Based on the three objectives outlined in the preceding section, we propose three levels of teacher involvement in “adapting”, “modifying”, and “creating” MALL materials specifically for their own teaching contexts; (1) working with premade MALL materials, (2) customizing MALL materials, and (3) designing MALL materials. See Figure 2
below for an illustration of our proposed three levels of teacher involvement in MALL implementation. By outlining the three levels, we are not referring to programming ability but rather the capacity teachers must have to orchestrate tools (i.e., MALL software and hardware) that enable students to work towards specific TL objects (i.e., targeted language features such as vocabulary) to eventually achieve the outcome of increased TL interaction. As will be seen, these levels consist not only of the degree of teacher involvement (e.g., active versus passive roles) in material creation, but also of the time and effort required. As the levels increase (from level one to three), teachers have an increased responsibility to produce content and arrange a variety of customizable MALL materials for their learners.
On the other end of the spectrum, as the levels decrease (from level three to one), the effort a teacher puts forth is more focused on integrating pre-existing MALL materials into language learning contexts. As mentioned earlier, although we have outlined the teachers’ involvement with these materials as ‘levels’, these categories are not static: rather, these levels are more of a continuum, overlapping one another depending on how the MALL engineer decides to interact with the materials and resources. Most importantly, MALL engineers at any level can use Activity Theory to gain an understanding of how customizable MALL materials can be used to increase TL interaction. By having an explicit understanding of how objects inform the use of tools to help students achieve specific outcomes, foreign language teachers without any programming experience can use customizable MALL materials to create mobile learning opportunities for their students. Accordingly, the following three levels will offer examples of customizable MALL materials and explore how the use of the available features in each app are directed by the object.
Using customizable MALL materials requires a great deal of teacher involvement, which requires the teacher to balance a proven approach to technology with specific SLA knowledge. Chapelle’s [18
] widely used criteria for CALL task appropriateness, illustrated in Table 1
, provide the practitioner with a practical list of aspects to consider when choosing materials for use with their students (see also [19
] for the pedagogical implementation of these ideas). While teachers at all levels are provided with resources to present their learners with personalized language learning materials, it is the teacher’s responsibility to find a way to use the materials effectively. By following these criteria, practitioners can evaluate and/or design materials based on which aspects of language the materials focus, the authenticity of this language, the feasibility of incorporating these materials, and so on. We highly recommend that MALL engineers take these criteria into consideration when choosing, creating, or modifying MALL materials for their own purposes, particularly at Level 1. These criteria will be addressed briefly in the discussion of each of the three levels, where appropriate.
We discuss below how the ideas presented here can be applied to real-world contexts, considering the proposed three levels of teacher involvement in the creation of MALL materials.
3.1. Level One: Adapting
Gamified language learning apps such as Duolingo (Duolingo, Inc., Pittsburg, PA, USA, http://www.duolingo.com
) have gained popularity for their fun nature and accessibility and for offering pre-defined learning paths for language learning. While Duolingo, available free of charge online as well as for Android and iOS devices, has been shown to be beneficial for individual practice [20
] (but see [21
] for a recent study on this issue that counters this app’s efficiency as a tool for self-directed learning), it is more suited to the autonomous learner than classroom use, as it follows a preset path for the learner to follow. This means that the learner cannot choose a language feature to target but must instead follow the app’s direction for learning. Additionally, although many similar language learning apps (e.g., Memrise (Memrise, Inc., London, U.K., https://www.memrise.com
); Mango (Mango Languages, Farmington Hills, MI, USA, www.mangolanguages.com
)) adapt to a learner’s progress to target an individual’s weaknesses, the pre-defined learning path is static and, for the most part, does not allow for customization. For instance, if the learner wishes to practice a certain grammatical tense, he or she must wait until that level of the ‘game’ has been reached. In these apps, the teacher is therefore restricted by the program and is not able to choose which language items the learners focus on. However, recent developments have made it possible for teachers to personalize their students’ learning experience.
