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Springer / Palmgrave Macmillan, 2022

ISBN: 978-3-031-06500-2 (print)

URL: (last check 2022-11-29)

Book Review

The field of educational technology (EdTech), especially during the years surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, has been flooded with research. Voices calling for more funding for, greater accessibility to, and more training in EdTech are loud and clear. Specifically in the area of world language education, educators and EdTech developers navigate the virtual world and curate resources in an attempt to bring the studied cultures and languages to life in world language classrooms. However, language teachers are often among the last to receive funding and content-specific training. As a result, in order to shed light on their needs and content area outside of their classroom walls, they often need to be the loudest in the room. Ahmed does not seek to discredit or ignore these voices, but rather aims to filter through the noise in EdTech and computer assisted language learning (CALL) research and practice in his book Exploring silences in the field of computer assisted language learning. Ahmed’s goal is not to hail CALL as the savior of language education, nor is it to suggest that world language educators rush to unplug their devices. Instead, he treads between these two extremes to highlight the areas in CALL research and practice that have been underrepresented with the goal of bringing CALL to its full potential for all users.

In the introduction, Ahmed explores the negative connotations that often accompany silence in educational settings and specifically with language learning. Silence in classrooms can mean that students are disengaged or unprepared. When communicating, we are socially trained to fill silences instead of living in them as part of active, spontaneous communication. He introduces a framework developed by Michel de Certeau. He uses this framework as a compass to guide him through a “‘geography of the forgotten’ in the field of CALL,” where each chapter illuminates a dark, un- or underexplored piece of the CALL research landscape (p. 6). The chapters of this book focus on these areas, such as: the dangers of technological determinism (chapter 2), capitalism and its motives in EdTech (chapter 3), time as a commodity in education (chapter 4), social emotional well-being in online learning spaces (chapter 5), and social media and the potential for misinformation in the classroom (chapter 6).

Chapter two sets the scene for several recurring themes in the book: the role of the teacher as student advocate in technology integration, and the importance of considering the human element in EdTech integration. Ahmed uses the lens of technological determinism to advocate for teacher flexibility and agency in CALL decisions. EdTech does not act alone; it requires thoughtful integration into curricula. The role of the educator in this area is to consider how each tool will affect a student’s learning with respect to second language learning. For example, educators may ask themselves: what types of preexisting knowledge are students bringing to the tool that I have chosen? How will that affect their interactions with the content through the use of the tool? Do I have the power to equitably deliver my content and message through the use of this tool?

Then in chapter three, he challenges educators to think critically about the connection between the tools that they integrate in their classrooms and capitalist greed. Ahmed praises the enthusiasm of educators who use technology to adapt to change. He also acknowledges the role that EdTech plays in the vision of an ideal classroom. However, it is important to remember the silent goals of EdTech companies and policymakers when incorporating new technologies in the classroom, which are generally to make money and standardize/automate the educational process respectively. EdTech tools are designed to appear innocuous and politically neutral in order to appeal to students and educators, but it is necessary to remind ourselves that the silent operator behind the tools is a company who hopes to turn a large profit. As educators, we have a duty to our students to ensure that their privacy is protected and that we are giving voice to all users of a product or service. As policy makers and administrators, it is also necessary to advocate for teacher autonomy and agency with respect to what is best for their students.

The monetization of tools does not end with common currency. In chapter four, Ahmed explores the concept of time and how time has been turned into a commodity. Ahmed explains how EdTech corporations and even school administrators promise that EdTech tools will save educators time. Again, Ahmed reminds the reader to explore the silence in this promise, which is the privilege that is extended based on time with relation to race, gender, and socioeconomic status, among other factors. EdTech corporations often publicize self-grading assessments and their ability to facilitate asynchronous or blended learning. Ahmed explores three perspectives on time in this chapter: clock time, socially constructed time, and virtual time. He explores the importance of virtual time in particular with respect to CALL, as many tools promise to offer flexibility to both educators and students as far as where and when they can access information.

However, the availability of tools outside of the classroom can also create a separate notion of time—virtual time—where students and educators are expected to be in constant connection to their classrooms, 24/7 Ahmed advises the reader to be considerate of this silent possibility when integrating CALL tools and draws attention to the silent dangers associated with temporal flexibility. Ahmed focuses on the human element of technology (i.e. the user) throughout chapter five. With the abrupt move to online learning, brought on by COVID-19, came increased attention of students’ and teachers’ emotional well-being. Ahmed summarized some concerns that arose for language teachers when they had to move to online learning. He discussed feelings such as being disconnected from students, being unable to react to body language and other physical social cues, and suffering from the anonymity that came with teaching and learning in isolation due to the pandemic. As previously mentioned, language classrooms are often associated with noise, and the pandemic silenced a lot of the spontaneous communication that occurs naturally in the classroom. Ahmed asks teachers to consider each user when incorporating a CALL tool; what may be effective for one learner may cause more complex feelings for another in a different space. Then in chapter six, Ahmed focuses on connectedness and explores some of the dangers of being too connected to others around the world. Social media is an attractive CALL tool; students can instantly connect with others around the world who are living in target cultures and can offer authentic learning experiences. Teachers can leverage sites and apps that students are already familiar with to foster interest in communication in the target language. While it can be said that social media has brought many silent voices into an area of light, it unfortunately also affords the opportunity for users to silence voices that would hold opinions contrary to their own through sophisticated algorithms and the ability to follow or block other users at the user’s discretion. Asking readers to remember that EdTech has a capitalist agenda, Ahmed implores educators to consider the echo chambers that students might inadvertently enter, which will only serve to heighten voices that are similar to their own while silencing the opposition. Once again, Ahmed calls teachers to teach critical thinking skills and strategies to their students in this area so that they can approach social media with an open mind.

Throughout this book, Ahmed sheds light on how the world of silences would benefit language education students, graduate students, and current CALL researchers in academia. Ahmed does not question technology integration, but rather asks users of CALL tools to approach integration of these tools in a thoughtful way, with eyes and ears open to the effects of bringing the world into their classrooms through technology. Furthermore, EdTech policy and software developers would benefit from the considerations that this work asks of its readers in an effort to promote responsible decision making that looks beyond financial and political concerns. In-service language teachers may benefit from a more practical approach to Ahmed’s research; this book lays a strong foundation for the development of concrete actions that in-service teachers can take to ensure that they are addressing all voices—and silences—when integrating CALL into their curricula. In the end, Ahmed has strengthened the field of CALL research with this book by encouraging educators and researchers to adopt a more critical approach to CALL integration and beginning to chart the silent areas on the CALL map.