Interactive Television (ITV) Courses for Russian and Chinese (1993-1996)

In 1994-95, a Beginning Russian course was offered via ITV. The next year (1995-96) the Beginning Russian course was offered again and Beginning Chinese was added. More details about specific aspects of this project can be found below.

ITV Materials Development

The first year of the ITV project was devoted to the anticipation of difficulties associated with instruction by interactive television. Project staff anticipated that the students at the remote site would find the class logistically and affectively more difficult and addressed this concern in a number of ways.

First, staff developed a lengthy paper syllabus for the course containing both complete instructions relating to the order of events in the instructional program as well as photocopies of all the assignments and instructional supplements which might otherwise be distributed piecemeal as instruction progressed. Also included were complete printed instructions for the rationale and use of supplementary, computer-based instructional materials. These detailed syllabi were approximately 125-150 typed pages for each term - three per year - of instruction.

Second, anticipating difficulty in connection with the need for speedy yet private feedback to students concerning their written work and the known slowness of surface mail we converted all of the written assignments for the course into electronic form to permit them to be exchanged on line using available network connections.  Though this is now easily done via email and the web-based classroom management systems, it was unique at the time of implementation.

Third, staff gave thought to various means of enabling contact outside of class between the instructor and the remote students. These means included contact by toll-free telephone, arrangements for audio/video electronic contact without the facilities of the broadcast studio, and periodic visits by the instructor to the remote site to meet with students and deliver a class session in the other direction. 

ITV Classroom Delivery

The class was delivered to the receiving site via 2-way compressed video. This allowed for the simultaneous viewing and hearing of students and instructor from both sites at once. Both of the classrooms looked about the same, with monitors at the front of the room for the students to view the instructor or other students, or special shots of information from the instructor. There was also a screen at the back of the room situated next to a camera to let the instructor see the receiving class and also to closely approximate the instructor looking directly at the receiving class when looking at the class on the monitor.

The interactive television delivery system allowed the instructor, with varying degrees of success, to engage in almost all forms of instructional technique commonly associated with language teaching and learning. What follows are general principles based on what was learned, but does not address the individual, and highly variable, affective response of students.

  1. Passive techniques in which the teacher presents, models or explains material relevant to the instructional program of a particular class are very well accommodated by interactive television. Except for the rare technical failures which occur, this type of instruction is virtually equivalent to live teaching. Modeling and group repetition were particularly well suited to this mode of course delivery.
  2. Active techniques in which the teacher or one of the students provides a linguistic stimulus and another student is invited to make an appropriate response also works well on interactive television. This is thanks to the ability to isolate and project a variety of camera angles and breadth of shot. The use of this sort of activity to break through the glass barrier between the local and remote students is often quite effective.
  3. Interactive activities involving more than two participants are also possible, although less effectively transmitted because of limitations on technical flexibility and operator skill.
  4. Multiple interactive activities, that is, the technique of setting a task for students to work on together in groups with the teacher acting as peripatetic facilitator for their efforts is difficult. It is difficult to discover a way to involve both local and remote students in such activities on an equal basis. Obviously, the instructor or other students are unable to go through the glass to be with them physically as they work together, and any other strategy would seem to entail some rather complex scheme of open and closed microphones. Putting local and remote students together in the same working group - always desirable as contributing to a reduced sense of isolation for the remote students - is particularly difficult in this sort of activity.

ITV Technology Support

Software for language-learning
Students typically need, steady and continuing support outside the classroom, especially in basic language classes. To provide this support,staff included an array of tested and reliable computer instructional programs-several of which were developed at the University of Minnesota. The programs provided a low-pressure, yet record-keeping, environment for student drill on the more mundane, memory-intensive tasks associated with learning Russian: vocabulary acquisition, patterns of morphological change, and mastery of basic grammatical structures. There were also programs that gave exposure to cultural aspects as well as multi-media programs targeting all four languages skills.

Homework, if exchanged by priority mail, would travel too slowly to provide even an approximation of an optimal learning environment. The sole workable alternative would the exchange by FAX-which is used in the very early going to check mastery of handwriting skills. This method was, however, prohibitively expensive when long distance is involved and subject to the degradation of quality inherent in the multiple copying of documents.
The students are given access to exercises in electronic format. MS WORD (Mac) was used for the word processor with the addition of a Russian font. The student - either local or remote - prepared her/his homework on a machine in the computer lab (or at home, if relevant equipment was available).

When finished with an assignment, the student saved it as a file and placed a copy of it in an Apple Share folder which is housed on a machine in the Russian department office on the Minneapolis campus. Here it was opened, corrected, commented upon, and graded, and then saved as a new file and returned to the Share Folder.

The same technique was used for evaluation of phonetic performance of the remotely-sited students. Evaluation of local students was done in a specially equipped audio lab. Students created a sound recording at the computer terminal, saved it as a file, and dropped it in the Share folder.

Example of a response:   

Communication with the Instructor

Electronic Mail
Students and instructor alike used the Email program Eudora, to be able to use Russian and Chinese characters in their written communication. Students liked the accessibility of the instructor via this method, and the instructors found that many students who otherwise would not approach with questions, did so with electronic mail.

Office Hours
Electronic office hours using available video-conferencing technology (CU-SeeMe) was used for students at remote sites. While at an early stage of development at the time of the project's implementation, this real time, bi-directional audio/video exchange worked well enough, and reliably enough, to provide a reasonable facsimile of an actual face-to-face meeting.

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