Pedagogical programs - from testing to presentation of curriculum

Signe Marie Sanne
Edb-seksjonen, Det historisk-filosofiske fakultet
Universitetet i Bergen
Sydnesplassen 7, N-5007 Bergen, Norway

The technological shift

Since I started developing CALL 10 years ago there has been a significant shift in the technological possibilities, from purely textual programs to multimedia programs. Pedagogically the first programs were bound in structure, the user having to navigate through the program in a prefixed order, whereas newer programs usually offer free choice of any topic, any media or any additional information, thus allowing the users to follow their associations or curiosity. This has also had strong repercussions on the learning methods inherent in the programs: From programs where the computer was in control, to user-initiated or user-controlled programs, thus laying the foundations for students being responsible for their own learning. At the same time the contents of CALL have been extended from testing grammar and vocabulary to presenting cultural aspects of the language curriculum.

The early programs

The first programs focussed on testing grammar and vocabulary, the theoretical basis had to be learnt either during a lecture or by studying a text book. These self-access programs offered benefits such as when and what to study. Compared to the working sheets the students usually filled in and handed in to the lecturer, this represented an advantage, since the students got immediate feedback and could keep control of their own progress. However, the computer lent itself to further implementation of texts: in addition to a simple feedback (Right/Try again!) ad hoc links to rules and definitions were introduced so that the students could study the reason underlying the feedback. Later on I found it useful to separate all the ad hoc rules into a theoretical part which could be accessed and studied before the testing. In this way the students had the option either to study the theoretical parts before the testing or consulting the rules ad hoc during the testing. In this way the programs became more and more full-fledged selfstudy programs.

Presentation of a subject matter

The first programs developed were for technological reasons based on only texts, but in recent years with increasingly better authoring tools in our hands we can now develop fairly extensive programs with texts, pictures or video clips. Over the past few years we have therefore witnessed a blossoming of multimedia programs with cultural content, from general topics such as illustrated encyclopedias to more specialized topics like presentation of art collections, biographies etc. The main objective of these programs is to present a topic just like a textbook, but the programs are distinguished from a textbook due to the fact that they may comprise a larger number of pictures, of animation or video clips, in addition to texts. And most important of all: the content components are tied together with hypertextual links which give the user access to various parts and media components of the program only with a mouse click.

This way of presenting a theoretical topic constitutes an input form which solely caters to the receptive skills of the student in the same way as a lecture, a textbook, or a video, - or during the last few years information on the Internet. The pedagogical advantages offered by these presentation programs lie in the integration of the texts and the visual/auditive elements which are tied together by hyperlinks, thus constituting easy switching between the various elements at the time and at the place in the program where the teacher judges it useful for the student.

Receptive or productive skills

Whereas the early programs in the very beginning consisted of pure testing and thereafter grew into including more and more theory, the multimedia programs usually started as pure presentation of information or theory in the same way as much information is presented on the Internet. Used in a pedagogical context these programs usually are accompanied by topics for essay writing and a notepad which the student can make use of during the visit to the various components in the program.

However, we - the teachers and developers - may take advantage of the computer's strength to develop various types of programs corresponding to the students' need. Still there is clearly a need for pure test programs, for instance of grammatical endings, of specific vocabulary, or of syntactical analysis in order to support the teaching of grammar. When these tests are further developed to include a theoretical part this provides the student with the option either to repeat theory learnt elsewhere or - if the student has not attended a specific lecture - study it as a first introduction to the topic. As a support to a previous lecture the student may start out with the testing and consulting the theoretical parts when needed.

Regarding multimedia programs, which mainly aims at presenting a topic, our challenge is to incorporate components which cater to the students' productive skills. These components should at least comprise topics for essay writing, but in my view various kinds of testing will benefit the students as well, for instance testing of factual knowledge, or testing of text comprehension or of vocabulary. This testing may be part of the preliminary work for essay writing. The testing and the notepad thus constitute a way of solicitating production. These programs therefore will include both presentation of a topic and the testing of the same.

Testing or presentation?

By way of some examples of programs available for our language students,, I discuss how they may be categorised as either presentation, or testing programs, or both.

"ItalBeg" is a beginners' course in Italian. It includes a theoretical part which can be studied per se in addition to various tests with ad hoc links to the grammar.

"EngTrans" comprises testing of phonetical transcription with links to definitions of phonemes and examples of words containing the same phoneme.

The point of departure for the aforementioned programs was to test the productive skills, but both were enlarged with extensive theoretical parts.

"BarAuf" is an example of pure presentation of a topic, in this case a presentation of the literary periods in Germany: the Barock and the Aufklärung.

The still image program for teaching Italian Civilization, "ItalCultura", implements multiple choice tests of the factual knowledge of the contents (history and geography).

Tests are also implemented in "IVANA" (Norwegian as a second language), this time testing socio-cultural traits and body language.

The program "Gallipoli" is based on a 30 minute video which gives a portrait of a small town in Southern Italy. The video covers aspects of Italy which may be of relevance if the student's exam topic is to describe a region in Italy (geography/history).

The presentation side of the program includes a transcription section of the entire dialogues/commentaries, as well as an interactive dictionary and a grammar section, all tied closely together by hypertextual links. However, an important part of the program consists of exercises or tests of vocabulary and grammar.

Lastly I mention our last project (TRUST - Terminology, Reading and Understanding, Scanning and Testing). The program aims at teaching British and American Poetry.