The use of distributed electronic classrooms in the teaching of language and literature

  1. 1. Harald Ulland

    Department of Romance Languages - University of Bergen

  2. 2. Geir Pedersen

    Center for Information Technology Services - University of Oslo

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The use of electronic classrooms in the
teaching of language and literature
In 1994, an electronic classroom was installed at
the University of Bergen in order to try out a new
system of distance education via the Internet. This
was the third electronic classroom of this type
installed in Norway and the first one located at a
Faculty of Arts. The Departments of Romance
Languages at the Universities of Oslo and Bergen
were interested in testing the electronic classroom
system (ECS) in language and literature teaching.
In this paper I (H.U.) will give
(a) a short description of the electronic classroom
(based on information given by Geir Pedersen
at the Center for Information Technology Services at the University of Oslo) and
(b) a report of my own and some of my colleagues’ experiences as users of the ECS. A demonstration of the ECS will be given at this
The ECS is a system linking two lecture rooms
equipped with audio, video and an electronic whiteboard over the Internet. It has been developed by
the Center for Information Technology Services at
the University of Oslo in collaboration with Telenor research and The University Studies at Kjeller.
The ECS lecture room looks much like an ordinary
classroom, but there are of course some important
differences. It is, for instance, equipped with microphones mounted in the ceiling and with loudspeakers. There are also two video-cameras, one
at the back of the classroom focusing on the teacher, and another in the front of the classroom
focusing on the students. A teacher’s console based on a touch-screen with an easy-to-use visual
interface allows the user (the person giving the
lecture) to configure and operate the classroom.
The most important technological component,
however, is the electronic whiteboard, which can
be written on using a special pen. Whatever is
written is simultaneously displayed on the electronic whiteboard in the distant classroom. Paper-based material may be brought in during a lecture by
means of a scanner connected to the electronic
whiteboard. It is also possible to bring any information on the World Wide Web into the classroom, the electronic whiteboard acting as an interface. The students can view persons in the remote
classroom on a back-projected image to the right
of the electronic whiteboard. This image is also
shown on a monitor placed at the back of the
classroom in order for the teacher to view the
remote classroom. Communication between the
classrooms takes place over the Internet.
Shortly after the installation of the electronic
classroom at the University of Bergen we started
giving university level courses in French language
and literature to two groups of students simultaneously, one in Oslo and one in Bergen. At the same
time, a project team was established, with representatives from the two Departments of Romance
Languages as well as technological experts. In the
autumn semester of 1994, a course in translation
theory was given by a lecturer from Oslo and a
course in French lexical grammar was given by a
lecturer from Bergen (the author of this paper). In
the spring semester of 1995, there were courses in
French Canadian and French African literature, as
well as in Italian syntax, with lectures given both
from Bergen and from Oslo. In the autumn of
1995, there was a course in French African literature with cooperative teaching including a visiting
researcher from the University of Paris XIII.
One of the aspects which distinguishes this project
from other distance learning projects is the fact
that it includes two groups of students, one group
in the same classroom as the teacher, the “local”
students, and another in the remote classroom, the
“remote” students. The possibility to communicate in an interactive manner with two groups of
students at the same time is one of the advantages
of the system. The electronic classroom is especially useful when specialist competence is located
at one institution and not available at the other one.
This is, as we know, often the case. The remote
students are thus given access to courses they
could not have participated in otherwise. The system also gives some advantages for the local
students, because to a certain degree the technology, especially the electronic whiteboard, adds
functionality that is not present in most ordinary
For the teacher there seems to be some minor
disadvantages. He or she will normally have to
spend more time than usual preparing the course.
Giving the lectures may also be looked upon as
more problematic than in a traditional university
course. Many teachers who are used to traditional
“talk and chalk” might have problems using the
electronic equipment. And there is always the fear
that some part of the system may fail, distortion of
the sound and similar things, which may increase
the teacher’s nervousness or stage fright. Coping
with two groups of students at the same time is
another problem. You have constantly to remind
yourself that you should be talking to both groups.
It is very easy to forget the remote student group
if you don’t take a look at the monitor showing the
remote classroom from time to time.
As for the students and their feelings and reactions, one gets the impression that in the beginning, many students are somewhat afraid of the
electronic classroom and its equipment. If they are
not very eager to talk, and ask questions, in an
ordinary classroom, you can be fairly sure that
their willingness will not increase during their first
session in an electronic classroom. However,
when the students get used to the microphones,
video cameras and the electronic equipment, the
system allows for some interesting discussions
between two groups of students at different locations.
Although this system has been tried out with two
groups of students, local and remote, nothing of
course prevents the use of electronic classrooms
for a group of remote students only. This might be
an easier situation to deal with for the teacher.
What is important to bear in mind, however, is that
being a remote student will always be a disadvantage compared to being a local student. It will
always be better to listen to a “live performance”
and have the teacher in the same room as yourself.
The main advantage of the electronic classroom
system is the possibility it gives for students to
attend specialist courses they would not otherwise
have been able to attend, because the expertise is
located at a different institution. And a constant
improvement of the technological concept will
hopefully contribute to bridging the gap between
remote and local students.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Bergen

Bergen, Norway

June 25, 1996 - June 29, 1996

147 works by 190 authors indexed

Scott Weingart has print abstract book that needs to be scanned; certain abstracts also available on dh-abstracts github page. (

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (16), ALLC/EADH (23), ACH/ALLC (8)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC