Friday, 31 July 2009

Multimedia Language labs

Multimedia Language labs


Features and implications on teaching EFL in Tunisia


- IC-LAN: Equipment and software stationed in CREFOCS for teacher trainers (French and English for the moment) to conduct training sessions. The objective is to sensitise teachers to the importance of using the multimedia language labs (MMLL).

The last two week-training sessions focused on the features and specifications of both MMLLs.

IC-LAN is user-friendly software with a nice interface. The MMLL consists of 14 PCs containing the Pupil Console a double-monitor PC for the Teacher Console.

The Teacher Console allows the teachers to be in control of everything. The teachers can block, intercom, chat and assist/guide students (as individuals or groups) while they are on task.

The Group discussion panel allows the teachers to randomly create groups or pre-select them- for mixed-ability classes for example- and even colour-code them for pedagogical purposes.

Texting and vocal chat also allow teachers to monitor discussions.

Teachers can make students discuss topics in pairs or in groups.

Students can pair-share then pair-square-share.

A student’s good performance could easily be transmitted by the teacher to the rest of the group; a feature that is very useful in web quests or presentations.

A security control panel allows teachers to bar specific sites or embedded PC programs.

The lab is fitted with high-tech devices that allow trainers and teachers to work on projects such as preparing or editing a movie, a video. They can also record external voices, digitize external analog files…

Some other peripherals come with IC-LAN such as high-definition scanner, sound recorder and video recorder.

The features the equipment offers are innovative in the Tunisian educational context as far as languages are concerned.

As its name indicates, this software is using a LAN (Local Area Network) with a cable connection. However, Internet connectivity is always available; the login and password are provided by the CREFOC administration. So Internet can be integrated as an integral part of the lesson.

IC-LAN gives the possibility of preparing interactive exercises with a panoply of quizzes like multiple choice, C-Test, matching… where multimedia files can be embedded.

This feature can be used in both formative and summative assessment.

As the test can be saved automatically by the teacher and checked by the computer software, the heavy burden of marking can be alleviated.


-VOCALAB: Like IC-LAN, VOCALAB has a double interface: Teacher Console and Student Console. The equipment and software are used in prep and secondary schools. They consist of 14 laptops fitted with the Student Console and a laptop for the teacher fitted with the Teacher Console. They are all Wi-Fi connected. The school ADSL connection provides the necessary relay transmitter.

The rationale behind opting for laptops and Wi-Fi connection might be the mobility of the MMLL according to circumstances and the scanty school means.

Still, VOCALAB offers quite a good array of features that make teaching and learning fun. Apart from the features that VOCALAB shares with IC-LAN (the ones I have mentioned before), Vocalab is using the famous J-clic to prepare a wide range of nice interactive exercises that can be embedded in a database. This, however, is a challenge for teachers who are not familiar with this software. To feel comfortable with J-Clic, requires at least 3 or 4 training sessions. This is quite a long period of time the teachers can’t afford.

Both MMLLs allow students to record their own voices and therefore correct their lapses by comparing their performance to the authentic materials that can easily and immediately be downloaded from the net.

In the Tunisian context, both MMLLs solve many of our teaching problems mainly those related to listening and extensive reading activities.

The intercom with students offers teachers the chance to correct/help/guide individually -or as a group- students.

The group work that has never been the highlight of our education system is now possible as the above-mentioned MMLLs can only be used by 14 students. A restriction deemed very positive by our teachers because half of the class only is taken at a time.

The possibility of showing videos, podcasts and presentations that can be visualized time and again - helps students to learn at their own pace.

The infinite possibilities MMLLs offer as far as collaborative learning is concerned open new perspectives for language teachers to envision short or long-term projects about hot-button issues that can involve students from different regions /countries.

To keep track of students’ progress, we can upload their work to e-portfolios which will serve as repository for students’ assignments and a basis for future self evaluation. Parents can also be involved to check on their children’s work by peeping at e-portfolios from time to time.

MMLLs are of course not a panacea for our education ills but the facilities they offer are welcomed by teachers including the most antiquated of them.

The few students that had access to these MMLLs expressed their enthusiasm and expected great outcomes.