by Efi Dyah Indrawati
Universitas Muhammadiyah Prof. Dr. Hamka
Jakarta – Indonesia
In recent years, the use of computers and technology is becoming more and more common in teaching and learning process, especially in language instructions. This influence also can be seen in the field of language assessment in which computerized testing is administered altogether. One example of the development in teaching, learning, and assessing language is in the teaching of TOEFL preparation. TOEFL test was designed by Educational Testing Service (ETS) to measure the English language ability of people who do not speak English as their first language and who plan to study at colleges and universities in North America, Europe, or Australia. TOEFL initially used the old format of paper-based test (PBT), then in July 1995, ETS began giving different form of the TOEFL test called computer-based test (CBT) Starting in July1998, ETS introduced the computer-based TOEFL test in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and selected Asian countries. The Next generation TOEFL, the Internet-Based TOEFL (iBT) was launched on September 24, 2005 in the United States, then in the following month, it was administered in Canada, Germany, Italy, and France. The iBT is being introduced throughout the world in phases during 2006.
Teaching TOEFL preparation, especially the iBT one, in my view, must make the best use of CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and CALT (Computer Adaptive Language Testing). Therefore, this paper is aimed at analyzing how to make the most effective TOEFL iBT preparation by accommodating both CALL and CALT. The discussion will be arranged as follows:
1. What is CALL?
2. What is CALT?
3. What is TOEFL iBT?
4. How to implement CAL and CALT in TOEFL IBT Preparation?
1. Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL)
CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) can be defined as using computers as an intermediary in learning a language (Hartoyo 2006: 11). This method is actually an impact of the advancement of information technology and communication, which necessitates learning should be interactive as to provide more advantages to learners. Many experts has stated the importance of interactive capability (Nelson et al 1976; Brandl 1991; Hartoyo 1993:25, 1994; Petermandle 1990 in Hartoyo 2006: 11-13) and flexibility in language teaching (Davis 1993 in Hartoyo 2006:13). CALL is designed to give feedback, texts and graphical information on computers, which are good combination of features to provide learners with clear explanations, descriptions, and illustrations as well as motivation (Hartoyo 2006: 13).
The latest development of CALL is integrative CALL, which links such sources as text, graphics, sound, animation, and video called “hypermedia” and enables learners to navigate through CD-ROMs and the Internet at their own pace and path using a variety of media.
There are some advantages of using CALL, among them are given by Ravichandran (2000):
- stimulate learner’s interest and motivation
- provide more individual attention to learners
- offer a compatible learning for unique styles of individual students
- accommodate an optimal use of learning time
- give immediate feedback
- provide error analysis
On the other hand, CALL can indicate some disadvantages, as suggested by some experts (Ansel et al 1992, Gould and Grischowsky 1984, Kiliçkaya 2006). They are:
- less-handy than ‘traditional books’
- more difficult and tiring in reading, which cause eye strain and irritation
- costly for programmers, teachers, and students
- not suitable for all learners (different learning styles)
2. Computer-Assisted Language Testing (CALT)
CALT is tests that are administered at computer terminals or on personal computers (Brown, 1997). Receptive-response items, including multiple-choice, true-false, and matching items, are fairly easy to adapt in computer-assisted testing medium. Meanwhile, other language tasks, such as compositions, and oral presentations, prove much more difficult to develop for computer-assisted testing (Brown, 1997)
Using CALT offers advantages in two categories: testing consideration and human consideration (Brown 1997). Among the testing consideration advantages of using computerized tests are:
- providing more accurate at scoring selected-response tests than human being
- providing more accurate reporting scores
- giving immediate feedback in the form of a report test scores, complete with a printout of basic testing statistic.
Among human considerations, the following are some advantages of using computer in language testing:
- The use of computers allows students to work at their own pace.
- CALTs generally take less time to finish than PBT tests, and therefore more efficient (Madsen 1991; Kaya-Carton, Carton, and Dandonoli 1991; Laurier 1996 in Brown 1997)
- In CALTs, students should experience less frustration than PBT tests.
