Peter Yang


Why Use Networked Multimedia?

     When talking about multimedia, we are mostly familiar with the multimedia that runs on a multimedia computer with a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM.  Recently, people have been trying more and more to deliver multimedia from a LAN multimedia server, over the Internet via WWW, multimedia e-mail, CU-SeeMe video-conferencing.
     It is a natural trend to combine the advantages of both multimedia and  network. Now that the language learners are more and more enticed by CD-ROM-based multimedia language applications and by the easiness of accessing foreign language materials on the Web, they will inevitably demand that multimedia language programs also be available over the network. Fortunate campuses are experimenting with networked multimedia to offer enhanced learning environment. Multimedia servers store gigabytes of multimedia language learning materials that can be simultaneously accessed and retrieved by multiple language learners remotely over a computer network. The multimedia delivered via the WWW is relatively more used and better known. Indeed, the WWW  has revolutionized our interface to the networked virtual world. It allows language learners and researchers convenient access to, viewing and even running a vast array of files including images, sounds, animation, and movies  that are connected to each other by means of hypertext or hyperlinks. The multimedia materials that LRCs are gradually putting online will provide language learners with a more user-friendly, enjoyable and productive learning environment.

Why Use Multimedia?

    The term "multimedia"  is mostly used for computer applications that include not only text but also other media types in digital format. The digital multimedia differs from the traditional "multi-media" through its digital controllability and the resulting interactive and user-friendly features, which give language professionals powerful teaching tools. The annual CALICO conferences and many similar conferences bear witness to this powerful development.
    Multimedia PC / Mac and CD-ROM / DVD-ROM. The most common multimedia environment is a multimedia PC (MPC) or an AV-Mac with digital speakers and a CD-ROM (compact disc read-only memory) or DVD player, which optically retrieves data and instructions from a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disc. Users may control, combine, and manipulate different types of media, such as text, sound, video, computer graphics, and animation stored on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. With a 4.7 GB capacity, a standard DVD discs can hold more than two hours of full motion video and sound.
    Cutting Edge of Multimedia. Unlike traditional analog text, audio, and video, the digitized text, audio signals and video images can be further processed using authoring programs. We can zoom them in or out, reshape, rearrange, store, compress them or convert them to other formats by means of appropriate software. It is this controllability that allows a combination of multiple media and interactivity, and makes multimedia such an appealing tool for language education. Multiple media create variation, which stimulates language learners’ senses and involves them at various levels. Controllability allows educators to embed pedagogy and to manipulate a host of digital data so that language learners will interact enthusiastically with a language program. Interactivity makes language learners active participants in communicative activities. Employment of multiple media, controllability and interactivity make media-based language learning a new, powerful, form of communication.
    Embedded Pedagogy. Since multimedia is a combination of multiple media, we language educators can incorporate our teaching strategy in our language applications. For instance, we can tailor a reading-comprehension application for learners at different levels to train them to apply different reading strategies at different stages of reading. The pedagogy embedded in language applications can be seamless. We can easily convert exercises to games or link them to original materials for language learners to review. We can enhance texts with sound, pictures and video, and annotate them with linguistic (pronunciation, grammatical, semantic) explanations and background information according to our students’ learning levels.
    Variation. Media-based language learning differs greatly from plain-text-based language learning. The combined presentation of media gives the language learners variation, which pleasantly engages them in watching, reading, listening and speaking, and it attracts them to various enjoyable activities. Like video and television, multimedia involves language learners by offering them rich, integrated audio-visual information. In this less demanding, yet more pleasing, learning environment, the language learners’ initial language barriers can be easily reduced or even removed. The language learners will gratify this communicative environment that is much more realistic than text-based learning. Here they can learn a language in a meaningful context, and learn grammar and content materials in a seamless combination. This integrated learning can send language learners  much more related and meaningful linguistic and communicative stimuli. Thus they can develop the four communicative skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing—at the same time, consciously and subconsciously.
    Learner-Centered Environment. A teacher-student relationship is by no means inferior to a computer-student relationship. This is especially true if it is a "one-to-one" teacher-student relationship. This kind of teacher-student relationship is, however, too costly and thus not feasible as a popular teaching tool. The computer-student relationship in multimedia language applications, however, is a one-to-one relationship. This is a significant, yet under-emphasized, advantage of multimedia language programs. In addition, the teacher is invisible in this one-to-one relationship and language learners have the impression that they are "independent" and in complete control of everything.
    In fact, this learner-centered environment is not the mere result of that the language learners now no longer face a teacher but a computer; rather, it is a result of embedded pedagogy. A pedagogy-enhanced multimedia language application will not simply simulate the teacher-student environment; rather, it will put the language learner directly in front of pleasing media. Whether the learner’s feeling of independence from the teacher is a productive one depends on if the invisible teacher or the embedded pedagogy is "omni-present" and thoughtfully transparent. The invisible "teacher" can provide assistance in all activities, help the learner move on, or find alternatives whenever or wherever the students get "stuck."
    Interactivity. Interactivity is vital for language learning because interaction or communication is not only the best approach to language learning but also its ultimate goal. The "one-to-one" relationship, embedded pedagogy, and learner-centered approach can simulate a tailored interaction and reinforce a communicative approach to language learning. Interactivity is therefore one of the apparent advantages multimedia-enhanced learning has over traditional language learning relying on analog media such as textbook or audio-visual equipment. While the traditional media's linear and passive learning environment allows reactive learning, multimedia-based learning encourages language learners to interact. Authoring tools like Director, Authorware, HyperCard, Toolbook, SuperCard, Dasher, CGI-based forms, Java and JavaScript, as well as FL-specific authoring programs WinCalis, Libra, SuperMacLang,  all can be used to create such interactive language learning applications.
    Preferred Multimedia Activities. Multimedia activities can be accommodated to individual levels of language learning. For the elementary level, preferred activities will help students learn pronunciation, basic vocabulary, grammar, and simple sentences. These activities include: phonetic training using speech recognition technology, picture-based vocabulary-matching, video and sound clips at a word- and/or sentence-level for listening comprehension,  multiple-choice and fill-in  grammar exercises. Pictures, well-designed fun exercises, and drag and drop techniques will greatly motivate language learners at this level. Multimedia activities for the intermediate level can help language learners expand vocabulary, develop listening, reading and writing skills at a text level by viewing longer video clips, listening to longer audio clips, reading annotated texts, and writing essays with the help of a writing tool.  Multimedia-based activities that can help students develop speaking skill at this level are still waiting for substantial enhancement in speech recognition technology.
Advanced-level students can use multimedia programs to further develop their language skills by completing more complex and guided multimedia projects. The most popular and productive ones are Web-page projects. Multimedia projects completed by these students can be used by lower-level students.

