Arizona School's New Language Lab Adds More Than Expected

When exposed to the advancements of technology and its application in the educational arena, even today's technologically jaded parents are amazed at the change in the classroom. The parents of students at Coronado High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. are no exception. When they attended open house last year, they were unanimously impressed with the IS-10MM Multimedia Learning Language Center that had been installed in September, 1994, by Tandberg Educational (Brewster, N.Y.). With 32 stations incorporating audio and video capabilities, students at Coronado experience a language lab that is significantly different than what their parents remember.

Service Is the Key

Diane Wells, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages at Coronado High School, is also impressed with Tandberg for many of the same reasons as the parents, but also quite a few different ones.

After investigating language labs for approximately six years while waiting for funds to become available, it "became obvious that Tandberg stood out as a leader in the field," says Wells. She had visited other schools and colleges in the area, carefully scrutinizing their language labs and speaking with the users, trying to determine the good and bad points of each system.

After narrowing her search down to two leading systems, Tandberg's service was the deciding factor. "The level of service we received from Tandberg was what really won us over," says Wells. "I could actually talk to the president of the company and ask questions about the product and he would fax or overnight us different specifications and layouts. They also offer orientation for the users and if something mechanical g'es wrong, they will take care of it right away."

Upgradable and Flexible

Another big consideration for Wells and Coronado was the question of upgradability. They didn't want to get something that would be obsolete in a few years, and Tandberg answers that question with free software upgrades as they become available. Coronado has had the equipment for a little over a year and already received one software upgrade. The simple installation was done by the school's computer technician.

Coronado's language lab features the Tandberg IS-10MM system and the IS-10 VDS (Video Distribution System) integrated with a Mac Quadra 660 AV at the instructor's console, which allows computer sources as well as VCR and videodisc to be broadcast to each student station.

Currently, student stations are equipped with only audio capability; plans are to utilize the video distribution capabilities soon. Until each student station has a dedicated monitor, two 27" monitors are mounted on carts with wireless receivers allowing them to be moved freely around the lab. The instructor's station has a JVC TM9U 9" monitor that lets the instructor view video output at his or her station.

The New Student Hangout?

"The instructors love the equipment, it's easy to use and Tandberg will come and give inservice if we need it," says Wells. Students also like the new language lab, actually asking to go there. "They didn't like to go to the other lab, they thought it was boring."

Part of the popularity of the new language lab can likely be attributed to the way Wells and other instructors integrate the technology into their everyday classes. Instead of just using the lab for special functions such as oral tests and special sections, they use it as the everyday language classroom, blending traditional language instruction with the multimedia elements available.

A typical class session may involve the pairing up of students, the instructor quietly and unobtrusively monitoring them and speaking directly to those who need help, all without leaving the instructor's station. Using the Tandberg system, instructors can effectively answer more questions plus identify and give specific need-based help. They can also easily monitor students and correct them in a non-confrontational, individual manner.

Both students and instructors alike enjoy the more private atmosphere the system lends to the classroom.

Well Worth the Wait

Overall, integrating language learning with new technology at Coronado High School presents a unique opportunity for educators: retaining components of traditional instruction while easing the transition to the true multimedia classroom. For Wells, the improvement in students' attention spans as well as the respect they show the new equipment was well worth the effort and her six-year wait.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.