Integrating the Intranet into the Teaching of Linguistics

Anthony McEnery & J. Baker
Dept. Linguistics, Lancaster University
Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4YT, England, UK


In this paper we want to present the on-going work at Lancaster to integrate self-access learning packages based around the intranet at Lancaster University into the teaching of Linguistics. The intranet has been used in this way for four years now at Lancaster, with progressive waves of experimentation followed by integration expanding web-based teaching in a rational and measured way.

The start of our work

Work got underway in transferring certain subjects in our linguistics curriculum at Lancaster to self-access intranet pages around five years ago. Initially our work was aided by a grant from the Innovation in Higher Education scheme, which provided for small grants in UK Universities to examine new modes of teaching. Using an IHE grant we identified one course, Language Acquisition, on which we thought that the multimedia capabilities of the intranet would be well suited - the course as it stood in its pre-web form used video and audio clips extensively. This course is viewable at:

With the aid of the IHE grant, we authored a series of pages to replace a ten week segment of the course. When this was complete we devised an experiment to attempt to measure the impact of web-based learning against traditional 'chalk and talk' teaching. The outcome from our experiment was remarkable - the students who were taught exclusively by the self-access resources performed no worse than students taught in a more traditional way, and indeed at times even outperformed such students.

We moved on beyond this point to devise two further sets of web teaching materials. Edinburgh University Press supported the production of a series of internet pages designed to promote the study of corpus linguistics (see, while further support from Lancaster University enabled the construction of intranet resources to provide basic tuition in the study of phonetics, phonology, morphology and grammar (this course is not currently viewable from the internet). The latter resource is now responsible for the teaching of these topics to first year students at Lancaster. Looking at performance indicators such as student attainment and course feedback, these intranet resources have proved highly effective.

Why have our innovations worked?

The basic design strengths of the web pages which we have developed are the following:

1. The exploitation of multimedia capabilities supports the learning process better than other course materials would, because the student, especially in linguistics, needs to engage with multi-modal learning resources. The ability to see, hear and read about aspects of human communication provides the student with a much richer opportunity for learning about language than simply reading a textbook in silent isolation. In addition, the student can review and revisit such audio/visual material as often as they want - a situation which is largely impossible within the context of a traditional lecture/seminar where audio-visual data may be deployed in a limited fashion.

2. The students are provide with continual opportunities for non-monitored self assessment. This is realized by a series of 'self test' which are marked via an interactive cgi script. The system does not merely mark the multiple choice test set; where a student enters an incorrect answer it also provides links back into the lecture to a point where the relevant information lies. It has the advantage over traditional tests in that:

3. Not only is a key 'backbone' provided to a lecture which a student must navigate, but also depth is provided in areas for students interested in a particular topic. Although text books may begin to be structured in a similar way, the advantages of hypermedia lectures like this are obvious: