Keeping Students & Teachers Interested Is Easier With Hi-Tech Language Lab

Entering the Global Communications Center at Northport High School on Long Island's North Shore (New York), students are greeted with a language lab that epitomizes the high-technology vision of many forward-looking educators. Meander through the 25-station Center and, at first glance, one may not see much that differs from other language labs across the country. Take a closer look at what students and instructors are actually doing, however, and some crucial differences become apparent.

The center also utilizes two Panasonic Universal VCRs (for watching tapes from other countries), three Panasonic 13-inch VCR/monitor combos, two Panasonic 27-inch Stereo monitor/receivers and Canon's Video Visualizer (document camera). Tandberg's language lab system coordinates all of these components, letting instructors accomplish anything from communicating with students using headsets, to scanning student computers that are accessing the Internet.

The system also allows one to send images from the Video Visualizer to the 27-inch monitors and to the student computers; send writing samples, messages and more between the instructor's computer and students' computers; and send out CD-based software programs to student stations, among other functions. The system even lets instructors send out as many as four different audio/ video sources simultaneously to student stations. This helps in the multi-level classes in which there are mixed groups with varying skill levels and sometimes an entirely different curriculum.

Touch the World

Larry Lubin, Chairperson of Languages Other than English, says that choosing Tandberg (Brewster, N.Y.) was the result of six months of researching the best way to "create a learning laboratory for students to link up with the rest of the world." And link to the world it d'es. Classes can receive live video images from virtually any country in the world via the 16-foot satellite dish on top of Northport's roof, with feeds to individual student computers. And, using CU-SeeMe software, individual videoconferences can be sent to the two 27-inch monitors in the front of the room for entire classes to participate.

Lubin also relates that the Tandberg system specifically helps New York State teachers by being able to establish random pairing patterns between students to develop oral proficiency skills. "This is a tremendous aid for teachers since the 8th- and 10th-grade standardized examinations test the speaking skill in a role-playing format," he says. Instructors can also retrieve the oral responses of 25 students on one tape, letting them evaluate speaking skills in a much more time-efficient manner, he adds.

And, students presenting an oral report can now take advantage of the system's various functions to incorporate video, audio or even 3D objects using the Video Visualizer into their presentations.

Letting Teachers Teach

While some say that nowadays the technology is ahead of the methodology, Tandberg and Northport are making sure that d'esn't apply here. One of the main reasons, according to Lubin, why the department has remained enthusiastic about the Center is because of the extensive training provided by Tandberg representatives. The firm has provided inservice orientations to the various components of the system. And the district has been very supportive, creating extensive opportunities for curriculum development in three areas: use of the Internet, use of the satellite and integration of e-mail.

The district has been very supportive, creating opportunities
for curriculum development in three areas:
use of the Internet, use of the satellite and integration of e-mail.

"The Global Communications Center has sparked a new interest in the language program," says Lubin. "Most students enjoy visiting the laboratory. It is an opportunity for them to use their skills in an authentic context." Lubin's own students often ask him which day they get to go to the center.

"Whether it is watching a live foreign language broadcast, perusing the Internet to read the latest foreign newspapers, communicating with new friends via videoconferencing or practicing writing skills in a new format, the Tandberg Global Communication Center is a phenomenal success," Lubin concludes. Keeping both students and teachers interested in learning has always been a challenge, but even something as "ordinary" as a language lab can do just that, if it is utilized correctly.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.