On the Performance and Efficiency of Authoring Programs in CALL

Karl H. Brücher,
European Business School, Oestrich-Winkel, Germany

PCs have become a widespread technical tool in foreign language training (FLT), comparable to language labs or video recorders. Authoring programs enable the creation of learning programs, tailored to the specific needs of a certain group of learners and � of the greatest benefit � they can be made by the teacher.

A typology of authoring programs in CALL with their different features (reconstruction, rearrangement, matching, transformation, multiple choice, vocabulary data bank, simulation) will be presented. Examples from widespread authoring programs demonstrate the teacher's programming effort and various screen presentation methods. An overview of programming possibilities shows the general potential of authoring programs. A catalog of requirements of teaching/learning-software helps to evaluate technical performance and efficiency.

I would like to start out where John Higgins (1 988) stopped in his article "Hardware and Software" and quote his closing sentence: “In 1985 I attended a Conference on The Use of Computers in Teaching Chemistry. One of my fellow delegates said to me, “In ten years time we'll look bark at this conference and think: 'What a silly title!' It will seem like having a conference on the use of paper in the teaching of chemistry." Both a chemistry-teacher and an FL-teacher (FLT) are in the same situation when it comes to the use of teaching technology. Of course, PCs are not yet standard equipment for FLT as are a cassette- or video-recorder or a language lab; this is a question of funds (paper is cheaper) as well as of the mastery of technology. Like language labs, PCs alone
cannot work wonders in the classroom; in their efficiency they are always dependent on good software. This is why I dedicated this article to a programming technique that allows everybody with just some determination to create tailor-made software or CALL exercises.
The use of PCs with their most common programs (word processors, data bases, and spreadsheets) has grown to be a general cultural tool in our developed countries. So, computers must be considered just one very normal component in the whole area of language teaching and learning, the same as books, teachers, other students or the knowledge of the individual learner.
Computer experts can be heard speaking of "microcomputers' instead of PCs; as always, experts are correct. It seems though that the classification “micro-, mini-, mainframe-computer" has become obsolete (Zimmer, 1990). We will use the term "PC," also subsuming non-IBM-compatible, Atari, or Macintosh computers, and so-called "home computers."
A Definition of Authoring Programs in CALL
In authoring programs or authoring systems the teacher writes the different exercises or units him/herself, unlike as in ready-made "dedicated" or "turnkey" programs, where the contents, questions and texts come with the program and cannot be changed. An authoring program usually does not contain any teaching units (except perhaps a few for demonstration). It is a tool that the teacher uses to write the exercise content as easily as with any text processor, and the program takes care of everything else; in effect, the teacher writes a full computer program without having to know anything about programming languages like Quick Basic, Pascal, C, etc., and without worrying about file organization, screen presentation, user guidance and other things that are usually a programmer's job. In short: a good authoring program is a text processor with a built-in computer programmer.
Depending on the authoring programs' intrinsic possibilities the teacher may set or write:
1. Right/wrong messages, certain responses of the program to anticipate correct answers, anticipated mistakes, wrong input;
2. Explanatory texts for the task, specific hints or help, commentaries, distracting answers;
3. Observance of orthography, capitalization, punctuation, order of tasks, and other parameters that can be modified.
It is obvious that the different authoring programs on the market vary greatly in all these features.
Another important point that has to be considered is that the different types of exercises produced with an authoring program do not essentially differ from traditional types of exercises. Dieter Wolff cautions against high expectations and states:
programs that were conceived without implementing the findings in artificial intelligence research have lost their attractiveness for language teaching, because it soon became apparent that ultimately they merely transformed exercise formats and activities that up to now had been known in traditional language teaching, without the need for applying complex and expensive technologies (Wolff, 1991).
But it seems that with this point of view Wolff neglects the cost/efficiency factor: AI programs and other high-tech products are not yet on the market as cost- and user friendly products. The advantage with cost-friendly authoring programs is that the PC takes over the role of a tutor and thus brings up the interactional teacher-student quota to a maximum of 100 percent. From this would result a high degree of responsibility for a teacher writing an exercise; the precision with which an authoring program exercise is created must of needs be higher than that of a traditional exercise because a correct but not anticipated solution will be rejected by the program and will make students frustrated.
