Please cite as: · Ponterio, R. & LeLoup, J. W. (1999). Developing Interactive Multimedia Teaching Materials for the Web: Language Projects at SUNY Cortland. In A. J. Vogely, (Ed.), Foreign Language on the Threshold of Tomorrow, (pp. 31-36). NYSAFLT Annual Meeting Series 16.
Introduction and Origin of the Project
Language teaching professionals have been excited about using the World Wide Web (WWW) in their classes for several years now. It’s no surprise, because the Web allows us to bring current, authentic materials, including multimedia materials, created by native speakers (NSs) for native speakers, into the classroom in a way that simply was not possible before. Thus, the Internet can demonstrate to our students that the language is not just something that belongs in school. It is a fundamental part of a real culture used by real people in the real world, a culture that they can interact with by speaking the language. But learning to interact with such authentic materials takes some amount of training. This article will describe a number of WWW development projects for Foreign Language (FL) teachers undertaken at SUNY Cortland to help support teachers and students as they acquire the skills needed to integrate these new technologies in the FL classroom. Five main modules (and a few smaller ones) were developed by project participants at Cortland; these modules address the topics of teacher preparation, French civilization, Latin American civilization, and WWW development for FLs. The materials developed are freely available on the Internet and are designed to be used in a variety of ways by FL teachers in support of the use of technology in the classroom and especially in support of their curricular goals for the integration of culture.
What are we going to do about the Internet ?
Now, why would we ever want to use the WWW for language instruction? The impetus for the project came from the vastness of the Internet and the resource potential it offers. The possibilities for finding authentic materials, nuggets of cultural information, and target language practice in general are enormous. Not long ago, FL teachers had to rely on materials and realia collected during too-infrequent trips abroad, brought home and guarded zealously, and laminated to protect and maintain their longevity until the next trip. Target language (TL) materials were just not that readily available to many FL teachers, and students experienced a dearth of authentic TL input as a consequence. All that has changed with the Internet. Among the many reasons to use the Internet in FL instruction and learning are the following:
While the rich variety of authentic materials out there is extensive and amazingly broad, oftentimes there is too much. We do not know where to begin, let alone where to end. Anyone who has made any effort at all to find TL materials on the web can attest to the enormous amount of time such a search can take. Then, once you have found materials, how do you use them effectively in your classroom? To do this, you must be assured of the integrity and veracity of the materials; not everything on the net is what it purports to be. The bottom line is that FL teachers need help making sense of the Internet and integrating materials into the curriculum.
What’s out there?
To begin to try to "make sense" of the Internet and discover what is
out there, we suggest consulting several of the topical collections of
FL resources that are available on the web. These collections are
groupings of Internet addresses (called URLs: Uniform Reference Locator
aka Universal Resource Locator). Many kind folks have taken the time
to gather together a listing of the sites they feel are the most useful
for FL professionals; frequently these listings are briefly annotated to
give the searcher an idea of what to expect. The FLTEACH (Foreign
Language Teaching Forum) home page has a "collection of collections" --
a listing of several sites that have essentially done your preliminary
work for you. These URLs can be found at:
A few examples of these collections indicate the range of their creators and topics of interest: TenneseeBob's Globe-Gate Project; the Less Commonly Taught Languages home page; institutional (secondary and tertiary) FL learning department pages; TEFL and TESL resources; FL learning laboratory collections; live radio and television URLs on the internet; daily newspapers from around the world; on-line dictionaries. FLTEACH does not aim to collect all of the URLs of this ilk that exist, but a FL teacher can get a good head start by investigating the sites listed on this page.
The WWW has been growing by leaps and bounds because making material available is so easy that, unlike most other media, anyone can become a producer. We like to tell teachers that “only 95% of the Internet is garbage.” What is out there is usually not organized in any really significant way. As we have seen, there are brave souls who have done wonders to help us find useful sites that are appropriate for our FL classes so we do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are times, though, when what we need is the ability to track down something on a specific topic, as one might in a library catalog or a database, rather than to browse a list of links on general topics. This is where knowing how to use WWW search engines is essential. The trick is knowing how to design a good search and how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
A number of techniques are particularly useful for FL searching.
In general, it is a good idea to get to know one or two search engines
well. Some particularly popular sites at the moment are www.altavista.com,
www.snap.com, www.excite.com, www.yahoo.com, and others for specific languages
such as france.ecila.com or www.spanishconnection.com. Searching
is always a matter of applying widening and narrowing techniques, identifying
the right keywords to improve chances of finding what you need, then weeding
out the junk by making the search narrow enough to manage the results.
