ICT4LT Module 2.5

Introduction to CALL authoring programs



This module discusses the way in which authoring systems and languages can assist in the creation of language learning programs. It analyses the different types of authoring systems and deals with the need for a sound pedagogical approach to their use. There is considerable synergy between the material in this module and that in Module 3.2, CALL software design and implementation, especially with regard to:

It is therefore recommended that both Module 2.5 and Module 3.2 be studied closely and in tandem before attempting an authoring task.

This module also assumes that the reader is familiar with the basics of multimedia CALL - see Module 2.2 - especially a familiarity with the basic tools for editing images, and sound and video files: see Section 2.2.3, Module 2.2, headed Doing it yourself.

If you are writing primarily for the Web you are advised to read Module 3.3, Creating a World Wide Web site, bearing in mind that the same general screen design and pedagogical design principles apply to the Web as to any other kind of authoring in an ICT environment.

If you are considering producing materials for a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) have a look at Section 8 of Module 1.5, headed Distance learning and the Web: VLEs, MLEs etc.

This Web page is designed to be read from the printed page. Use File / Print in your browser to produce a printed copy. After you have digested the contents of the printed copy, come back to the onscreen version to follow up the hyperlinks.

Authors of this module

Paul Bangs, Language Technology Consultant, UK.

With an Introduction by Graham Davies, Editor-in-Chief, ICT4LT Website.

Introduction by Graham Davies

I wrote my first authoring program in the late 1970s. It wasn't intended to be used by others; it was intended to make my own life easier. I wrote it in BASIC, initially on a Prime 300 minicomputer, and I later adapted it for the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the BBC Micro. Having written a number of dedicated CALL programs in BASIC over a period of two years, I had finally realised that writing new code for each new program was incredibly tedious, so I set about writing a program that would speed up the process. The package that emerged consisted of an exercise creation program for the teacher and an exercise/testing program for the student. The package was marketed by Wida Software under the name Teacher's Toolkit and, subsequently, by Hutchinson under the name Questionmaster. By modern standards the package was extremely primitive. It enabled the teacher to create a text file consisting of a set of questions, together with sets of possible answers and hints if the student had no idea of what was required or if he/she gave a wrong answer. The package could also give an indication of the shape of the anticipated answer, e.g. "*** *****" would indicate that two words were required, the first consisting of three letters and the second consisting of five letters. If the student just got a couple of letters wrong the computer would indicate where the errors lay, e.g. by displaying "d** Wag*n", if the student answered "das Wagon" instead of "der Wagen". Questionmaster was crude but effective within its limitations - which were considerable, both in terms of the pedagogy and the physical environment in which it operated.

Since the 1970s a bewildering array of authoring tools have made their appearance, for example:

TES/T, Pilot, COMET, CAN, WatCAN, CALIS, WinCALIS, Dasher, Edutext, Microtext, Tutor, TenCore, Course of Action, Storyboard, CopyWrite, Quartext, WordPlay, TextPlay, Developing Tray, Question Mark, ClozeWrite, Clozemaster,UNIT, Gapfil, Speedread, ToolBook, Hypercard, HyperStudio, MediaLink, QuestNet, IconAuthor, CBT Express, Course Builder, Guide, HyperShell, Linkway, BonAccord, Partner Tools, Learning Space, Authorware, Director.

Most of the above packages were short-lived, but some are still going strong and are described by Paul Bangs in the following sections of this module.

"Doing it yourself" is a satisfying experience, but it does take time - and I issued a clear warning about this in an article I wrote a few years ago (Davies 1997:40-42).

An authoring tool makes the software creation process easier, however, and many language teachers have produced large amounts of materials for their students. There is a also a thriving business in sales of ready-made sets of authored materials that tie in with coursebooks, and there are a number of websites maintained by practising teachers that contain banks of such materials designed to be used in conjunction with existing authoring packages, such as Fun with Texts, a package that is widely used in secondary schools in the UK.

So what is authoring all about? Over to Paul Bangs...

1. What is authoring?

We all have a concept of the word author, whether as verb or noun. In a general literary context we take this to be a creative process, stemming (usually) solely from the mind and pen (or word-processor) of the writer. However, in the world of computer programming, the term authoring has taken on a new and quite different dimension.

Writing computer programs can be a daunting task. Programmers spend much time in training and updating their skills, and various complex programming languages are employed in the process of creating the vast amounts of software we all use today. Clearly, not all teachers will wish to be programmers, and the huge investment in time and energy to learn such skills is not at all cost-effective for the typical teacher wishing to create effective learning materials.

With this audience in mind, there has grown, over the years, a new class of software, whose aim is to enable relatively unsophisticated computer users to create appropriate learning programs - or courseware, a term that we will use from now on. The level of skill and knowledge which the courseware creator (= author) requires, can vary enormously from package to package. Some authoring systems are subject-specific, others generic. Some are platform-dependent, others cross-platform. What is important is the ratio between the time spent in creating an item of courseware, and the eventual learner use time of the completed product. The lower the ratio, the more cost-effective the authoring system although, naturally, much depends on the level of knowledge and training of the developer.

This module aims to describe and classify some of these authoring systems, and to assist in the process of choosing the appropriate one for the intended outcomes and, above all, to facilitate the development of a sound pedagogical approach to the use of authoring systems to create courseware.

