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Foreign Language Applications in Multimedia Environment.

Project FLAME (Foreign Language Applications in Multimedia Environment), a recipient of an IBM Educational Innovation grant at the University of Michigan, st out to help build a new multimedia learning environment through the creation and integration of mixed media materials into foreign language programs. Such efforts are primarily directed to the high school settings, but also address needs of undergraduate college language curricula and other educational settings where foreign languages are taught.

FLAME's Beginnings

Early efforts at the University of Michigan to create a richer language learning environment utilizing multimedia began about six years ago with a small project for the development of multimedia applications for modern Hebrew. The university's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching facilitated these first steps through two small grants that resulted in the production of a videodisc and accompanying software, creating the first prototype of Hebrew instruction via interactive videodisc and computer-assisted interactive tutorials. These successful pioneering efforts led to a greater interest in the preparation of multimedia materials for other languages.

In May of 1990 Project FLAME was begun to fulfill this desire. As articulated in the initial grant request, the following quotes capture essence of FLAME's objectives:

The project is "dedicated to the design and development of a new multimedia learning environment, that utilizes computers, interactive video and audio. Toward this goal we will develop a prototype for instruction in language and culture, and create several specific foreign language applications that implement a common model... the underlying model is one in which language proficiency is developed by having students solve realistic problems, presented through videodisc, which can only be solved by (1) comprehension of the language as it is used in a realistic cultural context, and (2) recognition of culturally appropriate responses." The statement of purpose concludes with a vision of the future stating the participants' aspirations to see to it that "this development effort will constitute a significant step in the reorganization and restructuring of the existing foreign language curriculum, making significant advances towards a more learner-focused multimedia environment."

The FLAME Team and Agendas

The FLAME team, working in a state-of-the-art laboratory at the university's Language Research Center, is comprised of faculty members, graduate students of foreign languages and computer science, and educational psychologists. The major work of developing multimedia instructional materials in French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew is carried out by team members from the University of Michigan. There are also outside contributors: a Chinese expert from Jacksonville Community College, a retired professor of Chinese from Princeton University, and in the future, a professor of Japanese from San Francisco State University.

The staff's responsibilities range from development of pedagogical materials to research into the effectiveness of the materials and their impact on foreign language classes. One of the article's authors, a language specialist and director of the project, directs the development activities; Jerome Johnston, an educational psychologist, directs the research activities. Developers and researchers work together on most aspects of the project. All members of the FLAME team are fully or partially engaged in studying and teaching, and thus work part time for the project.

The labotaroty's development team consists of three to four content experts versed in authoring in multimedia, and two computer experts who, in addition to their expertise in programming, are also fully familiar with the pedagogical design being developed by the team.

The research team is small, comprising the research director and a doctoral student in education and technology. Their main tasks are to observe the pilot schools to determine whether and how multimedia changes patterns of communication and interactions in the language classroom, and to see if the multimedia formats enhance the ease of learning a foreign language, accuracy of use, pronunciation and retention. These research goals were made in consultation with content experts who are versed with the major issues in foreign language learning.

Together, team members work on evaluating lessons and checking whether the directions and objectives are clearly articulated so that teachers and students can use the new applications with ease. It is one of the unique strengths of Project FLAME that it combines formal development efforts and research activities.

The Partner Schools

FLAME's main concern, as stated in its objectives, is to introduce a new multimedia learning environment into the language classroom. Thus an important component of the project are the end users: both language teachers and language students.

The project's two major partner schools are Martin Luther High School, a large urban high school in Detroit, and ann Arbor Community High, a small alternative school. In both schools we have found warm support from the administration and a great deal of enthusiasm from teachers, which provide a spirit of cooperation.

Language teachers are trained in the use of multimedia by FLAME staff, and language units are tested in the context of the regular language curriculum. FLAME members have an opportunity to observe and test the effectiveness of the new units and draw conclusions about their ease of use and the ensuing changes that occur in the teaching and learning environment.

Emerging Pedagogical Models

In the course of developing multimedia materials for foreign language courses, four different pedagogical models have emerged. They address different teaching and learning needs and their instructional design is intended to match media to a variety of learning tasks. The four models have been labeled in the following way: The Teacher's Partner (TP), The Learner's Partner (LP), The Exploratory Lesson (EL), and The Creative Medium (CM). All four utilize multimedia technology as the basis for the pedagogical design, and applications in these modes include various degrees of interactivity.