All search engines have a HELP section where one can learn how to design
a search. A few common techniques are putting phrases (words that
go together) between quotation marks, preceding words that MUST appear
in the result by a plus sign, and preceding words that MUST NOT appear
in the result with a minus sign. So you might end up with something
If you are looking for pages in the TL, a search engine may allow you to specify a particular language, but sometime this won’t work. A trick for finding text in the TL is to make sure that at least one keyword is only a word in that language, perhaps a word with an accented letter.
Of course, if students are going to be searching the WWW, it is important to provide adequate supervision. Even if they are not looking for it, students may encounter sites containing inappropriate material. It is essential for the teacher, the school, and the parents to agree on clear guidelines so that any problems that may come up are not solely the teacher’s responsibility (or fault).
Once sites are found that seem to contain useful information, be sure to check them out thoroughly. You never know what may be buried a few layers into a WWW site. A page on German culture may contain a section on museums that may contain a section on photo exhibits that may contain a collection of nudes by a particular photographer. It may be a good idea to isolate the individual pages that are both useful and appropriate for the task at hand. It is also a good idea to verify the author of a site. Is it someone who seems to really know the subject? Is the information accurate? Does it appear to be dependable? Is the grammar and spelling correct, and is the overall style acceptable? If the style is poor, it may not be a good model for the students. Does the site have a political agenda? If so, it may be wise to make sure that students are aware of this. Developing our own critical skills as well as those of our students will improve the quality of the experience derived from the classroom web activity and also transmit life skills that will be essential for using the Internet in the future.
The Next Step
The key concept underlying the use of materials from the Internet is that the lessons and activities must be curriculum-driven. Foreign language teachers need to examine the curricula particular to their own language courses, select certain primary concepts and foci, and then decide how best to enhance these with authentic materials from the web. We need to know how to incorporate Internet resources into our lessons so that they compliment our objectives and goals and facilitate their achievement. In sum, the materials obtained through the Internet should be selected only with the express purpose of improving FL teaching and learning.
While we were gathering the collections that are available on the FLTEACH home page, we noticed a real dearth of pedagogically sound web-based lessons that used the wonderful materials available on the Internet. It is one thing to find lots of useful authentic resources on the Internet. It is entirely another to figure out how best to use these resources in a way that promotes optimal FL learning. Creation of any kind of lessons with new materials is very time-consuming. Couple that with the added time spent just finding the resources to begin with, and most FL teachers would find creating a web-based or Internet-influenced curriculum a daunting task and one they might quickly abandon. That meant that the next step was to develop lessons ourselves that could be used in the FL classroom. We then entered our "Do it yourself!" phase of the project. Our aim was to create WWW modules that were Standards-based, maintained pedagogical integrity, used authentic materials, and implemented the multimedia capabilities so readily available in a web-based environment.
In addition to the primary goal of developing materials for use in our own classes, the Cortland project had three secondary goals. We sought to improve the department’s technological infrastructure, to train department faculty in the use of the latest technology, and to encourage collaboration and articulation both within the department and through the Internet.
Digital computer technology is changing at an incredible pace as machines become capable of working with larger amounts of information faster and faster. In order to digitize authentic materials for the FL classroom, we needed to be able to capture, edit, integrate, and transmit a wide variety of media formats, including text, sound, images, and video. To do this well, we needed adequate computers, of course, but also scanners, microphones, cameras, video cameras, video capture cards, various pieces of software for capturing and editing images, sound, and video, and web page authoring software. Not only was it important to have the right equipment, everything also needed to be located in a way that would make it usable for faculty. Some items needed to be portable, other hardware was located in a faculty workroom or in our language lab (where students could also have access). Where possible we tried to stagger our equipment purchases, buying the minimum at the outset and adding new purchases later in the project. This helped us cut costs as prices fell and keep up to date by buying more current models of some devices.
Many institutions today recognize the need to update equipment but have trouble dealing with the need to update the skills of the people using the equipment. Training workshops tend to be superficial, spending inadequate time addressing the real needs of participants and not providing adequate follow-up support. Learning takes a significant amount of time. As teachers, we all know that. Yet when it comes to learning to use the technology ourselves, we seem to expect miracles. And no wonder! Who can find the time to spend on that, given our already busy schedules?
To address these problems we built special workshops into the project for FL department colleagues in addition to supplement any general workshops offered by the school to all faculty. We also ran a complete course on multimedia development that project participants were able to audit. With participants working on similar tasks and learning together, they constituted a network within which ideas could be shared. Unless a teacher is especially good at figuring out new software and techniques alone or learning from online tutorials, it is important to work with others to avoid the frustration of getting stuck when the technology does not work as expected. Too often institutions expect individual teachers to provide help to colleagues in addition to their regular duties, or when they do hire someone to assist faculty, they find people with limited skills and often no teaching experience. By having colleagues help each other within the project, we sought to avoid some of these problems.
