Multimedia Authoring for Foreign Language Faculty: The Libra Authoring System
Southwest Texas State University
Mary Ann Lyman-Hager
The Pennsylvania State University
Keywords: multimedia, authoring, Libra
With the assistance of grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), project teams at Southwest Texas State University and The Pennsylvania State University developed Libra, an authoring system enabling faculty to create multimedia lessons focused on foreign language listening comprehension. The instructional design of Libra is based on research in discourse processing theory and foreign language schema theory. Principles of listening comprehension processes advanced by these theories not only underlie the intended purpose of Libra's authoring tools but also constitute a set of lesson parameters to be taken into account in courseware development. In their presentation, the presenters will address the implementation of theoretical principles within the authoring system and the realization of those principles in actual lessons.
Four principles of central importance to foreign language listening comprehension emerge from consideration of the findings of discourse processing theory and schema theory.
Comprehenders construct a mental representation of their understanding of the meaning of a text
Comprehenders use their preexisting knowledge of the topic of communication to interpret information derived from a text
Most foreign language students need guidance to follow lower-order and higher-order text processing strategies
Comprehenders' knowledge of the logical structure of a text facilitates their development of a coherent view of a text's overall meaning
The fundamental principle of discourse processing theory holds that comprehenders actively construct a mental representation of their understanding of the meaning of a text on the basis of information presented in the text and their own pre-existing background knowledge. Text based comprehension processes include comprehenders' initial use of sentence parsing strategies to derive semantic representations of those sentences (micro-level text processing). Comprehenders then relate these semantic representations to those of previously processed sentences to form more general semantic representations (macro-level text processing). As comprehenders proceed through the text, they continue using micro-level and macro-level text processing strategies, integrating new information into their evolving mental representation and discarding irrelevant details in the process, until they arrive at an elaborated model of their understanding of the overall meaning of the text. (See Gernsbacher, 1990; Guindon and Kintsch, 1984; Horiba, 1993; Horiba et al., 1993; Johnson-Laird, 1983; Oller, 1996; Singer, 1990, van Dijk and Kintsch, 1983, and Vipond, 1980.) Traditional approaches to foreign language listening comprehension generally emphasize low level information, asking students to recall (sometimes minute) factual information contained within texts. A more thorough understanding of texts clearly requires students to process information at higher processing levels.
Comprehenders' pre-existing background knowledge is said to be instantiated by statements made early in the text which serve to activate their mental schemata relevant to the topic of communication. They then use this knowledge, and other real-world knowledge, to guide their interpretation of information correctly or incorrectly understood from the text. (See Barry and Lazarte, 1995; Bernhardt and Berkemeyer, 1988; Carrell, 1981, 1983; Hammadou, 1991; Kintsch, 1988; Long, 1990; Mueller, 1980; and Rubin, 1994.) Schema theory prescribes the use of advance organizers of various types in instructional materials to activate comprehenders' pertinent background knowledge. (See Bernhardt and James, 1986; Byrnes, 1984; Glover and Dietzer, 1990; Herron, 1994; Herron et al., 1995, and Omaggio-Hadley, 1993.) Advance organizers may take the form of brainstorming about the topic of communication, generating hypotheses about anticipated events in the story, viewing pictures portraying the characters and actions in the story, or learning essential vocabulary expressions used in the story. Once equipped with such preparatory information, students can then set about the task of listening to the text.
Students whose level of foreign language proficiency falls below the level of the style of language used in a text tend to make predominant use of either micro-level text processing strategies (bottom-up approach) or macro-level text processing strategies (top-down approach). (See Bernhardt and Berkemeyer, 1988; Chamot and Kpper, 1989; O'Malley et al., 1989, and Wolff, 1987.) Students who use exclusively bottom-up processing strategies will typically develop a fragmented view of low level information presented in the text, and those who rely too extensively on top-down processing strategies can easily create a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the text's major theme(s). In either case, students who make inordinate use of one set of strategies over the other will ultimately fail to arrive at an overall, accurate view of the text's meaning. To be successful comprehenders, most foreign language students need explicit guidance in the appropriate use of both micro-level and macro-level text processing strategies. The use of such bi-directional text processing strategies should guide students to attend to specific information presented in the text while at the same time help them to develop a mental model of its general meaning. (See Carrell, 1988.)