Udo Jung states: "At the moment, there is no compulsory typology for exercises in CALL” (Jung,1985). I do not believe that there can be anything compulsory in an exercise typology, but there are some general features that almost every CALL program shows; they are — unsurprisingly enough — similar to, or the same as, the typological features of any other exercise type applied in FLT. This is so because CALL exercises are not exercises sui generis (of their own kind), and because the PC is a mere technical tool. Figure 1, "Types of Authoring Programs," gives a general overview of the different types of exercises which can be created with them.
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There is no single program that can be used to produce all types of exercises; most are confined to 1-3 forms, of which the most common are text reconstruction, gap-producing, and multiple choice programs. Vocabulary banks form another class.
For sole text production a word processing system seems suited better than the small text editors that are integrated into authoring programs. Reproduction and reconstruction may be seen as partly the same or parallel types; I would rather have reconstruction as a type of its own because a text is reconstructed from notes, dictation, etc. Rearranging a text is an exercise that gives very satisfactory results on a PC. For the adventure and maze types I have not yet heard of a true authoring program; existing ones may be rather considered in the "Dungeons & Dragons" category which is fine for a more leisurely approach.
Often, authoring programs have two different modules: a learner and a teacher module. In the first, students do their exercises; in the second, these exercises are produced, or existing ones are edited, the latter usually by the teacher because full learner autonomy is seldom granted.
It is quite evident that there are considerable differences among all programs in performance and presentation. Most important are those differences that result from the program orientation. I feel that there are too many programs that are oriented according to the form of exercise they produce and not to the task they should perform or to the needs of their user. The technical form of an exercise (e.g. a matching or a multiple choice exercise) is determined by the teacher according to their best pedagogical judgement, whereas the student has a solution-oriented approach: they are only mildly interested in the type of exercise, they are more interested in the task, the exercise content, their performance, their growth of knowledge, not whether the computer menu presents a Gap-Master or a Choice-Master. This means that a menu should not, at least not for a first choice, present the exercise or program forms, but user- or content-oriented criteria. From this, an ensuing requirement for authoring programs is away from programs that are able to produce only one specific exercise form, toward those with a greater exercise variety or to programs that can easily be concatenated or integrated into an overall program and menu shell. Of course, this shell should also be "authorable," which means that teachers should be able to decide e.g. on the succession of exercises and be able to write specific help screens.
The amount of work in writing an authoring program exercise can differ considerably from program to program. There are two basic rules that lead the way to good results:
1. The authoring teacher must be well informed about the authoring program's range of technical and intrinsic pedagogical facilities and take the time to test them.
2. S/he must do good paper-and-pencil-work prior to using the authoring program (this shows once again that authoring program exercises do not differ from traditional exercises, except for the medium).
Any authoring Program should be user friendly; the prerequisites are:
1. The teacher must not feel overchallenged by the do's and don'ts of the authoring program; there should be no programming language to learn.
2. S/he must find substantial support in the programming techniques and the pedagogical scope of exercises in the handbook, combined with many example exercises- here, as anywhere else "learning by doing" is the thing that does the job.
The following examples do not show the screen content as the student sees it, but they display paradigmatically for three different programs what the teacher has to write, i.e. their programming effort. The program type is the same in Examples 2 and 3.
Example l: TESTMASTER 1.0 (Wida, London/Eurocentres, Zürich)
Exercise type: transformation
How many ways can you write the names of the two former Superpowers?
One has stars and stripes on its flag, the other had a hammer and sickle.
(The) [United States of America\United States\States\USA\US of A]
(The) [USSR\Soviet union\Union of Soviet socialist Republics]
[America\Russia]#There are more elaborate names than this.
(The) CCCP#OK, but you're using English letters as Russian ones.
The question is in line 1; line 2, in brackets, has a hint; the other lines are expected answers. The programming effort consists of putting rounded brackets around optional parts of the answer and squared brackets around obligatory parts; anticipated answers or variants are divided by a backslash\. Commentaries may be but need not be given; they start with the pound sign #.
Example 2: ILMM 2.2 (G. Narr, Tübingen)
Exercise type: aimed gaps, full words
Bilden Sie die passenden Perfektpartizipien.
1. Die (fördern) //2geförderte1// Kohle wird verladen.
2. Das Feld ist (pflügen) //2gepflügt0// worden.
3. (frieren) //2Gefrorenes2// Wasser nennt man Eis.
