboration as a mainstream academic practice.

21Chapter 18 by Lara Lomicka and Gillian Lord provides a valuable overview of theoretical approaches which underpin the use of social community practices of blogging, sharing, and social networking in language education. The authors investigate current pedagogical practices and examine motivation and user profiles, development of socio-pragmatic competence, and identity issues as the primary contributions from research-based studies.

22In Chapter 19, Muriel Grosbois casts a closer look at computer-supported collaborative writing (CSCW). She explores individuality and collectivity as important dynamics involved in the teaching of writing and addresses implications that CSCW has for teacher education. The author urges CALL practitioners and researchers to reconsider the very nature of technology-mediated writing and the related concept of literacy.

23The use of Interactive Whiteboards (IWB) is a central theme of Chapter 20 by Euline Cutrim Schmidt. In her investigation of the potentials of IWB for language education, she draws on theories of SLA and the findings of prominent research studies. Importantly, the author revisits the competencies required of language teachers to use IWBs in compliance with current theories of language pedagogy.

24The focal point of Chapter 21 by Glenn Stockwell is mobile language learning. The author explores applicable theories and provides suggestions as to how mobile devices can be implemented in language education. He also outlines the key considerations emerging from related research and puts forward ideas about the future of mobile learning.

25Virtual worlds are brought to the fore in Chapter 22 by Mark Peterson. The author describes significant features of the major virtual worlds that have a history of being employed for language learning. He then takes a critical look at 14 learner-based studies, highlighting not only the positive but also negative findings. The chapter concludes with a discussion of a number of areas identified as promising for future investigation.

26The final chapter in this section traces the contours of the online and blended language learning landscape. Pete Sharma and Kevin Westbrook build Chapter 23 on theoretical underpinnings of both learning modes, and then offer a thorough overview of related practicalities.

5. Corpora and data-driven learning (Part IV)

27Part IV of the handbook evolves around the concept of using corpora and data-driven learning (DDL) in language education, with a strong emphasis put on pedagogy. It contains six insightful contributions addressing various aspects of language corpora. It begins with Chapter 24, in which Martin Warren highlights the key principles of DDL and addresses it as a form of self-directed learning. The chapter provides examples of classroom application of DDL followed by a critical analysis of its strengths and limitations.

28The learning potential of spoken corpora is investigated by Andrew Caines, Michael McCarthy and Anne O'Keeffe in Chapter 25. The authors outline key findings from research into spoken corpora and use a case study to investigate pedagogical implications of using spoken corpora for language learning.

29Written language corpora are, in turn, the focus of Chapter 26 by Angela Chambers. She highlights the benefits of using a written corpus, in particular a pedagogical one, in helping learners upgrade their writing skills. The author puts a strong emphasis on pedagogical solutions and points to the challenges of integrating corpora into the teaching of writing.

30The pedagogical approach to language corpora is a dominant theme of Chapter 27 by Fanny Meunier. She investigates language corpora as input for a range of learner resources such as grammar books, dictionaries, or automated annotation. She also points to the role of corpus input as a teacher training resource for non-native language teachers.

31Corpus types and uses are discussed in some detail by Brona Murphy and Elaine Riordan in Chapter 28. The chapter encompasses a thorough discussion of various types of language corpora and their pedagogical applications. The selection includes general, specialised, parallel, historical, and multimodal corpora. The authors conclude the chapter by discussing future directions predicted in the field.

32The issue of language corpora is further examined in Chapter 29 in which Randi Reppen offers an overview of tools, resources, and guidelines for constructing specialised written and oral language corpora, either for research or for teaching purposes.

6. Gaming and language learning (Part V)

33Part V of the handbook offers the reader a comprehensive overview of the position of gaming in language learning. In Chapter 30, Jonathon Reinhardt and Steve Thorne suggest approaching gaming through the "game as method" metaphor. In their discussion they examine several correspondences between game design and L2 design, namely goal-orientation, interaction or interactivity, feedback, context, and motivation. Finally, the authors examine digital games through the lens of L2 learning theories.

34In Chapter 31, Frederik Cornillie and Piet Desmet investigate the language learning potential of mini-games. They situate them within SLA theory and practice, and explore their utility in language learning and teaching.

35Pia Sundqvist explores digital games and young language learners. In Chapter 32 she addresses all the key issues related to gaming used in and outside of school, starting with a look back at the pioneering work on gaming and language learning, followed by a discussion of game genres, and finishing with an examination of the pedagogical implications of using games to teach young language learners.

7. Purpose designed language learning resources (Part VI)

36Part VI concerns a wide spectrum of topics related to resources designed with the purpose of enhancing the development of various language skills and components. In this regard, Li Li investigates the potentials of available technologies for addressing lexical and grammatical features of language learning. In Chapter 33, the author discusses the benefits of CALL in lexico-grammatical acquisition and, having presented the principles of integrating CALL tools in these language areas, reviews a collection of dedicated tools.

37The skills of reading and writing in a foreign language are the subject of Chapter 34 by Hsien-Chin Liou. The author provides theoretical underpinnings which serve as background to an overview of technologies applied to the teaching of reading and writing. Due attention is given to related challenges–namely interaction, feedback, and group dynamics.