2. Early CALL and authoring

When computers began the long but increasingly rapid progress towards the relatively cheap and powerful machines we have at our disposal today, things were very different. What PCs there were had no sound facilities, and usually just a low-resolution black and white screen, with limited graphical capability. Small wonder that the first CALL programs were all text-based. With the first courseware being created in the BASIC computer language, only a few enthusiastic souls took up the challenge, and invested heavily in their time to learn the necessary skills. However, it was soon realised that the use of computers would not make much headway into the classroom or open access centre until language teachers were able to create their own items of courseware without undertaking such an overhead. Thus there emerged several key initiatives which count as the first steps in providing language teachers with subject-specific authoring tools. Among these were Wida Software's The Authoring Suite and Camsoft's Fun with Texts and GapKit.

Many of the early authoring tools are still with us in some form or other, though they have evolved considerably over the years. They began as a simple means of allowing courseware creators to have responsibility for the content of their work, leaving the functionality to be dealt with by the authoring program itself. In this way, the user has a very short learning curve to adopt in order to be able to use the systems, and a critical mass of courseware can be created at very low cost to enable justification of use of PCs in or around the classroom situation. In this respect these were, and are, highly effective and also influential developments. It is important to recognise their role as, essentially, tools for creating what is often referred to as "exerciseware", in that they deal with a limited range of exercise types rather than the ability to create a cohesive course of learning. In their current forms they are very different from their original versions, having developed to cater for the changing requirements and facilities of the PC world – but we shall return to this later. The one thing they have in common above all is the way in which any reasonably computer-literate teacher can create and tailor exercises for their own target learning audience.

3. A sideways look at authoring protocols for language learning  

Before going on to see how authoring programs developed into the systems they are today, it is wise to pause and consider what it is that any authoring tool might be able to offer us. In this respect it is important to understand a few basic principles for successful courseware creation - along with those to be found in Module 3.2, which are written with the more advanced program writer in mind, but the general points are equally valid here.

Pedagogy first, technology second...

Firstly, it is essential when creating courseware, that the element which is in control at all times should be the pedagogy, which in turn is driven, naturally, by the student’s learning requirements. It is all too easy to forget this and to lapse into being conditioned by technical considerations into what to place inside a piece of courseware - and even by the limitations of the programming system being used. This is a truly fundamental question, and a problem which has remained with us over the years of software development; it is as true today with recent tools such as Java and Javascript as it was with BASIC many years ago. Technical dependence is all too often cited as the justification for poor courseware, even where complex authoring tools have been employed.

Interactive design

Secondly, a potential courseware creator should consider carefully the difference between computer interactivity and pedagogical interactivity. Computers may seem very powerful, and modern authoring systems may seem extremely complex, but in essence all that they do, with certain exceptions, is to make choices and present material. True, they offer many ways of achieving this interactivity, but the true creativeness must come from the pedagogical side. These are essentially questions concerning the design process, and we would emphasise that the undertaking of a sound and complete initial design document is just as important when setting out to use authoring systems as it is when designing for a high level programmer within a large and costly project. The latter type of projects may employ an instructional designer, but all too often this is left to the programmers or the interactive designer (especially in Europe, where there is less of a tradition of instructional design than, say, in the USA, where it is a recognised and growing profession). However, when using authoring systems, this role lies firmly with the courseware creator and is even more essential. See Section 1.2, Module 1.4, headed Interactivity, and Sims (1997).

Let us be more specific. An authoring program or authoring template may be designed to enable the teacher to create a multiple-choice exercise: see Section 6 (below) and Section 4, Module 3.2 for further information on the template approach to authoring. What could be easier than to create a question/stimulus and three or four possible answers/responses? Simple computer interactivity. Yet the way such an exercise is dealt with could vary enormously in pedagogical terms. Modern computers offer us so many facilities. We could add an audio stimulus to a textual one, or we could provide images to aid comprehension. We could allow the learner to explore all given options - text, image, video or audio, or a mixture of any or all of these - before making a choice. There may be only one correct answer/response in the options presented to the learner, or more than one may be acceptable, and so on. The question of feedback is important and will be returned to later in Section 8. Feedback may be a simple sound indicating that the choice is right or wrong, a visual tick or a cross, an invitation to try again, a more informative textual or spoken message, or a consequential set of media. Feedback may also result in branching to another set of exercises or remedial explanations. The type of interaction may vary: clicking on an object, entering text, dragging and dropping, etc. Responses may receive instant verification and feedback or these may be available for the learner on demand. And there are many other variations. Thus, from what appears to be a simple exercise in making a choice from a set of options, a much wider range of pedagogical activity is possible.

Computers can do some things very well, and other things not so well. Open input exercises - also known as Free text entry exercises - are a possibility and can be handled in many ways: see Section 5.9, Module 3.2, headed Open input exercises (free text entry). Such exercises can work quite well if single-word or short phrases are required as answers, but at a more complex language level then a pencil and paper exercise is probably more efficient. However, there are many types of activity well suited to the computer and for which authoring programs are available. These are dealt with more fully again in Module 3.2, CALL software design and implementation. They include not only multiple choice, but also gap-filling, re-ordering jumbled sentences, text reconstruction, transformation exercises, clickable text and other media, matching, "hangman", crosswords, and so on. In addition, there is increasing availability of authoring possibilities for the use of sound, which does more than just match the use of language laboratories and which can offer significant enhancements, both technical and pedagogical. Finally, the increasing sophistication of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) offers us an exciting future if ASR can be incorporated into authoring tools: see Section 6, headed Language-specific tools for a multimedia age.