At this level, the teacher’s ability to customize MALL materials for specific TL objects is limited; instead, the process focuses more on creatively implementing pre-made materials into learning contexts. Returning to the Duolingo example, teachers can still make use of the available features on the application to create effective mobile learning environments, but this relies on ingenuity and balancing the available tools on the app with the desired object. As mentioned above, recent developments have seen Duolingo and other similar educational apps become adaptable. In Duolingo for Schools (https://schools.duolingo.com
), for example, teachers can now create digital classrooms online for their students, allowing them to supervise student progress and assign specific language units (such as vocabulary for means of transportation or the simple past tense). While teachers can be more aware of how their students are progressing, which is a critical part of the iterative process of design, students using apps such as Duolingo have opportunities to develop regular study habits as a result of gamified learning environments, instant feedback, and multi-modal, out-of-class assignments. In this way, the teacher is able to focus on the object of L2 vocabulary acquisition, for example, from a few different angles on the app.
When using Duolingo, students complete a variety of exercises such as a vocabulary activity, in which they touch the screen to match words to images, which may be followed by a listening activity, in which they listen to a phrase and type what they have heard. In this way, the object requires students to use different tools (e.g., touch screen, keyboard, speakers) to transform the object into an outcome. This specific outcome is accompanied by an equally important general outcome; increased input exposure outside of class is critical for student development and provides more opportunities for input exposure than traditional materials (e.g., [22
]). Similar to Duolingo for Schools, KhanAcademy (Khan Academy, Inc., Mountain View, CA, USA, https://www.khanacademy.org
), also available for free across platforms, offers an extensive database of educational videos on a variety of topics, which teachers can select and assign to students to view on their own time. Apps like Duolingo for Schools and KhanAcademy therefore allow teachers to select the materials that are best suited and most relevant for their students. While the teachers do not customize tools beyond what is provided in the app, the ability to implement pre-made materials and to customize language practice for their students by selecting relevant material also makes these materials easier to incorporate into the curriculum.
At Level 1, teachers may also choose to experiment with apps to explore potential pedagogical features in order to make recommendations to their students. Through this experimentation, teachers can discover new uses for existing apps, modifying classroom tasks to fit within the capabilities of the app. In this process, teachers have the chance to become familiar with how students can use their devices as tools to achieve the outcome of interacting with the TL. Apps such as GoogleTranslate (Google, Inc., Mountain View, CA, USA, available for free online at https://translate.google.ca
; also on Android and iOS) and intelligent personal assistant programs or devices like Apple’s Siri (Apple, Inc., Cupertino, CA, USA, https://www.apple.com/ios/siri/
) and Amazon Echo (Amazon, Inc., Seattle, WA, USA, www.amazon.com/echo
), for example, can be used for much more than their original purposes. These programs can provide students with listening practice via a computerized text-to-speech (TTS) voice or pronunciation practice via automated speech recognition (ASR), through which students receive immediate orthographic feedback as they interact with the app. With teacher guidance, language learners can therefore use these apps and programs beyond their original purposes (e.g., as a translator or personal assistant) to provide customized language practice available anytime, anywhere.
Level one sees teachers act as testers of existing software, experimenting with existing programs to discover the best uses of various features to help their students enhance their interaction with the TL. While teachers do not manipulate or change any features within the app, they select and assign features (e.g., language lessons from Duolingo, videos from KhanAcademy, pronunciation exercises in GoogleTranslate or Amazon Echo) to customize the learning experience to encourage relevant practice beyond the classroom setting. At this level, teachers do not require any additional technical training; they simply require the teacher to have necessary linguistic knowledge to select features of the app and the motivation to experiment with various ways of using the features.
We again recommend the consultation of Chapelle’s [18
] and Chapelle and Jamieson’s [19
] criteria for evaluating CALL task appropriateness when deciding on which app and which of its features to use. The criteria of learner fit in particular acts as the core of Level 1; by exploring the app and choosing which features and/or tasks will best suit his or her students, the teacher can then select material based on its ability to encourage “engagement with language under appropriate conditions given learner characteristics” [18
] (p. 55). When choosing the material or features to use, the teacher must also consider Chapelle’s other criteria such as meaning focus (e.g., what is the targeted language feature?), authenticity (e.g., is the language used authentic or inauthentic?), positive impact (e.g., will the learners enjoy the task?), and practicality (e.g., is this activity practical based on my classroom resources?). At Level 1, Chapelle’s criteria for CALL task appropriateness are essential to consider when choosing tasks and features of existing, pre-made apps. However, these criteria are just as essential when modifying these tasks and features to create customized language learning activities, as will be discussed next.