These technical interactions between colleagues also led to increased exposure to the content of each other’s projects. Such collaboration supports articulation because the first step in articulation is knowing what colleagues are doing in their classes. The Internet based nature of the modules also led to unexpected collaboration with colleagues at other institutions. Because these materials are all freely available, many teachers at various institutions around the US and indeed around the world, have been making extensive use of the modules in their classes, represented by the many thousands of “page hits” recorded each month. A number of these teachers have contributed valuable suggestions as part of our formative evaluation cycle and for our ongoing module reviews and revisions. This process allows us to make improvements and corrections to the materials so that they may better meet user needs as revisions continue.
Developing Teaching Materials for the WWW
The OET grant had as its primary purpose the training of faculty in the design and implementation of WWW modules that would incorporate area studies course content into language courses. The modules have been made available on the WWW for FL educators of all levels to use, thus meeting the future language needs of secondary students and improving high school/college articulation. The project originally aimed to develop three course modules in French civilization, Spanish for the professions, and technology use in FL teaching. Due to personnel shifts, the module for Spanish for the professions was replaced by a module on Latin American civilization late in the project. The development, use, and promotion of these modules seeks to encourage future projects by other language faculty and by participants from other disciplines in a companion Languages Across the Curriculum project.
Faculty training was an important part of the project, and workshops dealing with advanced topics related to the grant projects' instructional design and language specific needs were conducted for grant participants. To extend the positive effects of this grant to faculty not directly involved in the development of the three modules, these other faculty members were invited to participate in these workshops to help prepare them to undertake similar projects themselves. This faculty development component has continued far beyond the time frame of the grant.
When working with materials from the WWW, copyright is a very important issue. In most cases, materials encountered on the web are, indeed, copyright protected even though the familiar symbol © may not be readily visible or even present. Because of the need to respect copyright regulations and participate in the spirit of the law, we decided to use many of our own materials (photos and scanned representations of realia) and to create many of our own graphics. In this way, we would be in no danger of copyright infringement, and we would be setting a good example for our students and colleagues. Again, faculty training was key in the development of materials: learning to work with such applications as video and sound editing programs and graphics creation software was challenging, exciting, and rewarding. Drawing images with a mouse was quite an experience!
Each module created is unique in its origin, rationale, and final form. Below we provide a brief description of the impetus for each module, its creation, its outcome, and possible uses for FL educators and students. Please feel free to examine and use these materials on the web and to provide comments and feedback to the creators. They are meant as a professional service and contribution to colleagues.
Civilisation française - Marie Ponterio
The French civilization site was developed to support an undergraduate French civilization class at SUNY Cortland. However, the activities and text were created with the intention of making them accessible to both high school and college level students. The topics covered do not correspond to any particular text, but cover a broad range of concepts typical of most courses in French civilization.
La Vie culturelle
Les Changements dans la société
La Justice ou les mésaventures d'Arsène Capone
La Vie familiale
La Sécurité sociale et la médecine
Voyage virtuel: carte interactive avec des photos et des liens
Each topic page presents a wide range of cultural information appropriate for a student of the language. The information is presented in two formats, as a quiz for students who have already studied the topics and as a straight presentation for students who might be seeing this for the first time. We will describe one of the pages as an example of what may be found, though the exact format may vary depending on the topic.
The Ecoles page contains eight original photographs representing French schools. These include an old primary school building, a teacher and student examining something on a blackboard, a baccalauréat diploma, the Sorbonne, a modern university building, two lycées from the same town (one old, one modern), a group of students in costumes celebrating the “père cent”. The text examines many important aspects of the French education system from pre-school to university, using the photos as references. The quiz page contains many fill-in blanks with buttons that provide the answers. Interspersed through the text are sound buttons that allow the user to hear parts of the text read by a native speaker. A true/false section presents “facts” about the differences that a visitor to a French school might observe. An “A vous!” section contains videos of five French students from primary school to a “grande école” talking about school, with a question about what the student says in each video. Students can print out the answers to these questions to be handed in to the teacher. A “Pour rire” section uses colloquial expressions that students should find amusing such as “être bête comme ses pieds” or “parler anglais comme une vache espagnole.” There are several suggested films related to the topic, suggested WWW links for finding further information, and a bibliography.