4. From dumb black to multimedia

As desktop PCs evolved a few decades ago, the early attempts at creating authoring systems involved dealing with screens which were black and white (or slightly later in few colours), and of course no sound facilities, and not even a mouse. Although in theory this should have made life much easier, in fact it cannot be said that the early authoring tools (such as Pilot) were very user-friendly. As we took the first faltering steps into the world of multimedia, with the advent of capture cards and interactive videodisc, authoring systems such as TenCore still required a high training overhead to make them work efficiently. We will not dwell on these items from the past, except to recall a system developed in the UK for BBC computers, known as Microtext, which encouraged many teachers to begin to program and author materials: see Davies (1989) on "repurposing" a videodisc using Microtext as an authoring tool..

But as we moved into the true digital world, especially as concerns the resources of sound, image and video, so new tools arrived to make life just that bit easier. Macromedia launched two revolutionary authoring tools, Authorware and then Director (which are now subsumed under the Adobe range of products), and these are probably still the market leaders in authoring systems worldwide. Director is rather more sophisticated (and hence somewhat more difficult to use) and is based, as its title suggests, on the world of cinema, with its components being described in terms of a studio production ("cast lists", etc). More recently it has evolved to become a powerful tool for website and Web program creation.

Authorware has had a huge impact on multimedia production. As for Director, this is not a tool in any way specific to language learning or any other discipline, but a generic system. It helps the less sophisticated user by its use of a flowchart system and a drag and drop visual interface, to enable the multimedia writer to visualise with ease the layout of the functionality of the program created. Whilst this helps considerably with the execution of the instructional design, it should not be allowed to replace it. Authorware has immense flexibility and has been used to good effect to create stunning presentations and learning programs. But there are drawbacks. Even with this level of sophistication and ease of use, it is not a template system (see Section 6 below) and to create a sizeable program often requires much repetition of the functional items in the authoring system. Furthermore, as any experienced Authorware user will tell you, when you require a deal of complexity and sophistication in the way in which your designed program is required to function, then at that stage a knowledge of programming skills is almost essential. This is true of many generic authoring systems, which often underpin their routines with a programming "script". A further consideration might be that its cost, although much lower than previously, is nevertheless relatively high, to reflect its sophistication and usefulness.

Finally in this section, a word about Visual Basic. This is a preferred tool of many, and does represent a considerable advance over the original versions of BASIC. However, it cannot be considered as a true authoring system, rather a "half-way house" between high level programming languages and authoring languages.

5. The hyperworld

Hypertext tools existed before the Internet. Apple Macintosh users have been familiar for many years with the HyperCard system of authoring. In its essence, this consists of being able to mark a word, sentence, or image, so that, when clicked upon, a predetermined action takes place, usually (especially in the Internet world) the replacement of the current screen with a new one with information relating to the word, etc., clicked on. Each screen is considered as a "card", which is sorted into "stacks" from which relevant cards can be extracted to form the flow of presentation, exercise, or test. Similar tools were soon created for the PC world, most notably ToolBook, and all of these developed into fairly user-friendly authoring systems. It is from these systems that the major Internet language, HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language), was developed, and this will be examined shortly.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the use of hypertext systems for authoring. On the one hand, their introduction liberated enormous numbers of users from dependence on commercial programs and programmers, allowing easy creation of learning routines. All that is required for a basic approach, is some basic training and an organised approach to design. However, as has been noted earlier with regard to generic authoring systems, in order to create truly (pedagogically) sophisticated programs, the use of these hypertext-type systems is anything but simple. It could be said that the influence of hypertext and HTML authoring has had a significant influence on the development of a new pedagogy for learning assisted by computer. On the one hand, many more teachers have been able to create the routines they require with minimal training; but on the other, very many items of courseware do not seem to offer a structured approach to the learning process, mainly through the inability to use the tools in a sophisticated way without considerable programming expertise being acquired. For many, the constructivist approach to student learning seems to justify the often open nature of the courseware created. For others the result is all too often a "click-and-go" approach, which can mean that the student is not given sufficient scaffolding or support in the learning process.

The above may seem confusing, but in essence the solution to the problem is a simple one, and has already been touched on above in Section 3. It is vital that a viable pedagogical and instructional design process should take precedence over technical considerations. Of course, there will always be occasions when you will need to tailor your design to a certain extent, according to the limitations of the software and hardware available – not just to you as a developer, but also to the likely configuration owned by the end user – the learner. For instance, it would unwise to use software routines which only work on the very latest computer systems, otherwise you risk excluding a significant number of potential end-users. But that is a rather different matter from making changes to your pedagogical approach because of technical considerations. One should always bear in mind that there are some things that computers can do well, and others which would be better achieved with pencil and paper.

The implication of all the above for authoring is that the choice of an authoring system should be based to a large extent on what you perceive as the intended outcomes from a pedagogical viewpoint, rather than simply the ease of use. Hypertext systems may indeed be exactly what are needed for your situation. To give but one example: for studying literary or other texts, the ability for a group of learners to examine the text on-screen (or online connected to the Internet), and for each of them to be requesting their own individual support by querying the hyperlinks attached to terms and words, would enable all students to later meet in a classroom situation in which the teacher can guarantee that less time is wasted with individual requests for clarification, thus improving the quality of the time devoted to that text in the classroom itself. Creating interactive exercises with such systems is also possible, but more difficult, and even more difficult is the creation of a structured sequence of courseware.

A further consideration specific to language learning has to be the way in which such systems can handle the use of images and, especially, sound. This has particular relevance when we move on to discuss authoring for the Internet in Section 7. But first we will examine authoring tools which are specific to language learning as a discipline.

