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Critical Inquiry in CALL

Many educators are critical of technology use in education, for good reasons (see, e.g., critique by Cuban, 2001; Himmelsbach, 2017; https://tophat.com/blog/6-pros-cons-technology-classroom; Ronan, 2017, http://www.edudemic.com/technology-pros-cons/). In short, these authors argue that technology has not always changed education for the better and that billions of dollars have been spent on technology that is often not used well. The criticism that technology will not improve education is valid; however, the effective use of technology could improve opportunities for learners, and that is up to the teachers who design the instruction. This chapter has thus far described teacher professional development activities that can help teachers become more effective users of technology in their teaching and in their own learning. Teacher inquiry is another activity worth examining because it can impact both teacher professional development and effective classroom technology use.

The preface of this book notes that its emphasis is practical, and nothing enhances practice like inquiry. Teachers have their own ways of teaching well, but the literature presents a consensus that reflecting on and investigating one’s teaching can improve it. Dana and Silva (2003) note that teacher inquiry can help teachers “untangle some of the complexity of teaching that occurs within their four walls, raise teachers’ voices in discussions of educational reform, and ultimately, transform assumptions about the teaching profession itself ” (p. 2). Teachers perform informal inquiry daily, but more formal inquiry projects can lead teachers and their inquiry partners to focus more specifically on a question or problem. Generally, the steps of an inquiry project include

  • thinking about something in your classroom that you would like to understand better or know more about
  • deciding how you might go about answering the question
  • gathering the data you need to answer it, and figuring out what answer the data you collected gives you
  • deciding what to do next (what action to take)
  • sharing your experience or even trying a new technique or idea

Often, the words “I wonder” generate a useful question to explore (much as they do for student inquiry projects, as described in chapter 6).

In CALL classrooms, an inquiry project plan might look something like this:

Question: I wonder what my English learners talk about when they are around the computer. How on task are they? I’d like to discover how effective/efficient the tasks that we use regularly are in this regard.

How to answer: I need to get samples of their talk and try to figure out how these relate to the task and other variables. First, I need to read about tasks and see how other people have gathered this kind of information.

Data gathering: I need to video or audio record conversations (using, for example CamStudio [camstudio.org] or other free screen and audio capture software or listening in on students’ Discord [discordapp.com] channels) to get an idea of the interaction and its content (keeping in mind that this might make them speak differently than they otherwise would). Perhaps I can also get them to reflect on how much time they spend on task, what else they do while they are at the computer, and why.

Analyzing the data: I will compare the record of the conversations to students’ perceptions of what is going on and what my goals are. I will double-check my results with them and perhaps initiate a conversation about what I found.

Follow up: If there does not seem to be a problem, I will continue to construct tasks the way I have been. If there is  a problem, I would like to experiment with other ways to construct tasks to help students focus better and stay on task. I will share my results with my teacher PLN group and ask for suggestions.

Teachers can ask and directly investigate an infinite number of important questions in the context of the classroom. Inquiry can be conducted with other teachers, in conjunction with the school administration, and even with students as inquiry partners. Teachers who inquire about their technology practice provide role models for students to question their learning and reflect on how they might improve.


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Critical Inquiry in CALL by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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