4. Ich esse gerne (rösten) //2geröstete1// Erdnüsse.
5. Peter hat Inge schon immer gerne (mögen) //2gemocht0//.
The task description is in line 1; the following lines show five tasks. The expected answer to fit into the gap has to be put in double slashes; the Figures before and after indicate the quantity of letters the program subsumes for missing or incorrect pre- or suffixes in the learner input, so as to react adequately to an incorrect answer with an aimed-at hint. The words in rounded brackets represent prompts to the solution and are shown as such on the screen.
Example 3: CALIS 2.21 (Duke Univ., Durham NC, USA)
Exercise type: aimed gaps, full words
?Question #3: What was the name of the warehouse?
+&[cC] &[eE] &[tT]hurston&| &[tT]hurston&;
&Yes, it was the C. E. Thurston Warehouse.
&C.E. Thurston Warehouse
-;C.E. Thurston Warehouse
&THE CORRECT ANSWER IS: C.E. Thurston Warehouse
-&;Look in the 4th line of text.
&C.E. Thurston Warehouse
&C.E. Thurston Warehouse
CALIS (Computer Assisted Language Instruction System) is one of the oldest CALL, authoring programs (or better authoring languages); being a "Public Domain" program, it is free and can be used without any of the rigid copyright and license conditions which are found elsewhere. At first glance it seems obvious that here much more programming effort is asked for, but a special "Author” program makes the writing of simple exercises as easy as in the two previous examples. So, when this "Author” program is used the intended gap is marked in the text of the exercise by backslashes and "Author” does all the rest. However, any additionally expected answers, except the one in the text, and any commentaries, or reactions to mistakes and hints to a solution have to be written more painstakingly with much browsing in the handbook Nevertheless, this extra work gives extra results; a more open system offers more possibilities but also calls for more work.
The content of the screen and its presentation is the first and thus the most important link (or, in PC terminology "interface") to the learner (or "user") of an authoring program exercise. Here, in an area of 12 or 14 inches of diameter, are cramped together orientation hints, task instruction, the problem itself, allocated space for learner input, solution and help, procedural information, e.g. how to go on, and the current score.
For screen presentation many professional business programs use internationally accepted standards that should also be applied in authoring programs. This would help frequent PC users who are accustomed to certain operational automatism, e.g. that the Fl-key often gives access to a help facility, or, when writing or editing a text, certain key combinations evoke the same operation; e.g. in MS-Word, key + key makes the cursor move to the beginning of the line. So, it should be understood that authoring programs are oriented in their screen presentation to one of the widely-accepted user-surface standards of software (e.g. SAA, System Architecture Application). This means that the software should always have the same architecture in screen presentation with the same principles, as:
• Pull-down menus (The main menu selections are shown in the top line, they can be enlarged by pulling down more selections.)
• Bottom-line menus (1 or 2 bottom line(s) show the possibilities of moving on in the program or the current status.)
• Pop-up menus or windows.
A mix of these different presentations in the same program is hardly tolerable.
The screen information should be presented to learner and teacher as clearly conceived and frugally arranged as possible, even if one has to do without some possible attractive features or flashy colors. I do not mind the use of colors, inversely written words or graphics (in fact I like them very much), but always in a meaningful dose that supports the pedagogical task. Bernd Rüschoff writes: "it is clear that a screen, overloaded with stimuli, does more harm, and that color-plays, moving words and confusing graphics should be used very cautiously" (Rüschoff, 1986).
Figures 2 and 3 show two examples of rather differently fashioned screens. Their order is as always in pedagogy: the bad guy is presented first, to be overridden by the gloriously good one.
Figure 2 is a negative example of a screen that has been overloaded with text and color (to be seen on a color monitor only). This screen was created in CALIS, but it has to be made clear that the overload seen in this example was created by an author who used many CALIS-intrinsic possibilities; the more variations an author has at hand to "style" a screen, the more s/he will be tempted to apply, not always for the benefit of all.
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The learner tends to be solution-oriented; this leads to a situation in which the student ignores a lot of information written on the screen and picks out only the content that s/he believes will bring her/him closer to the solution. In an extreme case an overloaded screen misleads and even disorientates the learner so that s/he cannot recognize the actual aim anymore.