6. Language-specific tools for a multimedia age

Authoring tools for language teachers have adapted over the years as multimedia facilities became available: see Module 2.2, Introduction to multimedia CALL. Their ease of use has not been compromised by these changes and, within the restricted range of exercise types which they offer, they still represent significant efficiency and a good ratio of developer to learner time, as mentioned in Section 1.

Alongside the evolving nature of these programs, new authoring systems specific to language learning have been developed over recent years. In particular, efforts have been made to harness the potential power of the audio systems inside computers to the advantage of the language learner. The ability to create tailor-made or adaptable items of courseware which will enable practice in the productive language skills of writing and speaking has always been a challenge. Free text entry (see Section 3 above) is easy in terms of word-processing, but free text entry accompanied by an automatic assessment of the accuracy of what a learner has entered is altogether a different proposition. To confirm this, one has but to think of the deficiencies of grammar checkers: see Yu Hong Wei & Davies (1997). There are few authoring systems which can offer such facilities - and anyway this may be a case for saying (as we mentioned above) that there are things best done on paper. Analysis of freely entered text hinges either on programs or program modules known as parsers, or on the content provider anticipating a range of correct and incorrect answers: see Section 5.9, Module 3.2, headed Open input exercises (free text entry). Research into parsing techniques has made considerable progress, but a lot of work remains to be done before parser-based CALL is reliable: see Section 8, Module 3.5, headed Parser-based CALL.

There are obvious advantages for the learner if we can reach a situation in which s/he can be working productively with sound in order to acquire or to consolidate audio skills at his/her own pace and with the required level of support. Of course there are many commercially available packages which do just that, and many of them are excellent: see Module 2.2, Introduction to multimedia CALL. However, experience has shown that many teachers would like to be able to create their own audio routines and build them into courseware specific to their own students. To this end, considerable efforts have gone in recent years towards achieving the goal of providing such facilities.

At this point it would be wise to reiterate a word of caution. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of sacrificing pedagogical accuracy for technical simplicity. With both commercially available courseware and authoring systems it is possible to see examples of routines which, when analysed, offer us a pedagogy which would be rejected in other situations. Thus it is important to consider, when choosing or using an authoring system for assessing speaking skills, whether the system can offer pedagogically sound courseware. Many teachers will recall the now discredited behaviourist routines once employed with language laboratories – the mindless, non-contextualised three-phase substitution drills spring to mind. Yet we can still see such rote repetitions used in programs, seemingly justified by the fact that they are using "new technology" when in fact the pedagogy is outmoded. But at the very least the learner should be able to record his/her own voice and hear it played back, e.g. as in the TELL Encounters series of CD-ROMs. Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) has been used in a number of commercially produced programs, but there does not appear to be an easy-to-use authoring package that incorporates ASR. There are also language-laboratory type authoring programs which bear scrutiny, e.g. Telos Language Partner, Duke University's WinCALIS and NeuroConcept's Speaker (Tippett & Cook 1998).

For further information on ASR see:

In a slightly different, but related, context it is worth describing how recent initiatives have discovered the need for a complete separation of content from functionality (as described earlier in Section 2). Work undertaken by Paul Bangs for training staff employed by Eurostar staff needing to learn French for their duties on Channel Tunnel trains showed how important this is: see Bangs (1992), Bangs (1993), Bangs (1994). Work on the Eurostar project also identified a need to create templates for the required routines in order to avoid massive repetition: see Section 4, Module 3.2, headed The template approach to authoring. Further application of these principles was seen in the production of the TELL Encounters series of CD-ROMs, where adaptation into different language versions was facilitated in this way.

At The Open University in the UK another form of template structure, based on the writing of "scripts", gave new insights into collaborative ways of working The Language Author, though never published, was a European Commission funded experiment in this creation process, and led directly to the Multimedia Authoring for Language Teaching and Educational Development (MALTED) project: see (Bangs & Shield 1999).

MALTED was designed to offer sophisticated authoring possibilities for language learning, but it goes considerably further in that affords the possibility of a truly collaborative approach to authoring for language learning, by means of the use of a comprehensive data base of reusable resources which are made available via the Internet. MALTED is a dynamic evolving tool, comprising a wide range of templates for creating exercises. At a higher level than the exercise templates, there is a courseware template which enables exercises or other materials to be assembled into pedagogically meaningful sequences or to create a whole course. Further advantages include the ability of the author to control the display characteristics of the courseware created, and to include into any template any media object desired. The MALTED project was completed in 2000. There is little evidence of the uptake of MALTED in the UK, but the system is constantly being improved and updated through the management of CNICE, an agency for innovation and technological development at the Spanish Ministry of Education. MALTED is open source freeware.

There are many other easy-to-use authoring packages, for example:

See also Authoring Tools, a large list of links created by Christine Bauer-Ramazani.

7. The arrival of the Internet

The Internet revolution took the world by storm with the public launch of the World Wide Web in 1993. But we will begin on a note of caution. Expectations of what the Internet can achieve for the learning process are often far too high, and based on a failure to understand what it realistically possible: see Bangs (2001) and Bangs (2002). The resource aspect of the Internet is well appreciated, and the enormous wealth of materials on offer to language teachers and learners is truly amazing. But difficulties still remain: how to find what you want, how to use search engines, how to know whether the information on a site is reliable, how to pool knowledge of good sites and how to avoid the enormous amount of poor quality materials - all this still represents a challenge to the word of language teaching and learning.

Note that until now we have used the term Internet and not World Wide Web. The Internet is much wider than the World Wide Web, and many Internet sites are not part of the World Wide Web. For the purposes of this module, what matters is the way in which the term Web-based learning is often misused. See also Module 1.5, Module 2.3 and Module 3.3, all of which are devoted to using the Web as a resource for teaching and learning foreign languages.