3.2. Level Two: Modifying
At the second level, we see teachers begin to take on a more active role as MALL engineers. Apps at this level not only provide teachers with ready-made resources generated by the app’s creators or by other users, but also allow them to create their own materials (e.g., by adding their own podcasts, recordings, texts) to tailor the learner experience for specific learning needs. Level 2 affords teachers opportunities to customize not just adapt MALL resources with their classroom contexts in mind by having increased freedom to arrange objects and tools to increase TL interaction. Apps at this level also provide students with the ability to control the direction and pace of their own learning within the task. While material creation and modification at Level 2 sees teachers take on a more active role, the time and effort required of the teacher will vary based on an individual’s goals and his or her comfort and confidence when interacting with new software. We will now illustrate how some popular apps fit into our criteria for ‘modifiable’ MALL materials at Level 2.
TinyCards (Duolingo, Inc.), created by the makers of Duolingo (https://tinycards.duolingo.com
, also for iOS), presents users with the ability to access pre-made flashcards or create their own. While the customizability is limited, TinyCards differs from a Level 1 app in that teachers now have the ability to create their own content within the capabilities of the app. Flashcards created with TinyCards are not limited to text and images; users can also add audio clips to their cards, providing additional resources for pronunciation and listening practice. By adding images or audio, learners stay focused on the TL throughout the activity without relying on translation. While these flashcards are typically focused on vocabulary acquisition, the possibilities are endless; users can create grammar-based cards, cards to recognize the pronunciation of words, and so on. Anki (Anki, Inc., San Francisco, CA, USA, https://apps.ankiweb.net
, available across platforms), another digital flashcard program, also presents users with the ability to create their own cards. While the TinyCards interface is friendlier and more appealing, Anki offers additional options such as the ability to synchronize cards across devices, add video clips to cards, and keep track of card use (e.g., how long users spend on each card). With teacher-created (or even student-created) digital flashcards, students can again customize their own interaction with the TL (see [23
] for the pedagogical benefits of digital flashcards). TinyCards and Anki materials can be shared easily with students, providing additional opportunities for learners to use mobile technology in multiple ways to interact with the TL outside of class.
Quizlet is another flashcard-based app made for mobile devices that enables learners use text-to-speech (TTS) flashcards in a variety of games and quizzes designed to develop vocabulary. In addition to the basic flashcard functions, Quizlet also allows students to play games such as timed matching contests, fill in the blank quizzes, spelling quizzes, and an asteroid game in which the correct answer must be entered before the asteroid hits the user’s planet. Gamified elements in the form of progress bars and motivational affordances contribute to creating an engaging environment that can also be exported from Quizlet to Moodle courses. In terms of Activity Theory, teachers can use Quizlet to help students prepare for spelling quizzes, for example, which means that students would use the device’s tools (e.g., screen, keyboard, speakers) to transform the object of spelling TL vocabulary into an actual outcome. To help beginning learners, this activity could be preceded by a simple flashcard activity in which students use the touch screen as a tool to achieve the object of learning the relevant vocabulary. In addition to the hardware, Quizlet, like Duolingo, offers a wide range of tools in the form of gamified elements designed to engage learners and help them to see progress.
For practice in reading and/or listening to longer texts, LingQ (LingQ, Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada, https://www.lingq.com
), an app for mobile devices and Chrome (Google Inc, https://www.google.com/chrome/index.html
) browsers, allows learners to practice these skills while building vocabulary. In the app, users can explore existing language lessons or create their own. Each lesson utilizes a variety of tools such as podcasts, audio recordings, or text accompanied by a transcript so that the learner can follow along while listening. Each word in the text is automatically highlighted; when the user clicks on a word, they hear a TTS voice pronouncing the word and have access to online dictionaries and translations. The user has the option to save the word for later practice with digital flashcards or cloze exercises via a gamified system. These words will also be highlighted in other lessons that users complete. By being able to determine the focus of its lessons based on particular interests, LingQ allows the learner to generate a personalized vocabulary list based on particular goals, focusing, for example, on financial vocabulary in an article concerning stocks, rather than focusing on a more common task such as how to book a hotel room or ordering in a restaurant. Therefore, if teachers create a lesson based on a recording or text that they have chosen and share it with their students, the students are still able to modify their own interaction with the content by having control over their own vocabulary lists.
