Experiences and evaluation of successfully integrating a CALL multimedia package into a French language course curriculum
Liam Murray, The Language Centre
This article deals with many of the issues involved in the successful integration of a piece of multimedia software into a language curriculum designed for non-specialist advanced undergraduate students of French. After discussing the background and context of the research, the paper describes the software used and the surrounding integration aspects as well as the future use and development of the software as adequate courseware and research material.
Background and context
The practical purpose of this research involved an attempt to introduce and make full use of a multimedia computer-assisted language learning (CALL) package in an advanced level French non-specialist course, carried out over a two year period with two groups of students. It involved training students in the use and evaluation of the package . Students were then set the task of creating and designing their own materials for use within the package. The first year of the exercise served as a practice run, with integration theories  being assessed and matched against the practical experiences and particular course designer.
At the beginning of each year, many students displayed an unfamiliarity with even the most basic elements of CALL software, despite the apparent proliferation of medium and lower-level CALL materials. In their defence, it must be stated that there are currently very few multimedia CALL materials available that are aimed at advanced learners. The software used with the Warwick students is called "Télé-Textes Author 2" (TT2).
Integration meant a redesign of the original course. The course is made up of two hours per week class time over a twenty five week period, aimed at a post A-level or equivalent standard with the stated aims of deepening students' understanding of French civilisation and extending their writing and speaking skills. The students' multimedia project is intended to focus their attention on the whole learning process through their production of materials for TT2 which would, at the appropriate time, be included into TT2 and used with future groups of students. Such an inclusion will be carried out using the new "Tendril" software, the most recent addition to TT2, when this software has been fully tested and becomes available to us. This will allow the tutor to take the separate elements of the project materials, include them within TT2 as legitimate content and finally write and cut a separate student TT2 CD-ROM. Given the limited exposure time in class, TT2 is introduced during the first term. In the second term, the students are divided into workgroups and the project work begins in earnest. The search for their own video news clips and materials begins. The compilations of the materials are finished and near the end of this term, students make formal presentations to their peers where criticisms are sought and given. In the final term, the projects are submitted and marked.
It must be remembered that the multimedia component is but one part of several other resources that are used on this course. Language and culture textbooks, debates, presentations, grammar discussions, video news clip realia as well as other CALL materials such as GramEx and GramDef are also used. In addition, students with their limited previous exposure to CALL had to be introduced in a planned and careful way to the software. As noted elsewhere, students' learning objectives had to be redefined: "... if the new medium is to achieve its pedagogical potential and offer a new kind of learning experience to students", (Laurillard 1995:179) .
Student motivation on this course was rarely a problem. A brief profile reveals that these learners are non-specialists in language learning. This French course is an academic option on their main degree programme and they hail from a broad mixture of backgrounds. They are very much aware of the need for other life skills in enhancing their future CV documents and the prospect of being content providers and designers on a multimedia project appealed to each of them.
Needs and aims
In tailoring the course to these specific needs the general course content needed to be linguistically challenging for their level of French with ample practice of all four intralingual skills. TT2 also had to service the same needs. This was achieved thus: the listening skill was practised and tested through the video work; the reading skill through work on the video transcription and the language exercises; the writing skill through work on their own transcription, précis, "stratégie", exercises and diary; and the speaking skill through the presentation and defence of their project. The course itself was conducted, for the most part, in the target language environment.
The learners had to be set a goal and a challenge. In our case, it was the long evaluation and mimicking of the original designers' learning model and the generation and assemblement of their own material and exercises with other students on a final project. This is what Plowman calls "cognitive enhancers", in which the user is given the tools to "repurpose" existing materials (in his example it was with multimedia essay writing). With TT2 this idea was taken further and students were allowed to have their own choice of video news footage in the full knowledge that they had to devise competent language exercises and tests for use with the video clip.
TT2 combines the traditional language learning elements of video, audio, textbook and cahier d'exercices onto a self-access and easy to use CD-ROM. It uses eighteen short video news clips from the French television station TF1 and offers a fair range of contemporary and cultural subjects for study. These clips are to be found within seven themed Dossiers (see screenshot below). Each Dossier has at least two video clips and a number of exercises and tasks specifically written for use with the chosen subject.
The TT2 workspace also provides a video scrollbar to control the video clip, along with optional transcripts, a user notepad and a Studio facility for voice recording and multimedia role-playing with the learner in the guise of a television journalist.
TT2 allows the tutor or teacher to build their own specific sets of exercises and tasks and is designed for use with the original Télé-Textes video clips. The Dossiers are listed in a file card display, as indeed are the news clip sections. As well as the spoken short introductions, every news section offers a concise written introduction and a stratégie on how to approach and use the particular news items.
The language skills are tested by a set of tasks classified under twelve headings, but are usually limited to a choice from six headings per news clip. The six offered headings are pertinent to the particular news item and form part of the already mentioned stratégie. Answers to the many questions and exercises presented to the student may be entered either by typing them in, in the conventional fashion (for accented characters, there is a character bar always available on the screen) or by using the different answer boxes by clicking on them when the cursor is placed in the correct blanked area of the question.
Student reactions to and evaluations of the software
Student reactions to the software were recorded on questionnaires at bi-monthly intervals throughout the whole of year. Their comments range from initial enthusiasm for the software to later more critical and searching comments. Despite general acceptance of TT2 as legitimate courseware, some students still had to be eased into the process of learning and producing content for a multimedia environment. The course designer recognised the need to overcome all 'prejudices' and convince students of MM learning-values at the beginning of and during the course.