Among other advantages of the Internet, one could cite its universal availability at increasingly lower cost - although here one must exercise caution and not assume that a target learning audience will always have access. And although the English language still dominates the material on offer, other languages are making inroads into this dominance, notably Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. A further feature of the World Wide Web is that there exists a universally understandable (or very nearly understandable) programming language, namely HTML (HyperText Markup Language), which is used to create and display the materials we view in our Web browsers. HTML is used universally, and this will be discussed later in this section. See also Module 3.3 on creating a website.

Before examining the Web authoring tools available to us, it is necessary to make a distinction between different types of material we see on the Web. These fall into various categories. There are programs which use the Internet purely as a delivery mechanism to transfer material from source to end user - in other words the Internet or the Web is merely a transfer device in the same (though quicker) way as postal delivery. There are also programs which, though essentially similar to the above, use the Web’s HTML language as the basis of an authoring tool, making them suitable to use with a Web browser whether or not one is connected to the Internet. Hot Potatoes is a good example, using HTML enhanced with Javascript to enable the user to create interactive exercises. See the Glossary for explanations of the differences between Javascript and Java.

Programs like Hot Potatoes enable the author to create and deliver interactive exercises across the Internet, across an institutional intranet, or on an individual computer, according to circumstances. Finally, there are the programs that depend on the Internet itself and use its facilities.

We have already mentioned in Section 5 the difficulties of creating complex, structured learning programs with hypertext techniques. This is even more true of programs which use HTML, and this requires some explanation. HTML is a programming language. Although easier than most to master, it nevertheless requires training and skills which the average Web page or learning program creator will not wish or need to have. Fortunately, many tools have been created to circumvent the need to know HTML. There are very many Web authoring tools that allow us to program in HTML without using the language itself. At the simplest level, word-processors can themselves save documents in HTML format, but there are much more sophisticated authoring tools. The two most popular Web authoring tools are:

See also Module 3.3 on creating a website.

The above authoring tools are typical examples among many, but they suffer from a common drawback, namely the limitations imposed by the very nature of HTML, especially its lack of interactivity. One way which has been found to get around the lack of interactivity in HTML is to enhance or replace the basic HTML language with other elements or languages. XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is already replacing HTML and, with the advent of so-called Web 2.0 applications, more sophisticated authoring tools are becoming available: see Section 2.1, Module 1.5, headed What is Web 2.0?

Another way of overcoming the limitations of HTML is to incorporate routines within it that are written in another language such as Javascript or Java. This is what occurs in authoring tools such as Hot Potatoes - as described above - thereby offering a higher level of interactivity. Unfortunately, such languages do not adequately support some of the standard interactive functions which we have come to expect from language learning programs. Thus we can still see a mismatch between what we can author in non-Web-based tools, especially when it comes to dealing with sound and video, and what is available in Web-based authoring. See Section 1.2, Module 1.4, headed Interactivity, and Sims (1997).

Developments in this field are, however, very rapid, and improvements occur all the time. But for the moment it is wise to stick to the principles made above in this module - make your design and see what can deliver it, rather than to choose an authoring system and create only what it can handle. Compromises are, of course, possible, but have to be carried out with great care.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are gaining in popularity in the educational sector. A VLE is a Web-based package designed to help teachers create online courses, together with facilities for teacher-learner communication and peer-to-peer communication. VLEs can be used to deliver learning materials within an institution or within a local education authority. They may even address a wider constituency, and may be used on a worldwide basis. VLEs have certain advantages in terms of ease of delivery and management of learning materials. They may, however, be restrictive in that the underlying pedagogy attempts to address a very wide range of subjects, and thus does not necessarily fit in with established practice in language learning and teaching.

VLEs are more than a simple templating or courseware creation system. They offer a more integrated approach to the use of Web-based materials, whether they are delivered over the Internet or locally. They can maintain records, create courseware and curricular structures, offer tests, chat rooms and forums. A major problem with VLEs is that there is often no easy way of transferring course materials from one system to another. This can make VLEs very labour-intensive if, for example, a teacher who has created the materials moves from one educational institution to another and has to rewrite his/her materials to fit in with the VLE that the new institution uses. Similarly, if an institution changes its VLE supplier then materials may need to be written in a completely different way.

See the following modules that deal in more detail with the Web, distance learning and VLEs:

To summarise, a prospective author of language learning programs would do well to stop and carry out research into the tools required, using as parameters the advice which we will be giving later. See Bibliography and references.

8. How to factor feedback into your authoring

Much can be written on the subject of feedback in language learning courseware. Here it will suffice to offer a few pointers which may help, not just in the creative process, but also in the process of deciding which authoring tool would be appropriate - a topic dealt with in the next section.

The best language learning feedback is, of course, the real-life situation when using the language results in either a response from the other person or an action showing that the language used was appropriate. When the learner goes into a café and asks for a coffee and gets one, nobody says "Well done!" or plays silly music noises; nor does anyone say "Try again" or make a downbeat sound if the transaction results in failure. This may sound simplistic but it is all too often forgotten when translating the situations into the world of CALL.

In CALL we distinguish between intrinsic feedback and extrinsic feedback. Intrinsic feedback attempts to mimic a real-life situation and allows the learner to work out why he/she is right or wrong. This is not always possible, but an authoring system should be capable of offering this facility. Extrinsic feedback is more explicit and ideally should go beyond the standard "applause" (right) and "boing" (wrong) and "try again" types of messages and mimic a good teacher offering helpful advice and encouragement. In other words, the authoring program should offer a pedagogically sound framework.