Material creation in LingQ incorporates the implementation process discussed in Level 1 with increased customizability for instructors and choices for learners. At Level 2, teachers have an increased responsibility to utilize customizable MALL materials to afford learners a variety of ways to utilize their smartphones for TL interaction. The required time and effort at Level 2 will depend on the specificity of the outcome. For example, a LingQ lesson can be created in minutes when using a pre-recorded audio file with a transcript. However, teachers may wish to create their own recordings, targeting their teaching context, which would certainly require more time and effort. Similarly, simple digital flashcards may be created easily with text and pictures, while more advanced and engaging flashcards may require more work. At Level 2, teachers can also encourage students to make their own learning resources to serve as review materials and to share with them with classmates to form a more cooperative classroom environment. Time and effort at this level may also depend on the individual teacher’s comfort and confidence when interacting with new software. Although the apps mentioned above are not complicated to use, teachers may wish to explore tutorials, FAQs, and forums to accrue knowledge and increase the quality of the materials they produce. Additionally, as discussed in the previous section, Chapelle’s criteria for judging CALL task appropriateness must also be considered at this level [18
]; Level 2 allows the teacher to further customize criteria such as learner fit and meaning focus to suit their specific classroom context. The next level, described below, sees the teacher take on an even more pivotal role in the design process.
3.3. Level Three: Creating
At Level 3, the teacher takes on the role of the MALL engineer, creating their MALL resources and apps without needing to learn how to program. At this level of MALL engineering, teachers select from various existing resources, compiling features to create new MALL tools. This may involve, for example, utilizing plugins and online resources to generate an online course management site such as a Moodle course or using a drag-and-drop app creator (e.g., Invision (InvisionApp, Inc., Portland, OR, USA, https://www.invisionapp.com/
); GameSalad (GameSalad, Inc., Austin, TX, USA, http://gamesalad.com
)). A well-known yet dated example is HotPotatoes (University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada, https://hotpot.uvic.ca
), a Web-based application that provides teachers with templates for activities (e.g., multiple-choice questions, crosswords) to create their own online resources for students. Such resources have been created by programmers with the intention of allowing non-programmers to create their own tools, providing language teachers with more freedom to create their own unique materials.
The use of online course management systems is not new in the field of second language education. Many institutions have embraced these systems (e.g., Blackboard (Blackboard, Inc, Washington, DC, USA, www.blackboard.com
); Edmodo (Edmodo, Inc., San Mateo, CA, USA, https://www.edmodo.com/
); Moodle) to provide online components to complement the classroom. While these systems are typically used as online course management systems (e.g., for sharing course documents, providing feedback, posting assignments), Moodle, for example, can afford teachers the opportunity to use plugins to build dynamic course materials (e.g., video forums, pronunciation assignments) within an interactive layout (e.g., gamified elements, graphics). Gamifying Moodle for language learning (e.g., via the inclusion of levels, coins, badges) has proven to be effective in helping learners improve their pronunciation [24
], an activity typically neglected in traditional foreign language instruction. Using Moodle for purposes beyond a basic course management system requires teachers to spend a considerable amount of time designing content, orchestrating tools and, in the case of Level 3, maximizing the potential of the course management system beyond its original purpose.
In 2015, Moodle, traditionally used on computers, launched its first mobile version in the form of an app, Moodle Mobile 2.0 (Moodle, Inc.) to accommodate the increasing number of teachers wishing to implement open-source learning materials in the mobile setting. The current version, Moodle 3.3.0 (May 2017; for Android and iOS), offers smartphone users improved interface and user experience (e.g., smoother navigation), simplified settings and preferences, and offline use for some functions (for a full review, visit: https://download.moodle.org/mobile
). This gives teachers the opportunity to build courses by using user-generated plugins to create multi-modal courses from scratch. Teachers can build courses similar to the Duolingo activities discussed in Step 1, with the added benefits of selecting an interface, deciding how the content unlocks, and enabling students to use tools in a manner that is more nuanced than Level 1. For example, a teacher could use the plugin PoodLL (PoodLL, Inc., Nagasaki, Japan, https://poodll.com/
), which serves as both a video and audio recorder that enables students to send asynchronous video and audio messages. This could also be paired with Level Up!, a leaderboard plugin that rewards students with experience points and badges for attempting to participate in learning activities rather than for achieving a high grade. These plugins are effective if paired with grammar and vocabulary activities that prepare the students for communication, which can then be followed with in-class discussions to create a blended environment (i.e., part online and part in-person).