A Communications Technology Module for the Foreign Language Methods
Course Teacher preparation - Jean LeLoup
Many FL teachers have embraced Internet technologies as effective resources that enhance instruction and, consequently, student learning, but many more have not done so for a variety of reasons. Lack of knowledge, lack of access, and inadequate professional role models contribute greatly to the under use of communications technology in the FL classroom at both the secondary and tertiary levels. The result is many preservice FL teachers marching through their language curriculum seldom if ever seeing technology implemented in the classroom. They therefore are little inclined to include communications technology as part of their own teaching. To break this cycle, FL methods instructors must make a concerted effort to educate their students in the utilization of communications technology resources. They need to realize the possibilities and ramifications of integrating technological resources into their curricula. The Communications Technologies Module for FL Methods courses is intended as unit that could be inserted in a FL methods curriculum to achieve this end. The lessons are written for use by instructors and preservice FL teachers that have varying technological expertise. In this way, a dual function of preservice and in-service education is served.
The module is organized around four main sections, each with its own objective:
Each section functions as a sub-module with its own lesson plans, activities, and evaluation to assess the user's progress through the module. While the modules are separate entities and can be used as stand-alone units, they are meant to be sequential. Working through them in numerical order ensures the greatest possible success and mastery of the material being studied. The communications technologies covered are: Electronic mail, Electronic Discussion Groups, Usenet Groups, Gopher, FTP & Telnet, the World Wide Web, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), CUSeeMe, and MOOs.
Taller hispano - Jean LeLoup
Development of this project was originally commissioned by the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). The Academy uses Destinos as its principal text in introductory Spanish language courses, and the FL department wanted web-based activities to coordinate with the basic themes of this textbook and video series. The connection to Destinos is in the basic topics covered in the text, which would be the same in any introductory text. These include: the individual, the family, pets, educational institutions, government, clothing, food, travel and tourism, pets, geography, and leisure activities.
Mi álbum hispanoamericano - Norma Helsper
As mentioned above, this project was undertaken near the end of the grant funding period and is still under construction. The faculty member that is creating this site had very little training in the computer and communications technologies necessary to develop such a project, and she had to learn the technologies first and then begin to create her pages. As many who have started on this road to increased computer acumen can corroborate, it is often a long path with very steep learning curve! (Again, this is precisely why we have created these sites. We understand the time commitment necessary to develop pedagogically sound and culturally informative web materials. Most people simply do not have the time or the inclination.)
The aim of this project is to present Latin American cultural information through authentic materials, digitized audio and video interviews, and activities for students that tap many language learning skills. At present, the site contains pages on Argentina and Cuba, and the author intends to add pages highlighting several more Latin American countries as time permits. Future additions to the Argentina page will emphasize the daily lives and routines of members of an Argentine extended family, including many cultural aspects of interest to FL learners.
Multimedia Development for International Communications – Jean LeLoup
& Robert Ponterio
This online multimedia development course includes presentations on all of the topics covered during training of the participants in the project. Each topic listed in the following syllabus is linked to a page of explanation, information, and activities for learning about it. Assignments listed are linked to the instructions for completing the assignment.
- Introduction to course; assignment 1
- Hyperstudio; E-mail with accents; Internet browsers (Netscape); WWW searching; Copyright, assignment 2
- Hyperstudio (con't.); Netscape (con't.); Scanning; Clip-art; Flowcharting and Storyboards; assignment 3
- Hyperstudio (con't.); Scanning (con't.); Clip-art; QuickCam; Sound recording; Finish Hyperstudio stack mini-project 1; assignment 4
- Hyperstudio (con't.); mini-presentations of stacks; Photoediting (Photoshop); assignment 5
- Powerpoint; Photoshop (con't.); Creating clip-art; Sound editing ; assignment 6
- Powerpoint (con't.); Say it with Style; Single shot video capture, crop and trim; media for large files; questions for midterm project? assignment 7
- Finish and give Hyperstudio mini-project #2 presentation; Video camera recording; In-class work on midterm projects; assignment 8
- Midterm project presentations; HTML introduction, demonstration, and HTML resource guide ; assignment 9
- HTML (con't.); Publishing your pages - FTP; More photo and sound editing; HTML Internationalization; Finish HTML mini-project #1
- HTML (con't.); compressing video with RealVideo Encoder; HTML mini-presentations
- HTML (con't.); Client-side Image Maps; RealMedia compression; Adobe Premiere projects; Finish HTML mini-project #2
- HTML mini-presentations; Cropping a movie in Premiere; Video and sound editing
- Video conferencing; Final project presentations
The tools and techniques presented are an adequate basis for digitizing, editing, compressing, and integrating authentic images, audio, and video into a pedagogically appealing electronic format for a FL course.
Using the Internet and all its concomitant authentic materials is an exciting prospect for FL teachers. Hopefully the information above will make this adventure more inviting and welcoming for busy classroom educators. Certainly the modules described herein can provide a point of departure, both for those just venturing onto the web for the first time and for those who wish to use technology to create original FL lessons in support of their curricular goals.