Experience and research show that teachers need to tailor materials as closely as possible to their individual learners. Thus it should be possible to create feedback (which can take the form of text, audio, image, video or any combination of these) which is user-specific - even to the extent of an individual. If a student gets an answer wrong, he/she could have their attention drawn to the notes given out at the previous class, and so on.

The question of feedback is so important that we would argue that the choice of an authoring system might even begin with this factor. See:

See also Laurillard (1993a) and Bangs (2003).

8.1 Learning task

Laurillard (1996) writes:

The advantage of intrinsic feedback is that it defines a model for the student to aim for, and shows them how close their action came to producing it, thus making it possible for the student to judge how well they did, and what to do to improve their action. Intrinsic feedback of this kind is more motivating than extrinsic, because you can see the benefit the right answer gives you, the communicative value of the right answer.

Can you think of specific examples of intrinsic and extrinsic feedback and how you would incorporate them into a CALL program? What is meant by negative feedback, and why should this be avoided?

9. How to choose authoring tools

This is not an easy subject to tackle. So much depends on what you require the system to do. There is a world of difference between deciding to put a range of simple exercises onto the computer for additional practice for your students, and taking the step to create a curriculum in which CALL will play an integrated and important element. And, of course, there are many stages between these two extremes. It may be a requirement that you would like to publish commercially the outcome of your authoring, which will bring in a whole new dimension.

At the risk of being repetitive, we urge that the first steps should be taken before the decision is made as to which authoring tools to use. Your instructional and pedagogical design should be the starting point, not the facilities offered by the authoring package.

Therefore the first question to be asked has to be whether the authoring tool under consideration can deliver what the author requires in terms of pedagogical outcomes. This includes, as a high priority, the question of feedback mentioned in Section 8. Then there may be other factors. For instance, if you wish to make tests, does the system offer a scoring mechanism? See Module 4.1 on Computer Aided Assessment (CAA) for more information on tests as opposed to exercises.

The question of whether the authoring tool is specific to language learning may be important, depending on the type of courseware to be created. If you are designing language-laboratory type exercises, then efficient manipulation of sound input and output is a must, and this will mean very careful selection of appropriate tools, especially Web-based tools, which fall far behind the tools for creating such materials offline. And can the system support the various diacritics or alphabets you wish to use in your courseware?

Many CALL authoring programs usually offer only a selection of templates for specific activities, rather than an overall system of courseware and courseware management. Generic authoring programs are usually much more flexible in this respect, but they are often harder to manage and require a significant training overhead.

A further important question to consider is the extent to which any courseware created could be re-used, recycled or re-versioned for similar but distinct purposes. Are the resources easily held separately from the main program so that they can be easily accessed and changed? And bear in mind that just changing the resources themselves is insufficient – one needs to have easy access to the references to those resources. Are these easily adapted for a new situation or is considerable re-programming required?

Another factor that might be important is the cost. Some authoring systems are expensive, but offer a lot of facilities that may never be used. Some, such as Hot Potatoes and MaxAuthor, are free - subject to certain conditions.

Other issues include the ease of use, previous technical requirements for the author, restrictions on publishing courseware created, royalty demands, platform and browser dependence, and so on.


10. Authoring tips

First the pedagogy, then the technology...

At the risk of inducing acute boredom, we will reiterate the principle that the pedagogical design should always be in charge, not technical issues, so begin with designing the courseware:

Creating your assets

Allow plenty of time and resources for the creation of the media which will be used in your courseware – the texts, images, audio recordings and video - which are known in technical jargon as assets. You need to be able to handle a variety of tools for the creation of your assets, e.g.

See Section 2.2, Module 2.2 for a further information on software tools for creating and manipulating images, sound and video.

If you are creating your own images, sound recordings and video recordings from scratch then you will probably have to employ a photographer, a graphic designer, a sound engineer, a video technician and native speakers to read your texts. If you intend to use existing images, sound recordings and video recordings then you must check that copyright is not being infringed - see below, headed Copyright issues.

If the authoring system is sufficiently advanced to allow the complete separation of content and functionality, remember that they can always be replaced later, so an interim production for trialling purposes may be possible. Remember also that there is a well-known relationship between the size of the target audience and the level of production values - a poor, grainy image may well be useful if it is taken from a school party trip to the target country and is therefore likely to motivate a small class of those who were involved, but would be unacceptable if posted on the Internet for millions to see. Do not underestimate the time required for the creation of adequate assets, and include in this the creation of feedback - which may be multimedia in itself (see Section 8). Ensure that you have the necessary tools for asset production. Except possibly in the case of video, these need not be enormously expensive.

Copyright issues

In general, the rules on copyright and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are well formulated and must be adhered to. Copyright clearance is required for all authentic texts, pictures, sound recordings, video sequences, software code, etc. There are no automatic special concessions for educational users as far as the dissemination of copyright material is concerned, regardless of whether it is distributed free of charge or sold on a commercial basis.

The world of computer-enhanced learning is strewn with the wrecks of projects that cannot be distributed or even used because the question of IPR was not taken into consideration. One important rule is that the whole question of copyright should be addressed at the start of the creative process, especially if permissions are to be sought, not after the courseware has been assembled, when it may well be that a copyright infringement has already taken place, thus leaving the creator(s) in a very weak negotiating position.

Copyright infringement is a growing problem, which we also refer to in:

See our General guidelines on copyright, which is a general introduction to copyright, drawing on a variety of sources.


