A Multimedia Authoring Tool for Language Instruction

  1. 1. Alexander Nakhimovsky

    Computer Science - Colgate University

  2. 2. Tom Myers

    Computer Science - Colgate University

  3. 3. Alice Nakhimovsky

    Computer Science - Colgate University

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0. Abstract
We describe a multimedia-based Russian-language course at Colgate, and a multi-media authoring
system that makes the creation of such courses
technically feasible for language instructors. The
system uses high-level visual tools to integrate the
various media components of the educational unit
and to establish links between them. Although
designed with language instruction in mind, the
system can be used for creating educational materials in any domain, as long as they consist of
video/animation clips, accompanying texts, and
glossaries or commentaries.
The system has been created using ScriptX, a
multimedia authoring environment jointly developed by Apple and IBM. The environment consists
of an object-oriented programming language and
a class library. An earlier version of our system
was based on Apple Media Kit, which consists of
two parts: the Apple Media Tool, a visual environment for media integration, and the Apple Media
Programming Environment, which makes it possible to extend the Tool. In addition to describing
our system, we provide a comparative analysis of
the two object-oriented languages and class libraries
1. Multimedia pedagogy
Multimedia – in the sense of digital video and
sound integrated with the more traditional text and
graphics materials – is becoming technologically
feasible and affordable. It has reached the stage
where it is poised to move from business executives’ seminars and pilot projects into thousands of
classrooms around the world. The question of
what multimedia is, educationally, good for, is
thus becoming urgent: multimedia development
should be driven by pedagogical goals, not technological capabilities. The answer, to a great extent, depends on the educational subject matter.
We concentrate on language instruction, traditionally one of the most labor-intensive fields of
education. We attempt to approach the problem in
all its aspects, by putting together a comprehensive development and testing environment that covers the entire range from authoring tools design
to usability studies.
In the Fall of 1994, the Russian Department at
Colgate taught a course whose “reading matter”
consisted of excerpts from a Russian movie and
its text, as well as accompanying pedagogical
materials (glossary and commentary). The course
was both a popular and pedagogical success. Both
in the classroom and in the lab, students worked
well, and their achievement in vocabulary, grammar, and intonation was unusually high. In addition, the course taught us valuable lessons in multimedia pedagogy, in user interface design, and in
multimedia authoring tool design.
Pedagogically, we have established two principles, which may seem fairly obvious in retrospect,
but took us some time to formulate. First, video
materials for language study work well if they
have a richly-textured background full of authentic local detail. There is room, of course, for a
“talking heads” discussion of deep issues, for a
stand-up comedian, or for an animation to illustrate a grammatical point, but the main video ought
to be about people and situations that are perceived
as “real” and “different”. The second principle,
related to the first, is that the people on screen
should be totally removed from the situation of
classroom and language learning, and they should
talk about something that is vitally important to
them. It does not matter whether the video is a
documentary or a feature film as long as the subject matter of the class is not so much language
learning as it is an effort to investigate and understand the workings of a different society and people in it.
Our main emphasis is thus on the content of the
video materials rather than on the interactive and
multidimensional capabilities of multimedia. We
sought to minimize the number of buttons on the
screen, providing only the navigational controls
for moving around in the one-dimensional movie
and for studying its text. By observing our students
in the lab, we found that their actions typically
followed the following pattern: watch a segment
of the video, perhaps several times; read the corresponding text; invoke text support materials
(dictionary, commentary) as necessary; go back to
the next segment of the video. It followed that the
“action language” of the interface must support
those tasks in a straightforward way. Unfortunately, the authoring system that was used to create the
materials for the course was far from ideal in that
respect, and we set out to develop our own.
2. The authoring tool
In designing the authoring tool, we assumed that
a language instructor may want to work with the
following kinds of materials: movies (including
animations), sound, pictures/graphics, and text. A
typical configuration may include a movie clip, its
text (script), a dictionary or glossary of some sort,
and a commentary to the script and/or movie.
Alternatively, one may want to have a text with
accompanying pictures, a sound track and, again,
a dictionary and a commentary. In either case, the
component elements must be connected by a system of links: the user must be able to move from
the movie to the corresponding place in the script
and vice versa; from a word in the script to its
dictionary definition or to the comment in the
notes; and so on. The authoring system we are
developing makes the task of putting such materials together easy for the teacher. Once the teacher
has placed the digitized movie and all the requisite
