Today, I have been reflecting back on one of the weekend sessions I ran on ‘evaluating digital materials’.

Today, I have been reflecting back on one of the weekend sessions I ran on ‘evaluating digital materials’. As a teacher and a teacher trainer, I am always surprised at the difference between the planning of a lesson or training session, and the execution. This session turned out unexpectedly. I started the session by stating that I am often surprised at why some teachers love a particular book, while others dislike it.  This has made me wonder whether there are objective criteria we can use when evaluating materials. The session moved into the complexities of evaluating (specifically) digital materials, and we briefly explored the useful distinction between ‘judgemental’ evaluation – used when writing a review of a CD-ROM for example- and ‘empirical’ evaluation – examining how that disc is actually used by learners. (Chapelle). The next part of the session was a workshop where the course participants went off to examine some of the most representative digital materials around. What surprised me was that, in the feedback, many of the participants reported that some of these materials were not especially user-friendly or interactive. In fact, many of the views expressed were the exact opposite to my own view! In this sense, the workshop outcome was largely unexpected. Upon reflection, perhaps this should not come as a surprise. After all, I referred to just this difference of opinion at the start of the session! Still, it is quite unnerving that instructional designers and pedagogues create digital material which is, to some users, engaging and challenging - but does not appeal to others at all! One useful chapter I have read on evaluating CALL material is in the book CALL Dimensions by Mike Levy and Glenn Stockwell. Still, you can read as much as you like but there’s still no scientific reason why some people love something….while others don’t! Which leads me into the area of ‘controversies’ – more on that in my next article, later this week.