11. The future of authoring

Where will authoring systems go from here? Perhaps the issue is best approached by posing the question: What do we want and need from these systems in the future?

We certainly need further facilities which are specific to language learning, e.g. better interactive audio facilities, and facilities which represent the possibility of creating courseware which is state of the art in pedagogical as well as technical terms.

Given the growing complexities of so-called Web design, it seems unlikely that generic authoring systems will in the near future become that more user-friendly and easier to use by non-sophisticated courseware writers. But the problems inherent in Web page design need to be overcome in order to offer all of us a greater pedagogical coherence. The Internet should be exploited to fulfil its potential of enormous access whilst maintaining standards of quality, and to offer a platform for a collaborative approach to authoring.

As for Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), the ultimate aim has to be for courseware creators to be able to produce learning situations such as these:

To give a more explicit example: If the program asks learner user what s/he wants in a shop, and the task is to buy a kilo of rice, then if the learner speaks the request correctly, the rice is handed over, otherwise a variety of other feedback situations might occur – wrong commodity or quantity being purchased, shopkeeper failing to understand the request, and so on.

Although there are new technical advances almost every day, the elusive promise of true, efficient ASR devices is yet to materialise in full. Work on such systems is, however, progressing apace, and there are already a number of CD-ROMs that incorporate ASR software into their interactive routines. See:

There are also some remarkable systems for dictation and control over the computer, which should in time migrate to authoring systems. See Section 6, headed Language-specific tools for a multimedia age.

12. Learning tasks

  1. To begin to develop authoring skills, without a financial overhead, you could use Hot Potatoes, which is freely available, and create one or two exercises, beginning with multiple-choice and gap-filling exercises. Congratulate yourself if these work well, but then try them out on learners and ask them what they thought of them, as well as examining precisely what they learnt and whether it was more efficient to do it that way.

  2. Keep a record of how long it takes you to create an exercise or other piece of courseware, bearing in mind that as with all new acquisitions, the early efforts will incorporate "learning curve time".

Bibliography and references

Authorware and Director authoring tools: http://www.adobe.com/uk/

Bangs P. et al. (1992) En Train de Parler, video and interactive multimedia courseware produced for European Passenger Services, London.

Bangs P. et al. (1993) Ŕ l'Aube de l'Eurostar, video film produced for European Passenger Services, London.

Bangs P. (1994) "En Train de Parler". In Beck U. & Sommer W. (eds.), LearnTec 93: Europäischer Kongress für Bildungstechnologie und betriebliche Bildung, Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Bangs P. (1997) "Author, author! – but does (s)he speak my language?" In Little D. & Voss B. (eds.), Language centres: planning for the new millennium. Papers from the 4th CERCLES conference, Plymouth: CercleS.

Bangs P. (2000) "Technology enhanced language learning", The Linguist 39, 2: 38-41.

Bangs P. (2001) EUROCALL 2001 paper titled "Will the Web catch enough flies? Where Web-based learning cannot yet reach".

Bangs P. (2002) "Authoring, pedagogy and the Web: expectations versus reality", International Journal of English Studies, Monograph Issue 2, 1: New Trends in Computer Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, edited by Pascual Pérez Paredes & Pascual Cantos Gómez, Servicio de Publicaciones, Universidad de Murcia, Spain. Available at: http://www.um.es/ijes/vol2n1/03-PaulBangs.pdf

Bangs P. (2003) "Engaging the learner - how to author for best feedback". In Felix U. (ed.) Language learning online: towards best practice, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Bangs P. & Shield L. (1999) "Why change authors into programmers?" ReCALL 11, 1: 19-29. Available at:

Bauer-Ramazani Christine (St Michael's College, Vermont, USA): An impressive list of links to websites containing authoring tools:

Bertin J-C. (2001) "CALL material structure and learner competence". In Chambers A. & Davies G. (eds.) Information and Communications Technologies in language learning: a European perspective, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Bickerton D. (1999) "Authoring and the academic linguist: the challenge of MMCALL". In Cameron K. (ed.) CALL: media, design and applications, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Bickerton D. (2000) "Can (and should) academic linguists become multimedia authors?" In Fremdsprachenlernen mit Multimedia [...], Triangle 17, 30–31 janvier 1998 (pp. 47–63). Paris: ENS Editions (for Goethe-Institut, ENS Fontenay/Saint-Cloud, The British Council).

Bickerton D., Ginet A., Stenton T., Temmerman M. & Vasankari T. (1997) Final report of the RAPIDO project. Plymouth, UK: University of Plymouth (Socrates Project TM-LD-1995-1-GB-58).

Bickerton D., Stenton T. & Temmermann M. (2001) "Criteria for the evaluation of authoring tools in language education". In Chambers A. & Davies G. (eds.) Information and Communications Technologies in language learning: a European perspective, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Blackboard: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): http://www.blackboard.com. Blackboard and WebCT announced an agreement to merge in October 2005.

Brücher K.H. (1993) "On the performance and efficiency of authoring programs in CALL", CALICO Journal 11, 2: 5–20.

