TEACHING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE WITH AND WITHOUT COMPUTERS
It is estimated that in the last ten years or so over two billion U.S. dollars have been spent to purchase, maintain, and supply with software, some two million computers in American schools. "While we bemoan the decline of literacy, computers discount words in favor of pictures and pictures in favor of video. While we fret about the decreasing cogency of public debate, computers dismiss linear argument and promote fast, shallow romps across the information landscape" (Gelernter, 1994, p. 15). Many educators and parents deplore the replacement of mental skill development by pocket calculators and computers. The image takes over as spelling deteriorates. The printed page has become boring in the face of the multimedia. As Gelernter (1994) remarks: "To misspell is human; to have no idea of correct spelling is to be semiliterate" (p. 16).
Yet, the question may be asked: Is the computer to blame or, rather, should the people who program it be blamed? Are programmers the only culprits, or are also the teachers and parents who shift the responsibility for their children's education to a machine and its technicians? Will the computer go the way of Programmed Instruction (P.I.) of yore and the Learning Laboratory, i.e. expensive experiments no one has had the patience to really fathom--with the resulting overall failure of machines and programmers?
One way to find out whether Computer Assisted Instruction has significant merit is to test it by comparing its effectiveness with that of traditional classroom instruction. There are many problems before one can reach a definitive verdict. If CAI is effective, then: Effective to teach what? Can it teach concepts as well as facts? And: Effective for whom? In what environmental and historical situations? Can it teach young children as well as adults, low-achievers as well as high-achievers? Have there be valid and reliable studies mad...