Integrating CALL into the Writing Curriculum

Kevin Cunningham
arkcunn [at]
Osaka Seikei Women’s Junior College (Osaka, Japan)

In this article I will first, submit some background information in support of using computers for language-learning instruction. Next, I will briefly outline the work I have done to incorporate computers into my writing courses. Also included are results of a student-based attitude survey that is taken from current classes that will hopefully serve to further endorse my position. Lastly, I would like to present an overview for integrating CALL into the curriculum.

Background Information

Computers have been used for instructional purposes since the 1960’s. Applications have been implemented on different generations of computers since that time. With the development of personal computers in the 1980’s, a plethora of (CAL) Computer-Assisted Learning software was produced for stand-alone desktop computers of many types. Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is the application of CAL to language learning and teaching. Methodologically it is a highly eclectic field, borrowing from CAL and Applied Linguistics. CALL program types may be classified in many different ways:

General Category Sub-category
Tools Text processors
Voice processing programs
Communications programs
Instructional Programs Drills and practice
Exploratory programs
Simulations games hypermedia
Databases Information sources
Text corpuses
Testing Programs Computer based language tests, including adaptive tests

Regardless of the specific methodology used, language teachers have generally found it desirable to present new items through meaningful content; in fact, ‘contextualizing’ lesson presentations have become a widely accepted rule of good language teaching. (Brinton et al., 1989) Language learning takes place most effectively in social settings through communication. An important part of teaching is to structure opportunities for communication for the learner – the learner must be communicating about something real and interesting. Through Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) a wide range of communication channels are possible.

Types of Computer Mediated Communication

Type Brief Description
Electronic mail Electronic communication (written or voice) between individuals.
List Servers Applications which will distribute messages to all subscribers on a list. Includes facilities for subscribing, un-subscribing and moderation of postings.
Computer Conferencing Software which manages conferencing on computer networks.
Bulletin Boards An electronic space for notices for particular interest groups.

Today, researchers are actively probing the effectiveness of computer assisted instruction (CAI) and computer-assisted language learning (CALL) in traditional and novel ways. These past and contemporary research investigations have implications for the CAI/CALL course designers (to help them construct effective software), the classroom teachers (to help them optimize content and language learning with the aid of computers), and the school administrators (to assist them with purchase and effective utilization of computers in the school environment). Some of the questions that have been posed are:

  • Can computer applications help improve student performance in basic skills and other key areas?
  • For what specific skill areas, grade levels, and content areas are computer applications most effective?
  • Which kinds and levels of students seem to profit most from using computers to learn?
  • Which kinds of computer applications are most effective for which skill and content areas?
  • Can computer applications improve students’ attitudes toward school, learning, and their abilities to learn?
  • Will improved attitudes translate into better performance in school?

In an attempt to answer some of these questions researchers, Neu and Scarcella note the following claims made in the literature:

  • writing quality of students can be improved by using word processing;
  • higher grades tend to be achieved for word processed assignments;
  • affective factors such as attitudes towards writing and motivation can be improved; and
  • willingness to write multiple drafts is higher when word processing is used.

As the use of word processing becomes generalized, the focus of research in this area is changing away from comparisons of achievement and attitudes between computing and non- computing environments, and towards description and analysis of the ways in which the technology can support writing development. There is more interest now also on educational and social role changes in response to new technology.

The Writing Process

The following, outlines the approaches I have used to enhance writing development with the aid of computers.

Guided Writing:

Text repair type exercises may require the student to modify or correct text to address redundancy, misspelling, grammatical error and errors of fact. ‘Cloze’ type exercises. The marking and moving functions of word processors can be used in exercises that require students to order jumbled text. Such exercises provide practice in the recognition and understanding of the use discourse markers.

Free Writing:

A number of positive effects are claimed for using word processing in a process approach. The most obvious point that drudgery in the revision and refinement of writing is significantly reduced. Students can develop a more positive approach to writing; that writing quality is improved by the increase in the number and complexity of revision operations; that the writer is freer to experiment and think without committing to paper.