So the "pedagogical load" should be displayed on the screen in small doses. How this can be achieved is shown in Figure 3. There we see the screen presentation for the same task from the example for programming efforts in “TESTMASTER," but this time the student's screen is shown. The program uses bottom-line menus. Both Figures 2 and 3 show au available help settings, which also consume their due screen space.
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The authoring program's programmer and author should give thoughtful attention to the question, the learner input as an attempt to solve the problem, and the resulting response, at least in those features that the author can influence. As in paper and pencil exercises, frustration, stimulation and motivation are the most important agents for learning success; in CALL they tend to gain even more importance as answers are (normally) given instantaneously.
The following items seem essential:
1. The question, help and commentaries ought to be formulated understandably and interestingly enough for the learner.
2. Approval and disapproval should vary in their form and wording in right or wrong answers; if feasible, this should be done in a way which is graded and adequate to the student's performance.
3. Commentaries on learner input should be given wherever possible and in a reasonable manner. This especially applies to expected incorrect answers because the wrong answer is corrected, the faulty reflection is clarified, and a hint is given of the correct answer.
4. The program should analyze a wrong answer for unintentional wrong input (e.g. misspellings); it should be able to execute a character-match, which checks the letters of the input with the letters of the anticipated answers. More, the authoring program should react adequately to the problem so that an only partially correct answer win not be blandly rejected, but that incorrect/missing/or unnecessary elements are marked and so call for a correction by the student (Fechner, 1991).
The manifold ways to process learner input are sketched out in an authoring program in Figure 4 (Seidel, 1989). The big question of which authoring program to buy is often made obsolete by the counter question of what to do with it. A potential user can only specify in detail what s/he wants to do with an authoring Program if s/he is well-informed about the program's intrinsic features. There is only one way to get out of this heuristic circle: s/he must learn about the general programming techniques of the authoring program in question. Figure 4 shows in a generalized way the idea which authoring programs should be capable of and, secondly, it illustrates the way programmers have to think when they want to process input from the learner.
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It is always "Learner Input' that triggers a new circle of activities, channeled by yes/no-decisions, beginning from "Correct Answer”; from here the necessary branching starts, Evidently not every authoring program has to use all these branches, but there are two minimal cases that have to be accomplished:
1. After an incorrect answer the correct answer is presented on the screen and has to be used as new learner input.
2. Even after an incorrect answer the program branches over to the new question, without any commentary.
Whether these two minimal cases are pedagogically meaningful must be decided in every case in light of the specific aim; in any case, Figure 4 shows all meaningful program branching. So, authoring programs may be judged and evaluated with the help of this flow chart by determining which branching can occur, and, resulting from this, which features are possible and which are not.
Another feature in authoring programs I would like to deal with briefly is scoring. Many programs have some kind of scoring visible during an exercise, or it can be displayed after the termination of the exercise. There are numerous varieties in their technical design: this ranges from a simple counting of solved/unsolved tasks to an assessment that deducts the help and. additional hints used and goes on to generate a special file that automatically records every attempt to solve the task. The latter offers a good tool for controlling individual learning progress. Furthermore, such a file could serve as a result file of an electronic test if it can be protected from student access.
With all the enthusiasm we language teachers may have for the possibilities CALL programs offer in language learning with technical media, we always should bear in mind that we are using only a very small range of all the CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction), CBT (Computer Based Training) and CAL (Computer Assisted Learning) programs. The relatively small programs we are using in FLT can by no means compete with "big" authoring systems such as PLATO or those used in industry and business, either in power, performance, effectiveness or price (ranging up to more than $10,000) (Zimmer, 1990); these powerful programs offer many more possibilities than can be used in FLT (Brücher, 1991).
The following list presents a more general catalogue, that - with some addenda - completes what has been said with respect to the basic requirements of any software in CALL (Küffner, 1989).
Requirements sine qua non
1. The screen content should always be presented according to the same principle (status lines/pull-down/pop-up menus/SAA standard).
2. Color, graphics and movement should be applied wisely and in a stimulating way.
3. There should be much program branching and no linear procedure of the program.
4. Varied motivating and informative feedback messages to the learner.
5. Students should always have access to a HELP facility.
6. Students should be able to manipulate the flow of the program (abbreviate, deepen).
7. The scoring or analysis report should be made available on request to learner and/or teacher.
Additional Requirements (depending on machine/program features)
1. Clear definition of operating system, computer type and memory consumption.
2. Short loading time of program from disk; quick responses to learner input.
3. Repetitions should present different exercise material from previous classes
4. Exercises should vary in form, type and wording; student — program — interaction.
5. The program should have some form of adaptation to the individual learner's progress.
6. A program ought to be easily stopped at any moment preferably with its current learner-relevant content saved to disk.