Consistent with the demands of “building” at level three, teachers are responsible for creating the content and determining the precise interplay between objects, tools, and outcomes based on the needs of the population of students they teach. Teachers at this level also have access to logs, which enables them to apply data mining techniques to uncover hidden patterns in usage, a key part of the iterative process. One caveat is that being able to fully customize a course often requires a teacher to register a Moodle page and then set up a domain and server. Since Moodle courses available to teachers through their institutions often do not provide practitioners with the freedom to download plugins, it limits the freedom that teachers have to customize courses. Some institutions also require instructors to adhere to the institution’s own course management system, which further limits the customizability afforded by Moodle. Once a Moodle page has been set up, however, teachers have a multitude of ways to build materials to mobilize students’ interaction with the target language.
At Level 3, teachers may also choose to create their own mobile apps. Typically, this process requires extensive programming knowledge. However, with the recent advent of online app creators, this process has become accessible to the general public. While these app creators may not allow the non-programmer to create full-fledged, highly aesthetic apps such as Duolingo, for example, they allow the user to choose from a variety of features and elements to build their own MALL tools. Depending on an individual’s goals for the final product, there are several options. Some services, such as AppMakr (AppMakr, Inc., Glen Rock, NJ, USA, https://www.appmakr.com
) will allow the user to create a basic app for free if the app is intended for private use with a small group of people (i.e., not to be distributed to the general public via GooglePlay (Google, Inc., https://play.google.com/
); or the App Store (Apple, Inc., https://itunes.apple.com/
)). If, on the other hand, the user wishes to distribute the app more widely, AppMakr allows users to distribute their app(s) for a small monthly fee. If the would-be MALL engineer has grander plans for an app requiring more advanced features, other services such as AppCooker (Hot Apps Factory, Valbonne, France, http://www.appcooker.com
; one-time fee) and InVision (Invision, Inc., New York, NY, USA, https://www.invisionapp.com
; first one is free) allow the user to create app prototypes via a drag-and-drop interface (in which the user selects buttons, text boxes, etc. and positions them on the screen as they would appear in an app). The prototypes can be used to test the app, and the user can receive feedback from other community members. Once finalized, these prototypes can be sent to developers, who can then program the app to be published and distributed to a wider market.
There are also several options for gamified tool creation. GameSalad (discount available for students and educators) provides the user with tools to create their own interactive games, again via a drag-and-drop interface. An easy-to-follow tutorial will see the user create a basic game in just two hours. While these games cannot be made into apps, the games can be accessed online and formatted to fit the screen of a mobile device. There are also several online services (e.g., ARIS (Field Day Labs, Madison, WI, USA, http://arisgames.org
); or ARToolKit (GitHub, San Francisco, CA, USA, https://artoolkit.org
)) which provide the user with free materials to create their own augmented reality (AR) app or game (a program altering our view of the real world, typically using the camera on a mobile device such as Pokémon GO (The Pokémon Company, Minato Ward, Tokyo, Japan, www.pokemon.com
); see Godwin-Jones [25
] for a proposal of how these tools can be used for language learning). ARIS, for instance, “can be used to create quite simple apps such as tours or scavenger hunts or quite complex branching games” [25
] (p. 13).
The potential for language targeted via online course management systems such as Moodle or app creators is limitless. Teachers can create their own MALL materials with their own purposes in mind; teachers do not face the same restrictions as they would at levels one or two, which require the integration or modification of pre-made materials. These tools can be used to provide anything from additional pronunciation practice to grammar practice, but all have the same outcome in mind; to increase learner interaction with the TL. The time and effort required from the teacher-creator will also vary; while the most basic drag-and-drop apps or Moodle courses can be created within an hour (once the MALL engineer is familiar with the interface), other apps or more advanced features with personalized tools will certainly require more time to assemble. Chapelle’s criteria for CALL task appropriateness again play a vital role at this level, as the teacher should consider each of the criteria when creating a new activity or choosing to integrate elements from pre-made materials or tasks [18
]. As such, teachers at this level may wish to work together with students or fellow teachers, not only to lighten the workload but also to gain insight from others and thus contribute to the iterative process of design-based research.