* The Teacher's Partner (TP)

The TP is a presentation application designed for use by teachers during a regular instructional session. The TP, for the most part, addresses a basic need identified by many language teachers: the need to bring the target culture and language into the classroom. Rather than having the teacher as the only model of a native speaker, the multimedia language materials provide learners with a variety of models in natural settings. The video portions of the multimedia applications, supported by text and graphics, let teachers bring the world of the target language into their classroom.

Teachers who use the TP do not need to make any radical changes in their teaching style or their curriculum. Authentic segments evoke a natural setting in which language interactions take place, creating a reason for students to use the language. By design, the TP is an excellent way to introduce teachers unacquainted with technology to its effective use in the classroom.

Hardware for the TP--which includes a computer, a videodisc player and a large presentation monitor--is on a portable system. It can be moved from one classroom to another, and thus each building only needs one.

TP applications are accessed from a well organized and fully annotated menu. A teacher can get different video segments, choosing from several modes of managing video and audio, with a mere mouse click. Such easy access to multimedia materials encourages teachers to use them.

The vocabulary of each video segment relates to a specific subject matter. This format makes students want to learn the new vocabulary and structures so that they too can relate to the subject matter and personalize it. Background materials offer the settings within which native speakers function, and cultural materials enhance understanding of the community values. In addition to better langauge skills, students also acquire knowledge about what is unique to the target culture, how it differs from their own culture and what both cultures share.

* The Learner's Partner (LP)

Interactive multimedia modules are also being developed for use by individual students on multimedia workstations. The LP modules set a variety of learning tasks for students who work independently on the lesson materials, without the help of a teacher. These units can be used to introduce new subject matter; to complement materials already presented to the entire class, either in a traditional mode or through the TP; or to practice new skills and do review work.

Lessons are self-paced, include feedback of students' performances, and are designed to respond to a number of individual needs. Extensive help is available to allow learners to fully comprehend what they view, and at the same time, different tactics are employed to teach students how to create their own strategies for tackling new materials without help. Drill-and-practice segments are included in order to allow learners to practice new information and skills as soon as they are presented to them. Currently, FLAME developers are introducing ways for students to record themselves and compare their performances to those of native speakers.

In addition, models are being developed for small groups (two to three learners) working around a single multimedia workstation. These are usually based on simulations of real situations that emphasize problem-solving activities and group decision-making. Tasks encourage both communication in the target language plus analysis of situations conveyed in the foreign language and by the visual information.

Several LP modules for individual workstations have already been developed in Hebrew as well as one module for group activities. Current efforts have begun for the development of individual LP modules for French and Spanish. Similar applications in Chinese and Japanese are scheduled for development during next year.

* The Exploratory Lesson (EL)

Another type of application is the Exploratory Lesson, an "electronic mini-book," made available to students in a media learning center or a library. Such exploratory applications serve to either prepare students for a lecture or activity in class, or to follow up classroom activities.

In EL, learners are followed to explore a topic in a much more extensive way than time allows in a class session. Information is available in text mode as well as in video clips, audio segments and still-video frames, with graphics and animations augmenting traditional explanations.

A learner chooses how to navigate through the lesson, exploring new concepts and being provided with additional information. Lesson segments can be repeated as necessary and various explanations can be introduced. The A/V segments are taken from videodiscs, from compact disc or from extensive databases of digitized video files.

The EL differs from both the TP and the LP. It is intended to complement the TP, but includes much more information than is available in the teacher's mode. Unlike the LP, it does not include opportunities for input, thus there is no feedback. The function of the EL, as its label indicates, is restricted to exploration of new materials and augmentation of what is being done in the classroom.

Several Exploratory Lessons in various cultural domains have been created that combine art, music and text. A unit on the French 14th-century poet, musician and composer, Guillaume de Machaut--which is currently being created with mixed media and includes medieval texts, music segments and art works--will be available to students of Medieval French and of French Culture.

* The Creative Medium (CM)

One of the most effective ways for learners to explore a subject matter in the multimedia environment is to do their own authoring. Class projects, by individuals or small groups, can be done on multimedia workstations. Students need access to audio and video databases and to routines that produce graphics and animation. In addition, they need to be able to add both audio and image files not available in ready-made multimedia databases in order to create meaningful projects. The library work demanded of students in preparation for creating multimedia projects is extensive and they learn a great deal by being involved in all phases of production.

