Language Software - Multimedia


Language teachers have been avid users of technology for a very long time. Gramophone records were among the first technological aids to be used by language teachers in order to present students with recordings of native speakers’ voices, and broadcasts from foreign radio stations were used to make recordings on reel-to-reel tape recorders. Other examples of technological aids that have been used in the foreign language classroom include slide projectors, film-strip projectors, film projectors, videocassette recorders and DVD players. In the early 1960s, integrated courses (which were often described as multimedia courses) began to appear. Examples of such courses are Ecouter et Parler (consisting of a coursebook and tape recordings) and Deutsch durch die audiovisuelle Methode (consisting of an illustrated coursebook, tape recordings and a film-strip - based on the Structuro-Global Audio-Visual method).

During the 1970s and 1980s standard microcomputers were incapable of producing sound and they had poor graphics capability. This represented a step backwards for language teachers, who by this time had become accustomed to using a range of different media in the foreign language classroom. The arrival of the multimedia computer in the early 1990s was therefore a major breakthrough as it enabled text, images, sound and video to be combined in one device and the integration of the four basic skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing (Davies 2011: Section 1).

Examples of CALL programs for multimedia computers that were published for multimedia computers on CD-ROM and DVD from the mid-1990s onwards are described by Davies (2010: Section 3). CALL programs are still being published on CD-ROM and DVD, but Web-based multimedia CALL has now virtually supplanted these media.

Following the arrival of multimedia CALL, multimedia language centres began to appear in educational institutions. While multimedia facilities offer many opportunities for language learning with the integration of text, images, sound and video, these opportunities have often not been fully utilised. One of the main promises of CALL is the ability to individualise learning but, as with the language labs that were introduced into educational institutions in the 1960s and 1970s, the use of the facilities of multimedia centres has often devolved into rows of students all doing the same drills (Davies 2010: Section 3.1). There is therefore a danger that multimedia centres may go the same way as the language labs. Following a boom period in the 1970s, language labs went rapidly into decline. Davies (1997: p. 28) lays the blame mainly on the failure to train teachers to use language labs, both in terms of operation and in terms of developing new methodologies, but there were other factors such as poor reliability, lack of materials and a lack of good ideas.

Managing a multimedia language centre requires not only staff who have a knowledge of foreign languages and language teaching methodology but also staff with technical know-how and budget management ability, as well as the ability to combine all these into creative ways of taking advantage of what the technology can offer. A centre manager usually needs assistants for technical support, for managing resources and even the tutoring of students. Multimedia centres lend themselves to self-study and potentially self-directed learning, but this is often misunderstood. The simple existence of a multimedia centre does not automatically lead to students learning independently. Significant investment of time is essential for materials development and creating an atmosphere conducive to self-study. Unfortunately, administrators often have the mistaken belief that buying hardware by itself will meet the needs of the centre, allocating 90% of its budget to hardware and virtually ignoring software and staff training needs (Davies et al. 2011: Foreword). Self-access language learning centres or independent learning centres have emerged partially independently and partially in response to these issues. In self-access learning, the focus is on developing learner autonomy through varying degrees of self-directed learning, as opposed to (or as a complement to) classroom learning. In many centres learners access materials and manage their learning independently, but they also have access to staff for help. Many self-access centres are heavy users of technology and an increasing number of them are now offering online self-access learning opportunities. Some centres have developed novel ways of supporting language learning outside the context of the language classroom (also called 'language support') by developing software to monitor students' self-directed learning and by offering online support from teachers. Centre managers and support staff may need to have new roles defined for them to support students’ efforts at self-directed learning: v. Mozzon-McPherson & Vismans (2001), who refer to a new job description, namely that of the "language adviser".

Read more about this topic:  Language Software

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