Why Use Network?

    With the network, especially the Internet, language learners can overcome physical barriers caused by time, distance and space, and directly access authentic materials in and on target languages and cultures that are available in the virtual world.
   What is Network?   By network we mean a group of computers that are connected with one another electronically for the purpose of communicating electronic data. There are two basic network types: local-area network (LAN) and  wide-area network (WAN). Our campus computer network is typically a network of LANs, each of which connects two or more personal computers, one or more printers, and a file server at a location, such as in our LRC, by wires, cables, optical fibers. A LRC LAN, for example, needs operating software like Novell server and client software to allow users to simultaneously run programs on a file server, share networked data and printers, and communicate with each other. LAN users can also access other LANs or WANs through gateways.  A WAN connects computers and networks over greater areas by cables, optical fibers, or satellites. The Internet is the largest WAN, which connects millions of computers in the world. Language educators and learners can access the Internet and other WANs from a LAN or via a modem.
    What is the Use of Network for Language Education?  We language professionals are getting more and more familiar with, and excited about, the computer network and take an increasingly active part in utilizing the network for language instruction. While e-mail, gopher, MUD and MOO are favorite network communication  tools for some, WWW has become the most favored network application for many of us in recent years. The advantages of the use of network for our language education are as follows.
    Access to Authentic Materials. Although there are many reasons to use network for language instruction, the most compelling one is the convenience in obtaining abundant authentic materials in our target languages. With the further rapid expansion of the Web, more materials in target language, literature and culture will be available. The Web site for 20th-Century German Literature is a good example for it. Available materials will predictably become overwhelming. To tackle this problem, initial endeavors have been made to design workbooks to guide the language learners’ Web activities. One example is the workbook Surf’s Up! (For more detail, see my review of the workbook).
    Time Flexibility. With a network, language learners can attend a virtual class or a virtual LRC either in "real time" anywhere or "on demand" anytime, anywhere, with an Internet access. There are virtually no closing hours for these "extended LRCs". Language learners now can receive international radio or TV broadcasts on-line. They can watch or view these broadcasts either "live" or "on demand." The "live" broadcasts via Web now are easy of access for language learners who otherwise had trouble to receive the same broadcasts via satellite or short-wave. The "on demand" or archived broadcasts are particularly useful for intermediate- and advance-level language learners because they don't have to worry about missing important news broadcasts due to time constraints. These archived broadcasts often are often retrievable by keyword or date and have scripts with them so that language learners can find the past broadcasts they are interested in and read the scripts of broadcasts if they need to. A jump station to some of these international online radio and TV broadcasts can be found here.
    Location Independence. The network also eliminates the gap between language learners and language resources caused by physical distance and space. Not only can they reach these resources without physically going to the LRC, but also can they get much more authentic materials than any single LRC or library could possibly afford to put together. With a few clicks, language learners can make a virtual tip to Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Beijing, Tokyo or Moscow, to get the materials they need. More and more WWW-based homework centers appear and students can access them anywhere and anytime with an Internet connection. The German Homework Center I set up for my German classes is one of these recent and future experiments.
    Increased Communication. On the Internet, language learners can also "meet" real people in their target languages and communicate with them. This can happen through e-mail, audio- or video-conferencing using Internet Phone or Video Phone. CU-SeeMe is also a useful teleconferencing tool for language learners. The world really becomes smaller and smaller for language learners.