text or RTF files in the appropriate folders (directories), establishing the links is done without any
programming, in a point-and-click fashion. For
instance, to establish a link between a position in
the movie and a location in the text, the teacher
would stop the movie by clicking on the stop
button of the QuickTime control bar, then click at
the appropriate position in the text window. In
addition to manually created hypermedia links,
there is also a search engine and an interaction
window for entering search strings. Another interaction window can be used for testing: the student
is presented with questions, and the student’s answers are saved to a file that the teacher can later
In more detail, as of current writing (November,
1995) the system provides for the following student activities:
A. Interactions with the movie:
– Watch the movie without interruptions
– Watch one segment of the movie and stop
– Replay the last-watched segment
– Watch the next segment
– Display the text of the current movie segment
in the text window
B. Interactions with the text
– Show dictionary definition of the selected
– Show commentaries on the selected region
of text
– Play the movie corresponding to the selected
region of text
C. Testing and class management
The program presents the student with review
questions. The answers are saved to the student’s
personal log file that the teacher can inspect at any
In a typical lab, the student is assigned a movie
excerpt to prepare. The student works through the
segments of the movie, looping through a segment
as many times as necessary, inspecting the corresponding text, and working with that text using the
text support tools. When the student expresses
readiness to take a test based on the excerpt, the
system switches into the testing mode. In the current version, once the system enters the testing
mode, the access to support materials is disabled,
although the student can still play the movie. (The
student can, of course, quit and restart the program, but that fact becomes recorded in the log
file.) In future versions, this behavior will be one
of several possible behaviors specified by the teacher.
The teacher actions are as follows:
A. Movie-Script coordination
The most labor-intensive part of preparing the
course is establishing the links between the video
and the text. This can be done in two ways. The
teacher can simply play the movie, clicking at
appropriate text positions to link them to the corresponding movie positions. Alternatively, the
teacher can specify the characters (usually,
punctuation marks) that establish tentative text
segment breaks. These are registered by the system. The author can then cycle through them
looking for the next segment break that he or she
really wants. Once such is found, proceed as follows: play the movie, stop it at the corresponding
moment, and add the text-movie position pair to
the list of such pairs.
If desired, the teacher can add a symbolic name
(e.g., “The First Quarrel”) to the text-movie position. This option might be useful for more advanced courses where the segments will be longer.
B. Text support
Much text support is automated. Once the teacher
has placed the dictionary in the specified folder,
the built-in search engine will look up words in the
text that are double-clicked on. Similarly, if the
teacher creates an index to the text and the commentary, the index search mechanism will find the
indexing categories of selected text and the corresponding passages in commentary. However, the
teacher also has the option of manually creating
links between specified positions in the text and
the commentary file. The procedure is similar to
the text-movie synchronizaton (and uses the same
user interface): the teacher selects a position in the
text, clicks on the corresponding position in the
commentary, and adds the pair to the list of textcommentary pairs.
3. Ongoing work and future plans
Our current development plans include extending
the tool so it can create materials for languages
with two-byte character sets (Chinese, Korean,
Japanese). We are also working on extending the
course-management component of the tool, providing the tools for record keeping and grading.
Finally, we are working to provide the author/instructor with language analysis tools, such as morphological analyzer and concordance generator.
In addition to practical development, we are pursuing a program of theoretical investigation into
multimedia pedagogy and user interface design to
support it. Several aspects of the development
environment at Colgate make it a good testbed for
such an investigation. Since software developers
work in close cooperation with language instructors, their designs get immediate feedback from
the user. The language instructors, who are themselves designers of the end-product for the student,
can design and re-design their end-products easily
and fast, and test them in the classroom. This
creates another fast turn-around cycle which
brings usability feedback to the system developers. Finally, the system creates a framework of
cooperation between the creators of video materials (documentary film makers and animators) and
the courseware and software developers.
The work presented in this paper has been supported by the Colgate University Information
Technology Services and by the Mellon Foundation grant to Colgate University

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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. (https://github.com/ADHO/dh-abstracts/tree/master/data)

Conference website: https://web.archive.org/web/19990224202037/www.hd.uib.no/allc-ach96.html

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

Organizers: ACH, ALLC