7. At a suitable place the student should find references to further help, other media or reading material.
Other and differently structured catalogues of the assessment of software-efficiency can be found in the literature (Hope, 1985).
It is a truism that authoring programs do not fulfill all the wishes in FLT and, on the other hand, hardly mark a final point or terminus of today's possibilities. Voice cards with their software, interactive video sequences on CD-ROM, and the efforts of programmers in artificial intelligence will make their way into FLT (Manning, 1991). We definitely find ourselves in the information era, but as far as my judgment goes, we are still in one of the first chapters. Concerning FLT the opening paragraphs may have just been written.
Any new developments in this area will filter very slowly into the classrooms because they suffer from a lack of generally accepted standards, high prices, and poor user friendliness, at least at the beginning of their market penetration. But in authoring programs one just has to wait for modified or enlarged versions; they are a practical, useful, and (in general) budget-priced means of enhancing FLT, with all the advantages of individual learning.
Citations from German sources have been translated by the author.
A detailed review of leading authoring programs for CALL in FLT (WIDA/ EUROCENTRES) is found in:
Brücher, Karl H. (1991). "Autorenprogramme im Computerunterstützten Fremdsprachenunterricht." Deutschals Fremdsprache, 28, 175-180. Herder-Institut (Ed.) Berlin/München, Langenscheidt.
Fechner, Jürgen (1991). "Eingaben des Lernenden und ihre Verarbeitung in Computerprogrammen für den Fremdsprachenunterricht." Zielsprache Deutsch, 88. München, Hueber.
Higgins, John (1988). "Hardware and Software." Computers in Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching, 27. Jung, Udo O.H. (Hg.) Frankfurt/ Bern, Langenscheidt.
Hope, G. R., H. F. Taylor, and J. Pusack (1985). "Der Einsatz von Computern im Fremdsprachenunterricht." Computergestützter Fremdsprachenunterricht, 60. Langenscheidt-Redaktion (Ed.) Berlin/ München, Langenscheidt.
Jung, Udo O. H. (1985). "Angewandt-Linguistische Aspekte des Einsatzes von Computern in Sprachunterricht." Computergestützter Fremdsprachenunterricht, 86. Langenscheidt-Redaktion (Ed.) Berlin/ München, Langenscheidt.
Küffner, Helmuth (1989). "Gesichtspunkte zur Einteilung und Auswahl vonAutorensystemen." Computerlernen undAutorensysteme,50. Küffner, Helmuth & Seidel, Christoph (Eds.). Stuttgart, Verlag für Angewandte Psychologie.
Research projects in language teaching are described in:
Manning, Patricia (1991). "Methodological Considerations for the Design of CALL Programs." Language Learning with Computers, 93. Hall, Anthony & Baumgartner, Peter (Eds.) WISL, Klagenfurt.
Rüschoff, Bernd (1986). Fremdsprachenunterricht mit computergestützten Materialien, 39. München, Hueber.
IBM-Deutschland (Ed.) (1985). Selbststudium, Herrenberg. Accoriding to: Seidel, Christoph and Lipsmeier, Antonius (Hg.) (1989). Computerunterstütztes Lernen, 124. Stuttgart, Verlag für Angewandte Psychologie.
Wolff, Dieter (1991). "Unterrichtstechnologie. Bericht über die Sektionsarbeit." Ein Europa - Viele Sprachen. Kongreßbeiträge zur 21. Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Angwewandte Linguistik, 245. Mattheier, Klaus J. (Ed.) Frankfurt, Langenscheidt.
Zimmer, Dieter E. (1990). "Das Dingens." Die Elektrifizierung der Sprache, 11. Zürich, Haffmans.
An overview can be found in:
Zimmer, Gerhard (Ed.) (1990). Interaktive Medien für die Aus- und Weiterbildung. Marktübersicht, Analysen, Anwendung. Reihe Multimediales Lernen in der Berufsbildung Bd. 1, Nürnberg, Bildung und Wissen.
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