Collaborative Approaches to Designing Integrated Multimedia Projects for Language Courses

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Birmingham]On: 09 October 2014, At: 23:22Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Computer Assisted LanguageLearningPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ncal20

    Collaborative Approaches toDesigning Integrated MultimediaProjects for Language CoursesAndr Oberl & Ann PurvisPublished online: 09 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Andr Oberl & Ann Purvis (1999) Collaborative Approaches toDesigning Integrated Multimedia Projects for Language Courses, Computer AssistedLanguage Learning, 12:4, 391-397

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1076/call.12.4.391.5703

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    Collaborative Approaches to Designing IntegratedMultimedia Projects for Language Courses

    Andr Oberl & Ann PurvisUniversity of Winnipeg

    ABSTRACT

    This article describes an effective model for a collaborative approach to designing integratedmultimedia materials for language courses. Such a model is being successfully used at theUniversity of Winnipeg in the creation of a first-year French course. The model involves col-laboration between departments, colleagues and instructors with their students to design a col-laborative, learner-centred, interactive, multimedia learning package.

    1. INTRODUCTION

    The pace of development of the new learning technologies is very rapid. Computer equipmentbecomes quickly outdated, giving way to ever more complex, powerful andinitially at leastmore expensive systems, requiring sophisticated technical support. At a program level, devel-opers are constantly innovating, seeking to make the best pedagogical use of the expandingtechnical possibilities.

    Given this situation, instructors who are new to CALL may decide that they cannot affordthe software and equipment necessary. Alternatively they may decide that commercial multi-media packages are the best entry point to the learning technology highway, only to discoverthat such packages may not suit their particular teaching situation for a variety of reasons. Thesemay include: lack of suitable equipment, insufficient technical support, insufficient funding forthe purchase of materials, material that is not adapted to specific student needs and interests.More often than not it is difficult, if not impossible, to integrate such software effectively intothe existing materials used in a given course.

    There is, however, a third alternative. It is possible for instructors who are preoccupied byfull teaching loads and beginners in CALL to design their very own course materials. To do so,projects such as the one described below require teamwork, the strategic use of existing

    Correspondence: Andr Oberl, The University of Winnipeg, 515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg,Manitoba, R3B 2E9 Canada. E-mail: andre.oberle@uwinnipeg.ca.

    Manuscript submitted: November, 1998Accepted for publication: June, 1999

    Computer Assisted Language Learning 09588221/99/12040391$15.001999, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 391397 Swets & Zeitlinger

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  • resources and a step-by-step approach. Such projects are typically long-range projects that maylast over the course of several years.

    2. THE BACKGROUND

    The University of Winnipeg is a mid-sized undergraduate liberal arts institution in the heart ofWinnipeg. There are approximately 7,500 students and most of these are part-time. We have afaculty of about 350.

    The foreign languages taught are French and German. We now have a combined depart-ment of French Studies and German Studies. The university is only able to provide limitedtechnical services, so that peer mentoring and peer support among faculty are absolutelyessential. Most of the equipment provided is older and is being replaced very slowly. Facultycope with technical and pedagogical problems by working in task-oriented user groups.Collaborative projects are becoming more common and are the model that is nurtured by theadministration.

    When the project began, neither the French nor the German department had free access tocomputer facilities. They shared an audio cassette lab and were able to book limited time in acomputer lab provided to support all departments. In order to produce materials for use in thecomputer lab, the two authors began to work together in producing CALL exercises. The twodepartments also began to work together on making funding applications for a new multimediacomputer lab. While several of these applications failed, the collaborative work between thedepartments continued. In due course, it was possible to add second-hand computers to theaudio lab. These computers were eventually upgraded and networked, and Internet access wasprovided. Having full access to computer facilities made it necessary to write more programs.Over the course of this time, a project evolved for a first-year French course.