The FLAME team is currently exploring MediaText, a multimedia writing tool, in its Windows version, as an appropriate tool for multimedia authoring for students. This tool was created by Dr. Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan and is being tested in a number of schools in Michigan. Its suitability as a multimedia writing tool for the foreign language classroom will be tested in the coming year. If found suitable, it will be included as part of FLAME's learning environment.

Hardware & Software Choices

The multimedia applications are being developed using IBM equipment. For the TP's presentation modes, a portable system was assembled. It consists of an IBM PS/2 Model 55/SX or Model 70, an M-Motion card, a Pioneer LD-V4200 videodisc player and a 26" Mitsubishi VGA monitor. This system is mounted on a four-inch high Anthro car whose built-in cabinet houses all components beneath the strapped-down monitor. Keyboard and mouse are accessed from a sliding drawer that extends at a convenient height for a standing user.

Individual multimedia workstations are being installed in the schools in a laboratory setting. Each comprises an IBM PS/2 Model 55/SX with an M-Motion card, an 8515 VGA monitor, a Pioneer LD-V4200 videodisc player, an M-Audio card for audio recording and playback functions, and a headset that includes both earphones and a small microphone for recording. A large server (an IBM PS/2 Model 80 or 90 with a large storage capacity) and networking capabilities will also be part of each lab.

Under DOS 4.0, FLAME developers use the Quest authoring language, from Allen Communications, to create most of the multimedia applications. Under Windows 3.0, it is ToolBook Version 1.5 and Microsoft's new Multimedia Extensions 1.0 that are used to make templates for the LP. Developers are also seriously considering using ToolBook with the new version of OS/2 to enhance multitasking capabilities. In addition, the Audio Visual Connection (AVC) authoring tool creates multimedia applications that use extensive digitized audio and higher-resolution video files; these need the 8514 monitor and adapter card.

Choice of Video Materials

The importance of the quality and content of the video sequences in a multimedia application cannot be overstated. Video is at the heart of such programs.

Finding appropriate language videodiscs is not an easy task. For commonly taught foreign languages, such as French and Spanish, some do exist. However, none were designed specifically for multimedia applications, so they have to be repurposed to take advantage of the many features possible in a computer-controlled environment. For somewhat less-commonly-taught languages--like Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew--fewer materials exist and there is a pressing need for development.

Following are some of the FLAME team's considerations when assessing available video sources for suitability for multimedia applications: (a) authenticity and naturalness of speech, (b) nature of the subject matter and the degree of interest and involvement generated by the content, (c) degree of language difficulty suitable for specific levels of language proficiency, (d) presence of meaningful cultural materials, and (e) genre of the video and the type of video discourse included.

Initial work has begun in scripting a common scenario, designed for the unique hypermedia capabilities of the available technology, which will be videotaped in each of the five languages. This will allow designers not only to share a common scenario, but also to share multimedia design features across the languages, while keeping the uniqueness of each culture and language in treating a common human situation.

Development activities have been going on for about eight months. All applications are currently in alpha- or beta-test mode. To date, six Spanish and three French TP units have been made ready for use in the classroom. Work on LP modules in French, Spanish and Hebrew are in progress, as is a Chinese TP unit.

First Pilot Sites

In May, 1991, Project FLAME conducted a series of activities to bring the first of its products to schools. The Teacher's Partner was delivered to Martin Luther King High School and Ann Arbor Community High. The FLAME team conducted two small workshops for the French and Spanish teachers who participated in the first efforts to introduce the new materials into the classroom. None of these teachers had previous experience with multimedia and few of them had any with a computer.

Activities included the preparation of teachers from the pilot schools on the use of the multimedia applications, observation of use of the applications in the classroom and follow-up activities.

As a result of work done in the first year, a template has been adopted for the final first version of the Teacher's Partner units. This will enable all units to have a uniform look, resulting in easy implementation by teachers, who can then focus on the different functionalities offered in the lessons.

In conclusion, it is appropriate to end with a teacher's comment about using the Teacher's Partner: "This way of teaching really makes you want to reach out with the lesson, involve the students. It lets you add so many more things. Ordinarily there are too many dead moments in class. Today the time passed so fast--in a creative way!"

Edna Amir Coffin is a professor in the department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, and director of Project FLAME.

Arthur H. Thurnau is also a professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan.
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Title Annotation:IBM Multimedia supplement; includes related article on adapting FLAME's language materials to the university environment; University of Michigan's Project FLAME
Author:Coffin, Edna Amir; Thurnau, Arthur H.
Publication:T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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