Those who studied languages at Oberlin more than a few years ago might not recognize the Paul and Edith Cooper International Learning Center as a language lab.
Occupying a bright, airy, space on the third floor of Peters Hall, the 1,600-square-foot center lacks the isolating cubicles and the commanding console of old-style language labs. This lab looks friendly, even inviting.
Six groups of workstations equipped with computers, TV/VCR units, and tape players allow students to work individually or in pairs-yes, pairs, as in conversation. Along the perimeter are several smaller rooms equipped with televisions linked to videocassette recorders and laserdisc players. There's also a classroom with facilities to project output from a computer.
The emphasis in this center-completed with the help of a $125,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation-is on communication. Students still do standard listening exercises, but they also do word-processing and send e-mail in all Roman languages, plus Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Korean. They watch television news broadcasts from 37 countries via satellite transmission and log onto the World Wide Web to read online editions of newspapers and magazines from around the world. They can watch film clips on videodisc, with the dialog displayed as text on a nearby computer. They use software programs that allow them to click on an unknown phrase and obtain an instant, on-screen translation.
All this technology makes learning languages more fun, said Michael Heller, the language lab intern who assists students and faculty members in using the equipment. It also achieves a major instructional goal, said Janice Zinzer, McCandless Professor of French: getting "authentic" materials-materials that give direct contact with another culture-into students' hands.
Another advantage is that these technologies allow students "to learn in their own ways. What works for one student doesn't work for another," said Zinser, who was project director for the Davis Foundation grant and who helped plan the lab space.
The lab is not just a boon for students. Some faculty members use the Internet in courses, while others use the technology to develop their own materials. Grants from the Mellon Foundation, including some that allow for student assistants, fund these initiatives.
Zinser, for example, recently had her students visit the Web site of La Redoute, France's largest mail-order catalog-not to see the latest styles in Paris, but to prepare for a composition assignment describing clothing they'd purchase for an upcoming trip.
Ann Sherif, associate professor of East Asian Studies, is having her Japanese students create Web pages to communicate with students at other colleges and, for those who study abroad, with host families in Japan. Davida Gavioli, director of the language lab and instructor in Italian, is creating Web-based exercises for beginning Italian.
Linda Gates, instructor of English as a second language, uses National Public Radio feeds and a Test of English as a Foreign Language page on the Web to help international students improve their English.
Arlene Forman, associate professor of Russian, is compiling her slides of St. Petersburg into an annotated Microsoft PowerPoint presentation for her course on that city. It will allow her to log onto her office computer from a computer in the classroom and project the images.
Assistant Professor of Chinese Der-Lin Chao, working with a student assistant, is directing a project involving faculty members at Denison University, Kenyon College, and the College of Wooster that will produce an online introductory Chinese textbook. Ana Cara, associate professor of Spanish, and a student assistant are producing a Quick Time Virtual Reality project that will incorporate audio, video, and still images for her courses on the Caribbean and Latin American folklore.
"We still have a long way to go," said Nelson de Jesus, associate professor of French, chair of the Romance languages department, and project director of the Mellon grant. "Faculty members need to develop skills in the new educational media. And many students, including international students and American students from poorer communities, still have little expertise in technology. I think what we as language teachers have to do is see the way technology will change our pedagogy."
"We need to see how technology will help us do what we've always done," added Zinser.--by Anne C. Paine
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