    3. THE STARTING POINT OF THE PROJECT

    At the University of Winnipeg, the first year French course, Practical Language Skills, includesgrammar review, vocabulary, reading, written and oral expression. The emphasis is on grammar.There are five hours of contact time per week: three class hours, one hour of travaux pratiques(oral expression) with a francophone teaching assistant, and an hour in the language lab, super-vised by a senior student monitor. In addition to teaching a section of this course, one of theinstructors (A. Purvis) coordinates the travaux pratiques and the lab program. By the early 90s,it was clear from the year-end course evaluations done by the students that they were increas-ingly dissatisfied with the structural exercises provided and the many problems presented byageing equipment in the audio cassette lab.

    4. THE COMMERCIAL PACKAGE

    In 1993 we adopted Mise au point1 for our first-year course. The package included a studenttext, a combined workbook/lab manualthe latter for use with audiotapesand a software pro-gram of supplementary grammar exercises.

    392 A. OBERL AND A. PURVIS

    1. Parmentier, M (1993) Mise au Point: Grammaire franaise, textes et vocabulaire. 2e dition.Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Canada Inc.

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  • The student text was well suited to our classroom needs, since each chapter included a gram-mar topic and exercises, vocabulary and reading texts, all linked thematically.

    Implementing the other material in our lab and oral programme presented challenges:

    The written exercises in the workbook, designed for optional independent work, wererarely used by our students, 60% of whom often work twenty hours or more off campusto pay for their studies.

    In the lab programme, the listening and dictation components worked well, but the stu-dents were vocal in their dislike of the oral structural exercises. These programmesallowed for little interactivity and led to passive student attitudes.

    The computer exercises we used, by booking a few hours in one of the universitys com-puter labs and putting them on the network. However, because these exercises were con-ceived as a supplement and a review, there were only a few exercises per lesson, allconsisting of fill-in-the-blank questions. In terms of logistics, it was confusing to havethe students moving back and forth between the audio and computer labs.

    In all casesthe workbook, the lab manual and the computer exerciseswe needed moregradation in the level of difficulty because of the very differing skill levels of our students.

    5. INTERIM SOLUTIONS

    5.1. Computer programmeTo create our own grammar exercises we used CALLGEN,2 a shareware exercise generator.This software was shareware and only required the ability to use a word processor (WordPerfectin this case) and the learning of a few codes. CALLGEN ran under DOS (now a Windows ver-sion is available) on very simple equipment. The program makes it easy to design exercises butprovides relatively sophisticated tools such as instant error analysis and instant feedback oninput, coaching through the use of hints and help keys, branching, multiple exercises types, anda flexible and versatile screen design.

    The initial exercises were produced with relative ease by A. Purvis after a short period ofpractice with the software. They were put on the network as they were created, and feedbackwas solicited from the students and colleagues. Based on the student feedback and suggestionsby colleagues, changes were made in the exercises and further tested.

    The next year, in the audio cassette lab, we replaced the commercial lab workbook with ourown word-processed manual. Our French assistants recordedstill on audio cassettea seriesof comprehension texts and dictations. The texts were all excerpted with permission from theQuebec magazines Chatelaine and lActualit and were closely integrated with the themes ofthe student text.

    6. THE MODIFIED PACKAGE

    Over the next two years we made the transition completely from audio to computer lab, a taskwhich necessitated more program material changes and new lab equipment.

    On the program level, A. Oberl (German) digitally recorded our French assistants readingthe comprehension exercises and dictations (20 in all) and adapted the text material to the com-puter environment, using CALLGEN. A. Purvis (French) completed a series of 75 written

    INTEGRATED MULTIMEDIA PROJECTS FOR LANGUAGE COURSES 393

    2. CALLGEN is a DOS-based exercise generator conceived and developed by Dr. Bill Gilby(University of Calgary) that turns exercises written in a word processor and converted toASCII code into an interactive multimedia programme.

