“I believe that the time has come for on-line journals,” says Dorothy Chun, Professor in the Department of Education, who should know, as she has edited Language Learning & Technology since 2000 and the journal has been an open source, on-line publication since its inception in 1997. She explains, “It’s possible that with a very careful review process you can publish a high quality on-line journal. Plus it’s got a bigger readership than many journals, too, as it’s global and there’s easier access.” As proof of her success, an article published in Modern Language Journal (93, Focus Issue, 2009) ranked Language Learning & Technology first among Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Educational Technology related journals. “It’s the wave of the future, maybe,” she says, “I think there’s a new trend that information is going to be on-line and free for many people.” In February, 2010, for example, the website has attracted over 9,000 viewers from 133 countries.
Chun’s interest in how technology can enhance the learning of language and culture goes back to when she was first hired by UC Santa Barbara in 1992. “I was directing the German language program at the time, and we were struggling with the first year to second year transition from textbook kinds of readings to real German literature,” she recalls. “We decided to use multimedia to define words with pictures or video and we also came up with the idea of a movie trailer or preview of what the reading would provide. Three or four grants later, we had produced two CD-ROMs, one with two German short stories and one with a Spanish story. At the time people said, ‘If only I had this when I was learning a language.’”
But Chun didn’t stop at just creating a useful classroom tool. “We built in a research element, as what I like doing is combining my teaching and research,” she claims. “We really need to quantify, we really need to pinpoint what it is that these tools do that engage and help learners to learn….the great thing about technology is you can have a record and do a post-mortem. Everything is archived so you can bring it up in class and examine it.”
Chun recently was part of an interdisciplinary Mellon Grant with Rich Mayer from Psychology, Bruce Bimber from Political Science, and Kevin Almeroth from Computer Science trying to determine exactly that – how do students use technology to learn? Chun says, “Although educational research is very hard to do if you use authentic situations, one definite finding was that students scored significantly higher on the course exams in a college-level educational psychology large lecture class when they used a personal response system or ‘clickers.’ There are many variables that contribute to what causes learning. It could be the teacher; it could be the type of learner; it could be the technology. It’s extremely difficult to tease out what leads to learning.”
Such knowledge doesn’t deter Chun from hoping to learn more about technology and language acquisition. She points to the Tell Me More language learning software as one example. “The program shows a native speaker’s pitch curves and you try to match them,” she explains. “I used it in a German class – it gives you a score between one and seven bars – and all the kids looked at was the score, not the pitch curves. Was that because of playing video games? Is it just human nature? Are they thinking, ‘I just want to know if I’m right or wrong and can I move on to the next one?’ Users aren’t using the program the way it ought to be used. I really would like to get into developing these tools and building in some more helpful feedback.”