Comprehenders knowledge of the logical or rhetorical relationships among the narrative components of a text facilitates their development of a coherent view of the text's overall meaning. (See Chaudron and Richards, 1986; Duffy et al., 1990; Jonz, 1989; Kintsch, 1990; Lee and Riley, 1990; Meyer and Freedle, 1984; and Trabasso et al., 1984.) This knowledge plays a central role in macro-level text processing as comprehenders attempt to understand the major ideas presented in the text and to integrate them into their mental representation. If foreign language students are not able to relate larger chunks of the text to each other in some rational manner, they will eventually possess only a disjointed view of the text's meaning.
The four principles briefly described above formed the research base for Libra's instructional design. (See Fischer and Farris 1995 for a summary of the implementation of instructional principles in the authoring system.) Libra's authoring tools enable faculty to develop student lessons whose instructional features reflect appropriate listening comprehension strategies and model their effective use. Libra's tools allow faculty to create, for example, advance organizers which provide multimedia information to preview characters and events in a story, display text maps to explicate the logical structure of the story, and present hyperactive text sequences to preteach salient vocabulary expressions. They also permit faculty to include in student lessons prompting devices and help screens to put macro-level and micro-level information into relief. Perhaps most important, they enable faculty to formulate comprehension questions to confirm students' understanding of the major ideas of the story and also to verify their apprehension of specific language expressions used to convey those ideas. In sum, the Libra contains the instructional components and authoring procedures necessary to create rich learning environments in which to guide students' active use of listening comprehension strategies.
Libra is organized as a set of authoring templates consisting of basic expository displays and four question formats (multiple-choice, checklist, binary checklist, and icon sorting) supported by textual and multimedia feedback. The authoring system also contains four kinds of help screen displays (generic help screens, video-based help screens, language scripts, and dictionaries) along with programmable buttons and fields to provide essential pedagogical support for students. Its authoring tools include multimedia controls (graphics, analog video, digital video, and digital audio), context-sensitive lesson controls for the question formats, and various types of linking procedures--including links to other applications and to world wide web documents. Finally, faculty authors develop lessons in a what-you-see-is-what-the-student-gets environment, giving a consistently clear view of what their final product will look like.
Over 200 faculty members have used Libra to create lessons in a dozen languages ranging from French to Russian and Chinese. Evaluation projects at institutions such as the Catholic University of America, the Pennsylvania State University, Northwestern University, Southwest Texas State University, and the University of Colorado have revealed that well-designed Libra lessons have a measurable impact on student learning. In an early evaluation project at Southwest Texas State University, analysis of student test data showed that the instructional design of lessons developed for beginning French students substantially helped them to understand a French video story. In a carefully controlled experimental situation, students in the experimental group used Libra lessons designed in accordance with the four instructional principles described above, while students in the control group used Libra lessons which followed a more traditional approach found in most conventional listening programs. Students in the experimental group significantly outperformed students in the control group on all measures used in free recall protocol posttests. More recent analysis of student use data obtained by means of Libra's tracking mechanism revealed the ways in which students used lesson's instructional components and provided insights into their use of listening comprehension strategies. Analysis of student use data in the context of comparison of those data to students' scores on free recall protocols revealed patterns of strategy use directly related to individual achievement levels.
The presenters will discuss in their paper the instructional design of Libra and illustrate the operation of its authoring tools. They will also demonstrate sample lessons in French featuring recommended instructional designs based on the principles of discourse processing theory and schema theory. Finally, they will present results of the analysis of student evaluation data and student use data. Evidence collected so far indicates that Libra provides flexible and easy-to-use authoring tools which enable faculty to create instructionally effective language learning lessons. It remains to develop and evaluate Libra lessons designed for more advanced levels of language instruction to yield additional useful insights into foreign language listening comprehension processes.
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