How I Use Networked Multimedia for Language?

1)  Information-Based Websites. Information-based web pages are the most common use of the networked multimedia for language teaching. I used this kind of web pages in two ways: a) foreign language links and b) more self-contained websites for literature courses.

2)  Multimedia Applications Made Available on the WWW.  These are fully interactive language applications. Here the language learners take over the control. They can go forward, backward, jump, verify their understanding and practice whatever, whenever and wherever they want. Here are several examples:  With the  Chinese Character Tutor students can learn how to write Chinese characters by following several simple rules; in the application of  Solar System students can find and learn facts about individual planets in the Solar system; in the  Interactive Elementary Chinese Lessons students can listen to the text at different levels (word, sentence, and text). What was once only possible on the local CD-ROM drive of a multimedia computer, is now possible over the Internet. With the technology of  Shockwave  and other streaming plug-ins, we can make the applications, which were and are originally designed for local use, available on the WWW.

3)  CGI-Based Web Quizzes for Foreign Languages.  I set up this CWRU Homework Center for my elementary German classes. The problems I put on the server are of supplementary nature. This is because I found out that the homework assignments in the workbook that come with the textbook have missed some points that will be on the tests or the final exam. I used fill-in and multiple-choice as basic formats of these quizzes. Students have opportunity to solve the problems twice. The results of the first time solutions will be automatically stored in the database. I can check the results with the students if I wish. If students really have no idea how to solve the problems correctly themselves, they will be given the correct answer after their second try. One of the advantages of this application is that the instructor has the full control of what you want to test your students in, who and when completed the quizzes, and what and how your individual students have done on the server. In addition, once materials are put on the server, they can also be used in class. I sometimes used these materials in class as materials for review, exercise and quiz purpose.

4)   JavaScript-Based Tutoring Center on the WWW.  I used JavaScript to design tutorial materials for my students. They are collected on the website entitled Interactive German Tutoring Center which includes multiple-choice exercise for use of two-way prepositions, fill-in dictation exercise for improving listening comprehension and communicative skill and knowledge,  as well as questionnaire on facts related to contemporary German literature. I put questions in either the fill-in or the multiple choice format. After students have answered the questions, they can check their answers, correct the answers or erase the answers and start over.  They can virtually try as many times as they want. This is an excellent platform for students to learn a foreign language on their own. These applications are entirely designed in JavaScript and it does not need a CGI directory to run. This is for many of us instructors a big advantage because we usually don't have direct access to a CGI directory. Because of its flexibility, once the formats or templates are designed, their can be multiplied and reused for various other purposes. There is a disadvantage, however, namely the instructor does not have the control how students have performed. These web pages can therefore be best used as self-paced tutorial materials.

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