- Students may find CALTs are less overwhelming because the questions are presented one at a time on the screen rather than in an intimidating test booklet with hundreds of test items.
- Many students like computers and even enjoy the testing process (Stevenson and Gross 1991 in Brown 1992)
The disadvantages of using computers in language testing can also be subdivided into two categories, physical considerations and performance consideration (Brown, 1997).
Among the physical considerations, the disadvantages are:
- Dependence on computer equipment and electricity source, which may not always be available or working in order.
- Limited screen capacity that can be problem on relativity long passage of readings.
- The graphics capabilities of many computers may be limited (especially for older ones of the cheaper ones)
Among the performance considerations, the disadvantages are:
- Different results from the tests administered in a PBT format (Henning 1991). More research needs to be done on various types of language tests and items.
- Different degree of student’s familiarity with computers that lead to discrepancies on the CALT tests (Hicks 1989, Henning 1991, Kirsch, Jamieson, Taylor, & Eignor 1997 in Brown 1997).\
- Computer anxiety (Henning 1991 in Brown 1997).
3. TOEFL iBT
The Next Generation TOEFL iBT is a test to measure English proficiency and academic skills of non-native speakers of English required b primarily by English language colleges and universities , divided into four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing (Phillips 2005). ETS has set the types of problems for each section as follows:
The Reading section consists of three long passages on academic topics (>800 words each) and question about the passages. The topics are the kind of material that might be found in an undergraduate university textbook, and students answer questions about main ideas, details, inferences, sentence restatements, sentence insertion, vocabulary, function, and overall ideas.
The Listening section consists of six long passages and questions about the passages (two student conversations and four academic lectures or discussions). Students are asked to answer questions on main ideas, details, function, stance, inferences, and overall organization.
The Speaking section consists of two independent tasks and four integrated tasks. In the two independent tasks, student must answer opinion questions about some aspect of academic life. In two integrated reading, listening, and speaking tasks, student must read a passage, listen to a passage, and speak about how the ideas in two passages are related. In two integrated listening and speaking tasks, student must listen to long passages and then summarize and offer opinions on the information in the passage.
The Writing section consisted of one integrated task and one independent task. In the integrated task, students must read an academic passage, and listen to an academic passage, and write about how the ideas in the two passages are related. In the independent task, student must write a personal essay.
We can see that the Structure section as used in PBT and CBT TOEFL was removed, but TOEFL iBT itself necessitate a good command of grammar in the Speaking and the Writing section (Sharpe, 2007). Since TOEFL iBT is designed to test the actual skills a student need to be successful in his studies, all four skills in the TOEFL iBT must be improved by taking practices intensively.
Implementation of CALL and CALT in the program for TOEFL iBT preparation
Hartoyo (2006) states that there are five principles for designing and testing CALL program: interactivity (feedback and instruction), usability (flexibility), content appropriateness, effectiveness, and performance (attractiveness). Therefore, in teaching TOEFL preparation, the CALL programs should meet the requirements above, so that the aim of learning can be optimally reached. Since the aim of TOEFL preparation teaching is to improve a student’s English skills as well as his test-taking strategies to gain higher TOEFL score, the CALL program is merged with the criteria of a good CALT (Computer-Assisted Language Testing) program. Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 2006 necessitated the important features of IBT test: to measure the ability to communicate successfully in academic setting, to reflect how language is really used, and to keep up with the best practices in language learning and teaching. Therefore, ETS has set standardized certain qualities of the TOEFL iBT:
- It tests four language skills that are important for effective communication: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, given in about four hours long.
- Some tasks require test-takers to combine more than one skill.
- The speaking and writing section responses are rated by certified human raters.
- The comprehensive scoring information is provided to explain test taker’s English language ability.