Using the Computer as a Stimulus for Writing:

Students tend to be more motivated to write for real reasons – communicating with a friend about a mutual interest, writing to a magazine or for a magazine, preparing information for a bulletin board, taking part in an on-line discussion or debate. In these situations there is a real audience, or readership, and the student writer will take care to address this readership appropriately, attractively or persuasively as the need is perceived.

Classroom Implementation

To utilize the CALL programs that I have acquired, I have introduced a system of computer usage which I have designated the name ” Work Station.” At each of the stations, I have installed various programs, which aim to enable or enhance an aspect of language learning. Software has been integrated into the writing course in an attempt to improve the quality and quantity of the students’ output. The students are assembled into pairs, triads, quads or may even work alone depending upon the criteria of the particular program and its’ goals.

While the course has a writing focus, all four macro skills are employed with additional tasks provided to improve grammar and vocabulary. Enough comprehensible input is supplied by the software and by student peers in an attempt to augment second language acquisition. Each “Work Station” has accompanying it, a complete set of simple instructions with time parameters set for the students to follow. Working in their groups or individually, and within the time constraints, the students are free to explore and work through the various assignments supplied by the respective software. Some of the programs are authorable; allowing me the freedom to change and/or create any assignments as may be necessary.

The software seems to supply enough impetus that I can act as a facilitator, in the dual role of technical advisor, should problems arise, but more often as a guide, correspondent, motivator or challenger. I feel this is in keeping with current EFL pedagogy, which expounds that more responsibility for learning be placed upon the learner. The accompanying appendices will illustrate how the “Work Stations” are set up and how student accountability is supervised. Additionally, I have included a copy of a survey given to the students to measure their attitude toward using computers in the writing classroom.

The Study

A preliminary study was undertaken to assess students’ attitudes toward the word processing experience in the EFL writing class. A total of thirty-seven EFL learners enrolled in writing classes completed survey questionnaires eliciting their attitudes toward their experience in the computer-assisted classroom. The findings indicated the following:

  1. Fully 88% of the students believed the computer helped them to improve their writing skills;
  2. 53% found it was not difficult to learn to use the computer.

A questionnaire was constructed to elicit student perceptions about the advantages and disadvantages of using computers, to determine whether they experienced difficulty learning to use the computer and to do word processing, and to gather some information about their writing behaviors during word processing.


Thirty-seven Japanese female undergraduate students enrolled in EFL writing classes served as subjects in the study.


The questionnaire contained 37 statements with which the subjects had to agree or disagree. A 4-point scale was used (from 1 = Agree Strongly to 4 = Disagree Strongly). The questionnaires were administered during the second semester of the school year, when the students had been using the computers on a regular basis so that the halo effect for the new technological “toy” would be lessened to a degree.


Analysis of the data indicated that students, in general, found the word-processing class to be challenging and non threatening, and believed that word processing benefited their performance in writing. They also felt that using word processing helped concentrate their attention on certain aspects of their writing (e.g., grammar, word choice and organization). The results of this study suggest that students do perceive the value of word processing (e.g., they felt they receive better grades on word-processed papers). They also felt that word processing helps them pay attention to the mechanics of their writing; they reported paying more attention to various aspects of the mechanics of their writing during word processing, but the aspects to which they attended were perhaps not those that might have been expected; they did not pay more attention to spelling and punctuation, but to grammar, vocabulary, and the organization of their papers. Although students indicated that they paid more attention to mechanics when word processing than when writing by other means, they still expressed a preference for computer-based writing. These positive attitudes toward writing on the computer should contribute to improving their writing abilities by increasing their willingness to write and revise, and to write and share their writing with others.

It is important to highlight some of the limitations of this study. First, perhaps most important, baseline data need to be obtained from comparable groups of EFL students enrolled in writing classes held in traditional classrooms. Ideally, learners in a control group (taught in traditional classrooms) should be taught by the same teacher and with the same materials and curriculum as learners in the computer classroom. In addition, the learners in both groups should be matched for first and second language writing proficiency and first language background. Data obtained from a control group could provide valuable insights concerning the attitudes that are affected by the use of the computers and word processing rather than by other factors (e.g., the materials or teachers).