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  • exercises using as many of the CALLGEN features as possible: hints, anticipated errors, com-ments on correct answers, and explanatory notes, among others. It was then possible to entire-ly replace the commercial lab/exercise workbook with our own custom-made materials.

    As for equipment, after several fruitless grant applications for funding for a new computer lan-guage lab, we found an operating solution. A. Oberl recuperated twenty used 386s (4 Mb RAMand 40 Mb hard drives) from another lab and worked with the universitys technical services tohave the machines put into our audio lab, right alongside the old audio equipment. On the strengthof our application now proposing an upgrade and not a new project, we were able to get suffi-cient funding for upgrading to make the lab functional. The fact that we were actively producingprograms and had a good track record in being innovative with what we had at our disposal alsoimpressed our administration favourably and persuaded them that help was needed and wiselyinvested. A government grant made the final configuration of the present lab facility possible.

    7. IMPLEMENTATION AND TESTING OF THE PACKAGE

    After it was demonstrated to the other instructors of the first year course, the program was readyfor testing/use by students in the fall and winter terms of 199798. At that point it was still verymuch a work in progress.

    7.1. User profileApproximately 75 first-year French students did all ten chapters of this series. Most of the stu-dents entered the course directly after high school and were therefore in what the universitycalls their transitional year. Although they all had high school French credit, they came from awide range of programmes and had very different skill levels in French. All material was cov-ered in class first, and these exercises were done in the language lab one hour a week.Attendance at lab sessions was compulsory and the two lab tests given represented 10 per centof the students final marks.

    Students were asked to fill out weekly logbooks, commenting on any technical difficulties,on the content, the difficulty of the material and their reactions to each lesson. At the end of theyear, they wrote a summary of their lab experience. The lab monitors were also asked to reportweekly on any technical difficulties, student inquiries and reactions.

    8. REVISIONS OF THE EXERCISES

    Despite our best efforts to use the computerized exercises appropriately, students were quick topoint out problems in one area in particular. In the comprehension exercises we had tried tomaintain somewhat open-ended questions with sentence or phrase answers. However, it becomeevident that there were many more ways of wording a correct answer than we had anticipated,and it was not practical to imagine and program 80 possible answers to each question, eventhough the software allowed for that many options. For this reason, and to reduce typing timeneeded, we opted for a mixture of true and false, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple-choice ques-tions. Relatively open-ended questions requiring short written responses were also provided.

    394 A. OBERL AND A. PURVIS

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  • The advantage of using a simple exercise generator such as CALLGEN was that it was pos-sible to respond to student feedback immediately and make the most necessary changes lessonby lesson. The advantage for the students was seeing that they became co-designers of the pro-gram. This gave them a personal investment in it, and logbook entries showed an increase inmotivation and interest. They began not only to react, but to offer suggestions. They also madecomments showing an increasing awareness of their personal learning patterns.

    After responding to requests and suggestions piecemeal throughout the year, we were ableto review the entire program systematically after classes ended, taking into consideration thestudents year-end evaluations. Also, to ensure the programs consistency with departmentalobjectives, a sample lesson was reviewed by a colleague specializing in senior-level languageand literature courses.

    9. INTERACTIVE WEB EXERCISES ON THE CULTURAL CONTENT OF THE COURSE

    In order to enhance the learning experience of our students further, we opted to include theme-related material from the World Wide Web in our package. The Internet provided topical andup-to-date material that could further enhance the students exploration of the cultural topics ofthe course text. By using the Internet as a teaching vehicle, we were also using a milieu withwhich most students are very familiar and comfortable, and very eager to work with. Modernsoftware makes it very easy to work with and enhance Web pages for teaching purposes.

    There are many HTML editors on the market. For simple work with text, the editing facili-ty/composer of Netscape is perfectly adequate. It is easy to work with, since it uses the famil-iar Windows interface for word processors. It is possible to cut and paste material from a numberof sources and transform the page with the click of a button to HTML.