Tutor's evaluation of student projects
The following comments are typical for the two years of the study:
- the video newsclip search was sometimes a reflection of their own interests e.g. the politics students chose a clip on a national bus strike;
- the video transcriptions, though found by many students to be most difficult task, were generally very good, examples of subjects include: avalanche; exploratrice; grève; contamination de sang;
- the précis writing ranged from very good to average as this essential skill still continues to be taught erratically in UK schools;
- the stratégie writing was quite good and again students spent a lot of time on them as it forced them to think about how to be an instructional designer. Some efforts were, however, overlong and reflected a similar level of difficulty as in the précis writing;
- the language exercises were quite varied and offered room for some creativity. The list of student compiled tasks includes: Préparez-vous; vrai et faux; synonymes; compréhension; cochez la bonne réponse; l'essentiel (with certain trick questions); vérification; remplir les blancs; expressions-clés; and Conclusions which were subjects for general discussion and formal debates. However, it must be stated that this is where the majority of the writing mistakes tended to appear;
- the work diaries or log books, although regularly recorded also held many linguistic errors, perhaps reflecting their low position of importance in the students' minds in the overall project.
3. Integration issues
There are many issues surrounding the question of software integration into language curricula, the following represent the most pertinent topics in our situation:
- tutor workload, although initially increased through the redesign of the course, the situation has eased somewhat to the level of a 'typical' language course;
- technical problems have been minimal due to the working relationship with the designer and programmer, notwithstanding the institutional support, and some tutor's expertise;
- when and where it is appropriate to use the software. These important issues ranged from the practical to the theoretical. Hemard (1997:19)  states that we should: "Clearly identify the language learning or teaching goals to be achieved by the application" and Hammond (1993:53)  , in reminding us that human learning is extraordinarily varied, points out that: "Generic prescriptive guidelines for educational [hypermedia] design have only limited utility, and the author must take account of many of the characteristics of the learning situation and how people are likely to learn from the artefact in question".Educational technologists such as Hammond tell us that in utilising hypermedia we should be adding other tools to the repertoire of learning styles and not exclude other styles learned and exploited earlier in the student's life.
- promotion of effective learning. In this situation, it is arguable that this is partly achieved through the generation of teaching materials for someone else. Gardiner, (1989) has described this as the generation effect where one learns more from the material that one has produced oneself. As a concept, this is a continuation of the enactment effect, or learning by doing, which has been extensively documented and proven elsewhere;
- redesigning of a course curriculum to account for the multimedia element. The changes to the original course mainly included the setting, production and assessment of the student project work. The marking scheme itself is under continual evaluation but currently stands thus: the project represents 15% of the overall mark for the course; 8% is for 'correct language usage throughout', including the diary report; 4% is for the concepts used in the mixture of students' own exercises and other components; 3 % is for an overall impression mark.
Future use and development of the software as adequate courseware and research material
The software itself will be continually developed by the original designers and from our perspective it is intended to:
- integrate the use of Tendril and other authoring tools for student use;
- carry out further research on précis and stratégie writing as practised by students within a multimedia environment;
- begin research on student implicit and explicit knowledge where learning from images occurs when viewing video clips;
- continue research on individual language learning styles, their differences and student metacognitive skills;
- move on from the use of news clips to include sections from films, televised discussions and documentaries.
Conclusion: Using interactive CALL multimedia
This conclusion is positive for the most part as the overall learning process is believed to be motivating, challenging and new. It was felt by students to have incorporated and encouraged the development of different transferable skills and greatly helped their understanding of certain aspects of French civilisation and their confidence in understanding, writing and speaking the French language. In spite of the amount of effort required of the students throughout the year given the accreditation scheme (the perhaps 'negative aspect'), the production of their own Dossiers did offer them a source of satisfaction and pride in their work, especially in the knowledge that it would be used by future groups of learners.
Dr Liam Murray
The Language Centre
University of Warwick
- A helpful article in this respect comes from: Barker, P. and King, T. (1993) “Evaluating interactive multimedia courseware - a methodology”, Computers and Education, 21 (4), 307-319.
- See for example: Oxford, R.L. (1995) “Linking theories of learning with intelligent computer-assisted language learning”. In V.M. Holland, J.D. Kaplan and M.R. Sams (eds.), Intelligent language tutors: theory shaping technology, Mahwah, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 359-369.
- Laurillard, D. (1995) “Multimedia and the changing experience of the learner”, British Journal of Educational Technology 26 (3), 179-189.
- Plowman, L. (1988) “Active learning and interactive video: a contradiction in terms ?”, Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 25, 289-293.
- TT2 has been reviewed in various publications e.g. Times Educational Supplement date and page and also by this author in ReCALL, 9, (1), 58-61, May 1997.
- Hemard, D.P. (1997) “Design principles and guidelines for authoring hypermedia language learning applications”, System 25 (1), 9-27.
- Hammond, N. (1993) “Learning with Hypertext: Problems, Principles & Prospects”. In McKnight, C., Dillon, A., & Richardson, J. (eds.), Hypertext: a psychological perspective, Ellis Horwood, UK, 51-69.
- Gardiner, J.M. (1989) “A generation effect in memory without awareness”, British Journal of Psychology, 80, 163-168.
- See for example: Svensson, T. and Nilsson, L.-G. (1989) “The relationship between recognition and cued recall in memory of enacted and non-enacted information”, Psychological Research, 51, 194-200.
This article is developed from a paper previously presented to the EUROCALL conference in Dublin, September 11-13th 1997.