Integrating CALL into the Curriculum

The field of CALL is highly eclectic. In order to maximize our chances of using CALL effectively, we need to think carefully about how CALL will be integrated into the language learning curriculum. There are a number of factors to consider: the learners, the teacher, the curriculum and the learning environment. We should recognize that a particular culture of learning exists in an educational setting. Part of this culture is the physical, technological and organizational environment.

In an environment where there is limited access to media, computers and other technology, either by regulation or the situation of facilities, learners and teachers are less likely to engage with information technology and other media. However, where access to media and technology through libraries and resources and computing center is encouraged, there is a greater likelihood for success with an innovation like CALL.

Flexibility in school organization and timetables is also a necessary condition for an approach to learning, which includes self-access, independent research and practice. Excellent facilities are often wasted because the people for whom they are intended are not free to make use of them.

The learning environment includes the broad curriculum and the language curriculum. The use of computers in teaching and learning invariably leads to a greater degree of learner activity and, hopefully, control. Highly structured, content dominated, teacher centered approaches to curriculum and teaching practice are unlikely to be conducive to effective use of CALL.

It is most important that the level of preparedness of learners is assessed in CALL. There are many factors that influence this preparedness:

  • 1st, 2nd language: Are the available materials suitable or adaptable for the type of language learner? For instance, first and second language learners are likely to react in markedly different ways to the same activity or material.
  • Age: Are the available CALL materials suitable for the age and academic level of the learners?
  • Independence: As CALL generally requires a degree of independence and also a willingness to cooperate in the learner, we need to ask whether these qualities are sufficiently developed in the target learner or group.
  • Motivation: Are computer-based activities likely to be attractive to the target group? Will they be sufficiently motivated to work in this mode?
  • Computer Literacy: There is a school of thought that believes that computer literacy should be acquired ‘naturally’ through learning with computers. In contrast, there is strong support for specific computer literacy training – for example keyboard skills, word processing skills, the use of databases and communications programs. There is a danger that if initial training is not provided, the required skills are not developed thoroughly. There is also a danger that the learner’s attention is distracted by technical details and cannot concentrate on the language learning task at hand.

The Language Teacher

The role of the teacher in CALL is a crucial one. Computers have changed the role of the teacher (and of the learner). We rely increasingly on information technology as the source of data and information and less on the teacher as the source of information. The teacher’s role as facilitator of learning – as guide, correspondent, motivator, and challenger – has increased in importance.

When considering the use of CALL in the language curriculum, we should analyze the teacher’s preferred language teaching styles to see whether they can successfully accommodate the CALL programs and materials that are envisaged. A communicative language learning approach for example could be enhanced by the use of computer mediated communication. CALL programs that are based on graded practice in formal aspects of language would perhaps not be integrated as successfully into a ‘communicative’ classroom, but may be a useful supplement in a self-access mode for specific learners.

Does the teacher have the technical competence required to manage the installation and use of CALL programs and materials? Enthusiasm often wanes when technical difficulties crop up too frequently. Support from a member of the technical staff or the computing center is often necessary and problems can arise if this is not available. CALL interest groups, consisting of other teachers, can be a great support for the individual teacher, assisting in the identification of suitable material, teaching methods and technical trouble shooting. As an example of this, there exist numerous forums pertaining to CALL that can be readily accessed through e-mail.

Survey: Computers in Writing Classes (Results)

Please circle the number about how you feel.