    In order to enable students of various backgrounds to interact effectively with the mater-ial at their own level, we used a number of creative approaches. With the editing facility ofNetscape we were able to edit Web pages and provide interactivity between a French Webpage and its English version. Strategic links, easily created in the editor, provided studentswith an effective means to navigate from a French to English version and back as often as theywanted and needed to fully explore the French text. To these pages we added a quiz thatallowed students to test themselves on their comprehension of the material. Typically, thesequizzes would include a number of exercise forms such as multiple-choice, true and false,fill-in-the-blank and writing exercises that would be e-mailed to the instructor for correctionand feedback.

    Such quizzes can be constructed through the use of simple code. However, there are soft-ware programs available that make the task easy even for the novice. A program such asBannQuiz is very versatile and easy to use. A quiz page incorporating all kinds of questionforms can be produced in short order. This page can then be added on to the cultural materialthrough cut and paste, or it can be kept as a separate quiz page and accessed from the culturepage through a link. Strategic links tie the questions to the appropriate areas in the text, so thatstudents can keep looking at the original in order to answer the text more efficiently. Since linkbuttons are there, students will use them freely and enjoy a feeling of success even if they haveto toggle back and forth many times.

    INTEGRATED MULTIMEDIA PROJECTS FOR LANGUAGE COURSES 395

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  • All the material can be easily edited all the time and brought up to date. A jump station3

    keeps everything tied together and prevents students from getting lost. All of our Web pageshave been downloaded into our server and been provided with links leading back to this jumpstation. This arrangement makes us independent of fickle servers and moved pages. We envis-age shifting our program more and more into an on-line mode and eventually phasing out theDOS-based CALLGEN exercises. That way, students will be working with the same interfacefor all their activities in the language lab.

    10. CONCLUSION

    10.1. Technical componentThe user-friendliness of CALLGEN allowed for design of simple exercises with a minimum oftechnical expertise and basic equipment.

    This exercise generator was also sophisticated enough to allow for variety and increas-ingly complex exercises.

    Communication was possible with the software designer who was willing and able toadapt the program to our needs

    The simplicity of the exercise generator forced us to focus on sound pedagogy.

    10.2. DesignIt was possible to develop such exercises drawing on our prior teaching experience, but it wasalso necessary to adapt to the new medium.

    Although students often had experience with sophisticated computer games, simple exer-cises were still well received.

    10.3. Testing, use and revisionCombining these stages and involving students, lab monitors and assistants increased studentmotivation and interest and reduced the time necessary to produce such exercises.

    10.4. Pedagogical considerations

    10.4.1. Student feedback

    Integration: They stated that the lab exercises helped with what was being taught in class,and helped them prepare for tests.

    Involvement and interest: Students remarked on improvement in personal performanceover the year and suggested further student helps such as on-line dictionaries and print-outs of exercises completed.

    Student awareness of learning styles: They identified the types of exercises most usefulto them, what they felt their weaknesses were, whether or not they needed hard copies ofthe material to retain what was learned, and whether or not they were guessing or usingthe programs peek feature to obtain the answers.

    From our experiences with this project, it would seem that collaborative involvement at allstages of a CALL project, rather than limiting ones own role to designer, implementer, user ortester, allows for program development, even by a beginner, and makes for a superior product.

    396 A. OBERL AND A. PURVIS

    3. This is simply the initial Web page explaining the activity to the student and providing activelinks to the material.

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  • This approach allows even complete beginners to produce a vibrant and dynamic learning pack-age that is custom made and will continue to grow and benefit from input from all users.Choosing simple equipment and software allows beginning developers to concentrate on thepedagogy instead of worrying about technical matters.

    The collaborative approach presents those wishing to embark on courseware with a manage-able long-term project that produces excellent results and is usable even while it is in develop-ment. As well, such a project becomes everyones project, in that it gives students the feelingof ownership in the program.

    INTEGRATED MULTIMEDIA PROJECTS FOR LANGUAGE COURSES 397

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