38Chapter 35 by Una Clancy and Liam Murray addresses the role of CALL tools in the teaching of listening and speaking. First, the use of recorded audio in language learning is investigated through a historical lens, which is then replaced with a pedagogical one. Then, the authors explore a selection of technology tools designed for facilitating the development of oral and aural skills.

39The role of multimodality in CALL is the subject of Chapter 36 by Nicholas Guichon and Cathy Cohen. The authors clarify all the key concepts, investigate the potential of multimodality in language acquisition, and address the issues of cognitive overload and polyfocality of attention. The chapter also explores the issue of learners' multimodal competence and argues for teacher trainers to give greater consideration to the development of teachers' semio-pedagogical competence.

40Chapter 37 by Cornelia Tschichold and Mathias Schulze presents a thorough account of the main topics in Intelligent CALL. The authors introduce the reader to the field, discuss the provision of corrective feedback, and automated writing evaluation, lexical glosses and electronic dictionaries. They also outline the main considerations for the research and development of computational parsers and grammars.

41In the final chapter, Pierrette Bouillon, Cristana Cervini and Manny Rayner provide a detailed overview of technology-enhanced translation. They construct Chapter 38 around a case study based on the use of the multilingual web-enabled spoken translation game system CALL-SLT. The authors critically evaluate the effectiveness of the system and its integration into formal classroom teaching.

8. Conclusions

42Overall, The Routledge Handbook of Language Learning and Technology is an extremely valuable reference source for any CALL researcher or practitioner, be it an expert or a newcomer. Since CALL is an incredibly rich and diversified research area which is continuously branching off in response to booming technologies, a regular scrutiny and re-examination of all the related fields is essential. This volume, edited by Farr and Murray, is a timely response to this pressing need as it covers virtually all the major fields of computer-enhanced language learning, from the already well-established areas of Computer-Mediated Communication or CALL-responsive teacher education to the relatively emerging areas of gaming, mobile learning, or multimodal pedagogy, to mention but a few examples.

43As stated by the editors in the foreword, the intended aim of the handbook was to "open the field to novices" (page 1). Indeed, the authors' intention to address the needs of readers representing various levels of expertise is evident throughout the volume, in which the breadth of theoretical perspectives is successfully married to a very consistent pedagogical angle. Practically all the contributors put a strong emphasis on pedagogically sound uses of technology, their integration with existing practices, ensuing challenges and limitations, and subsequent implications for language teachers. This consistent twin theory-practice focus is a major strength of the volume and, combined with consistent clarity of style, makes it accessible to various readerships.

44Another undeniable strength of the volume is its cohesion. Maintaining it throughout such a large and comprehensive publication is a challenge, and an impressive job has been done by the editors to ensure a consistent structure and a complementary scope of all the contributions. This has been additionally reinforced by cross-referencing between the chapters. All these strategies help to maintain high consistency within this publication despite its impressive size and scope.

45Among the 38 contributions, there are some which merit particular attention. Part 1 (chapters 1-3) with its explicit focus on CALL concepts and theories serves as a reminder that at the background of all the novel practices there is a rich theoretical context, consistently alluded to throughout the entire volume. This introductory part will be of particular value to those readers who need theoretical guidance in researching and designing CALL since, as the editors themselves acknowledge, in a field as broad and dynamic as CALL "it can be difficult to tell where it all began, where it is going and what it means" (page 1). Even more importantly, a steady theoretical focus helps to anchor the whole volume in all its diversity to theories and frameworks which will remain fundamental despite the ephemerality of technology solutions.

46As in any volume of this format, however, there are some areas which would have benefited from a slightly different approach. One could argue that, perhaps, the attention given to some branches of CALL could have better reflected their current position within the field. For example, while six chapters are dedicated to Corpora and Data-Driven Learning, the issues of multimodality or mobile learning have been addressed in single contributions, only. Next, and even more importantly, the volume would have benefited from a more explicit focus being given to pedagogical topics such as task design for CALL or evaluation, with a closer look at badging or the use of e-portfolios. Even though each of the chapters does offer a strong pedagogical perspective, a more explicit treatment of these aspects and, more generally, instructional design for CALL would be an additional asset. Similarly, addressing the increasingly popular issue of Open Educational Resources and Practices would have enriched the book and made it even more comprehensive.

47The above criticism is minor and does not overshadow the enormous value of the Routledge Handbook. The volume is a very comprehensive collection and a productive read for anyone interested in CALL, be it researchers, educators, or newcomers to the field. It offers a very holistic view of the current CALL field, where it came from and, importantly, in what direction it is heading in all its growing diversity.

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Malgorzata Kurek, « Review of The Routledge Handbook of Language Learning and Technology », Alsic [Online],  | 2017, Online since 12 September 2017, connection on 24 September 2017. URL :

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About the author

Malgorzata Kurek

Malgorzata (Gosia) Kurek is a researcher and lecturer at Jan Dlugosz University in Czestochowa (Poland) where she teaches English as a Foreign Language Methodology (TEFL). Her principal research interests include task design in CALL, telecollaboration, CALL teacher training and Open Education. She has presented widely at international scholarly conferences. She is an author of numerous ICT-enhanced courses for teachers and teacher trainees, and several publications in the field of Computer-Assisted Language Learning.
Affiliation: Jan Dlugosz University, Czestochowa, Poland.
Address: Jan Dlugosz University, Institute of Foreign Languages, Armii Krajowej 13/15, 42-200 Czestochowa, Poland.

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