Basing on the above features, there are many products of TOEFL iBT preparation released by various publications, such as Baron’s, Kaplan, Thomson, Longman, etc. I use different softwares to teach TOEFL iBT preparation in my training center (Pusdiklat Keuangan Umum BPPK Departemen Keuangan RI) because I want to provide my trainees with programs that suit their need to improve their language learning and their test taking practices. Each software has its own weakness and strength, therefore I employ various CD-ROMs for learners.
I stated previously that the CALL program should be integrated with the criteria of a good CALT (Computer-Assisted Language Testing) in making a good TOEFL preparation program, so that it can improve a student’s English skills as well as his test-taking strategies to gain higher TOEFL. Therefore, basing my view from the review of related literature on CALL and CALT, a comprehensive TOEFL iBT preparation program must meet the following characteristics:
The program contains appropriate material for TOEFL iBT in four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing): Diagnostic Pre-Tests for each section of TOEFL iBT, Language Skills, Test-Taking Strategies, Practice Exercises of one or more skills a TOEFL format, TOEFL Review Exercises, Post-Tests for each section, Mini Tests to stimulate the experience of actual length using shorter version, Complete Tests for the full-length version of actual test, Scoring Information to determine the approximate TOEFL score in each test, and Self-Assessment Checklist to allow students to monitor their progress in specific language skills they attempt.
2. Performance and Flexibility
The presentation and layout of screen must be in attractive colors, and the toolbar in each section must allow students to navigate through the test with ease. Some important buttons are Volume, Timer, Volume, Help, Next/Continue, Previous/Back, OK/Confirm Answer, View Text, Repeat/Listen, Check/Review/Explanation, Section Exit, Main Menu, and Exit/Quit. The video and visualization must not too distracting that divert students to listen carefully to the audio, and illustration must be sufficient (charts, diagrams, pictures, photos, etc).
Dealing with the content that are segmented into sections or mini tests, it will provide flexible learning (anytime, anything learners want, etc) and greater autonomy for learners.
3. Feedback and motivation
Scores, either raw scores, weighted scores, and scaled scores, should be accompanied by immediate feedback. Feedback must also be proper to encourage and motivate student to learn and practice more. For example, the program should provide learners who receive low score with some positive remarks, such as “Try again”, “Don’t give up”, and so on. If a learner cannot answer all items within certain time limit, the remark can be “Just a little bit faster!”, “Pace yourself!” and so on. These will avoid frustration for learners.
4. Effectiveness and Accuracy
The effectiveness of TOEFL preparation program can be seen from how it can assists language learners to improve their language skills and their score. Therefore, the scoring report must be accurate and immediate. This will also avoid student’s anxiety and frustration for not knowing the progress he achieved by his self-learning and practice.
If a TOEFL preparation program can have such characteristics as mentioned above, it will offer a greater chance for improving language skills and TOEFL score for its learners. None of the software I use in my training program has all those qualities. One program is very rich in the exercises, yet it has no scoring and feedback for speaking and writing like human raters can give. The program just provides a self-checklist for learners to predict their performance in the two sections. Here I see that on these two sections, still computers cannot replace the portion of human, especially of language teachers and raters.
Even though such perfect program could exist, still there could be some problems encountered due to some physical or performance consideration, such as limited computer ability or learner’s unfamiliarity with computers.
Summary and Conclusion
To sum up, I view that a good program for TOEFL iBT preparation must integrate both CALL and CALT advantages, such as appropriate content for the TOEFL preparation program, interesting performance, immediate and accurate feedback, motivation, and effective scoring and result. If a computer program for TOEFL iBT preparation can have such characteristics, it will offer a greater chance for improving language skills and TOEFL score for its learners. The mere problems will be encountered due to some physical or performance consideration, such as limited computer ability to score like human or learner’s unfamiliarity with computers.
To conclude, an ideal computer program for TOEFL iBT preparation are not only the assignment for TOEFL teachers but also for learners and computer programmers as well. Computer and technology will still continue to flourish, so there is no need to be skeptical about the use of it in language teaching and testing. Although computers cannot replace language teachers and raters, it can be employed to assist teachers to provide the best teaching and test-taking skills for TOEFL iBT students.
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