Camsoft: Publisher of Fun with Texts and GapKit: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/

ContentGenerator: This website offers a range of Flash-based tools for the generation of quizzes, games and other applications: http://www.contentgenerator.net

Davies G. (1989) "Repurposing a videodisc for French language teaching". In Kécskés I. & Agócs L. (eds.) New tendencies in CALL, Debrecen, Hungary: Kossuth University. Available as a Word document: Debrecen.doc

Davies G. (1997) "Lessons from the past, lessons for the future: 20 years of CALL". In Korsvold A-K. & Rüschoff B. (eds.) New technologies in language learning and teaching, Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Also on the Web in a revised edition (2009) at: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/coegdd1.htm

Davies G. (1998) Four approaches to authoring CALL materials. Abstract of paper presented at EUROCALL 98 University of Leuven, Belgium, September 1998: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/author.htm

Davies G. & Bruzzone M. (1996) GapKit Version 2.0, Maidenhead: Camsoft:
Reviewed by Andy Hagyard & Jocelyn Wyburd in the ReCALL Newsletter, October 1997:

Davies G. & Bruzzone M. (2004) Fun with Texts Version 4.0, Maidenhead: Camsoft. Version 4.0 allows teachers to integrate pictures, sound and video into the exercises: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/fwt.htm

Delcloque P. (2001) "To DISSEMINATE or not? Should we pursue a new direction: looking for the “third way” in CALL development?" In Chambers A. & Davies G. (eds.) Information and Communications Technologies in language learning: a European perspective, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Dreamweaver: Web authoring package by Adobe: http://www.adobe.com/uk/

Encounters series of CD-ROMs, TELL Consortium, University of Hull. Available from Camsoft.

FrontPage: Web authoring package by Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com

Hot Potatoes: An authoring tool that was created by Martin Holmes and Stewart Arneil at the University of Victoria, Canada, and launched in 1998. It enables the speedy creation of Web-based exercises for language learners, including multiple choice, gap-filling, matching, jumbled sentences, crosswords and short text entry. This authoring tool has proved extremely popular with language teachers and it continues to be used extensively for the creation of interactive exercises and tests on the Web. Visit the Hot Potatoes website to find out more, download the software and see lots of examples: http://hotpot.uvic.ca. See Winke & MacGregor (2001) for a review of Hot Potatoes.

JClic is a freeware application, formerly known simply as CLIC, developed by Francesc Busquets, for the development of multimedia activities for language learners. With JClic you can create different types of activities: puzzles, associations, crosswords, identification activities, exploration activities, open-ended answers, multiple choice, etc. See the zonaClic website, which is available in three languages: Catalan, Spanish and English: http://clic.xtec.net

Laurillard D. (1993a) Program design principles, Hull: The TELL Consortium, University of Hull. This document is incorporated as Annex 1: Program design principles into Laurillard (1996).

Laurillard D. (1993b) Rethinking university teaching, London: Routledge.

Laurillard D. (1996) Formative evaluation report: the TELL Consortium, Hull: The TELL Consortium, University of Hull.

McCarthy B. (1994) "Discerning the teacher behind the software", ReCALL 6, 2: 23-28.

McCarthy B. (1998) "Choice and constraint in software design", ON-CALL 8, 2.

MALTED (Multimedia Authoring for Language Teaching and Educational Development): http://malted.cnice.mec.es/ingles/maltedproject.htm

MaxAuthor: An authoring system used to create the Critical Language Series series of Web materials and CD-ROMs at the University of Arizona. MaxAuthor is available free of charge at http://cali.arizona.edu/docs/wmaxa

Moodle: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): http://moodle.org/

The Open University's Faculty of Education and Language Studies: http://www.open.ac.uk/education-and-languages/

Quandary: A package from the Hot Potatoes team. Quandary is used for designing Action Mazes or Text Mazes: http://www.halfbakedsoftware.com/quandary.php

Quia: Useful authoring tool. The website includes lots of ready-made examples in foreign languages and a variety of other subjects - all submitted by keen registered users: http://www.quia.com/

Plass J.L. (1998) "Design and evaluation of the user interface of foreign language multimedia software: a cognitive approach". In Language Learning and Technology 2, 1: 35-45. Available at: http://llt.msu.edu/vol2num1/article2/index.html

Riley F. (1995) Developing multimedia courseware, Hull: University of Hull.

Rogerson-Revell P. (2005) "A hybrid approach to developing CALL materials: authoring with Macromedia's Dreamweaver/Coursebuilder, ReCALL 17, 1: 122-138.

Sims R. (1996) "Interactivity: a forgotten art?" In Instructional Technology Research Online. See Research Repository at: http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwitr/

TaskMagic: Authoring tool, produced by mdlsoft, for the creation of a variety of exercise types, including.text match, picture match, sound match, picture-sound match, grid match, mix and gap, exercises based on dialogues.

Telos Language Partner: An authoring tool, produced by STZ Sprachlernmedien, University of Tübingen, Germany: http://www.sprachlernmedien.de/

Tippett S. & Cook B. (1998) "Authoring tools: a comparative study", ReCALL 10, 2: 12-17. Available at http://www.eurocall-languages.org/recall/pdf/rvol10no2.pdf. This article compares two packages: Speaker and Wincalis.

ToolBook authoring tool: http://www.sumtotalsystems.com/products/toolbook-elearning-content.html

WebCT: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE): Blackboard and WebCT announced an agreement to merge in October 2005.

Wida Software: Publisher of The Authoring Suite: http://www.wida.co.uk/

WinCALIS (Duke University, USA): Authoring tool: http://www.humancomp.org/wincalis.htm

Winke P. & MacGregor D. (2001) Review of Hot Potatoes in Language Learning and Technology 5, 2: 28-33. Available at: http://llt.msu.edu/vol5num2/review3/default.html

Yu Hong Wei & Davies G. (1997) "Do grammar checkers work?" In Kohn J., Rüschoff B. & Wolff D. (eds.) New horizons in CALL: proceedings of EUROCALL 96, Szombathely, Hungary: Dániel Berzsenyi College. Also on the Web at: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/euro96b.htm

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