1 = Strongly Agree, 2 = Agree, 3 = Disagree, 4 = Disagree Strongly

1 2 3 4
1. The computer helps me to write my papers better. 18% 70% 8% 2%
2. I spend more time working on my papers when I use the computer than when I write with a pen. 13% 67% 10% 8%
3. When I use word processing on the computer, I am more careful about grammar. 16% 66% 16% 0%
4. I can think of more ideas for my writing when I use the computer. 22% 44% 33% 0%
5. I like using word processing better than other ways to write. 30% 47% 22% 0%
6. Usually, I like to write in Japanese. 48% 35% 16% 0%
7. Usually, I like to write in English. 10% 56% 24% 8%
8. I think I am a good writer in Japanese. 18% 32% 43% 5%
9. When I use word processing on the computer, I pay more attention to what I’m writing about. 18% 64% 16% 0%
10. Using a computer has helped me to become better at writing in English. 16% 64% 18% 0%
11. I feel I’ve learned more about writing in English from this class than I have from other English classes I’ve taken in which the computer was not used. 8% 51% 37% 2%
12. I like using word processing on the computer to write my papers better than writing them by other ways. 18% 59% 21% 0%
13. I pay more attention to choosing the right word when I use the computer. 21% 59% 16% 0%
14. I would recommend that other students learn to use word processing for writing their papers in English. 17% 62% 20% 0%
15. I would like to take another writing course if I could use the computer. 21% 54% 24% 0%
16. I get better scores on papers I’ve written using the computer. 13% 56% 29% 0%
17. It was difficult to learn how to use the computer. 5% 40% 35% 18%
18. I can change my papers more easily and more often when I use word processing than when I write with other ways. 5% 56% 37% 0%
19. I plan to continue using the computer to write my papers after this class is finished. 16% 53% 29% 2%
20. I feel that I learn better when I get individual attention from the teacher. 2% 83% 10% 2%
21. I pay more attention to spelling when I use the computer. 40% 48% 10% 0%
22. The feeling in the class is friendly. 37% 57% 5% 0%
23. Using word processing makes me less worried about writing because I know I can make changes easily. 2% 59% 37% 0%
24. I use word processing more than any other way to write papers for my class. 13% 58% 27% 0%
25. I think I write longer papers using the computer. 14% 56% 25% 5%
26. I don’t like it when I can’t understand what to do when I’m trying to write my papers on the computer. 8% 51% 35% 5%
27 I can easily make changes when I use the computer. 10% 48% 37% 2%
28. I feel I get more individual attention from the teacher in the computer writing class than I do in other, non-computer writing classes. 5% 66% 27% 0%
29. I pay more attention to organization when I use the computer. 18% 59% 21% 0%
30. I am happier with my papers when I write using the computer. 16% 63% 19% 0%
31. I get nervous in the computer writing class. 2% 29% 56% 10%
32. The students in this class help each other. 52% 41% 5% 0%
33. When I write using the computer, I pay more attention to grammar. 11% 69% 19% 0%
34. I had trouble understanding how to use the computer. 2% 51% 32% 13%
35. I was worried that I might break the computer. 8% 27% 41% 22%
36. I was worried that it would take me longer to learn to use the computer than it would other students. 0% 59% 29% 10%
37. I think using the computer in writing class is interesting. 29% 64% 5% 0%



  • Dunkel, P. (1991). The Effectiveness Research on Computer-Assisted Instruction and Computer Assisted Language Learning. In P. Dunkel (ed.), Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Testing : Research Issues and Practice (pp. 5-27). Newbury House: Harper Collins, New York 1991.
  • Johnson, D.M. (1987). Second Language and Content Learning with Computers. In P. Dunkel (ed.), Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Testing : Research Issues and Practice (pp. 61-79). Newbury House: Harper Collins, New York 1991.
  • Mercer, N., and Scrimshaw, P. (1993). Researching the Electronic Classroom. In P. Scrimshaw (ed.), Language, Classrooms & Computers (pp. 185-191). Routledge, London 1993.
  • Neu, J., and Scarcella, R. (1987). Word Processing in the ESL Writing Classroom -A Survey of Student Attitudes. In P. Dunkel (ed.), Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Testing: Research Issues and Practice (pp. 169- 183). Newbury House: Harper Collins, New York 991.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 5, May 2000

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