Carsten Jopp

 

Implementing CALLMOO at the German department

- Practical and Pedagogical Aspects

 

Paper delivered at the CALLMOO-seminar Bergen, 15 December 1997


Introduction

Until now you have heard about what I would call the ideological framework of the of the educational use of MOO and MUD technology in general and the CALLMOO project in particular, and this in terms of more general aspects of its use, its background, perspectives, visions and challenges.

But CALLMOO does not only include a visionary dimension, but also a practical and pragmatic one: CALLMOO is a development project, and this means that the touchstone of our project will be its realization. This means: in the final evaluation we will have to be able to show on a very concrete level where, when and how the use of CALLMOO or MOO-technology in general can a) enrich and enhance the learning process of a second language and b) how it can serve as a powerful tool in university education.

In this presentation I first want to narrow the focus by describing what we want to realize on a practical and very concrete level; after that I am going to broaden the focus and include underlying implications and aspects regarding the role of the student, teacher and the learning process as a whole. Due to time restrictions I am going to put together theoretical and practical aspects in what some of you might consider a "melting pot" of ideas. Nevertheless I hope that this approach will be able to illustrate contours of the project.

On a practical level, the core of CALLMOO is the development of a prototype of an interactive, MOO- and webbased language-learning environment, which is designed for the use within the discipline of practical language studies at the German department at the University of Bergen. The project schedule is as follows.

 

Schedule

dec. 97 - spring 98:

fall 98 :

 

Scenarios of a CALLMOO sessions fall 98

How can a CALLMOO German session fall 98 look like?

Well, generally, there are no limits as to what can be the subject or the goal of a MOO session. Educational MOO technology can be and is used as a didactic tool in almost every subject and at every level. For example, Cynthia Haynes teaches rhetorics and creative writing at the University of Texas in Dallas in Lingua MOO, a system created and adminstered by her and Jan Rune Holmevik. There are virtual universities working on the principles of the technology like Diversity University or Virtual Online University. They offer the whole range of courses and subjects that are traditionally offered by "brick-wall" lecture-room universities. There are, just to mention a few, MOO systems that serve the sole purpose of socializing, others to teach a foreign language at a beginners level, and there are MOOs which are used a communication platform in highly specialized research fields like biochemistry.

The same flexibility and wide range of applicability goes for the role of the teacher and the teaching style he or she chooses; he or she can choose to be a traditional lecturer, talking in a monologue to his students; s/he can also choose a dialogical style, discussing a subject in a seminar-like session, supplying the students with prepared materials and using virtual presentation tools like a slide projecter, a TV set or a video-camera. Students can also be given tasks and assignments, which they would have to work on either in groups or on their own; results can be handed in as a paper, i.e. a file, or can be played back as a presentation which all the other students would be able to see. Lastly, students can work on their own in free cooperation and interaction with others, where they can use the educational resources of the system and work in a self-directed and self-motivated way.

What we see for the actual sessions fall 98 at the German department is that the students meet once a week for a session lasting one or two hours; this session is organized and directed by a teacher, who has prepared for and planned it. Common for all sessions is the following pattern:

The students log on to the MOO; they enter the virtual landscape, they see the map of the campus with lots of rooms they can enter, within these rooms they see objects and persons who are there at the same time; all this is described as text on the screen. What can they do? Well, basically they can do the same things as in real life: move around, look at things/objects, take, use, change and create objects, communicate with people and interact with them.

Regarding content, we see the following scenarios.

Scenario no. 1:

Today, one of the primary goals of praktisk tysk at first-semester grunnfag (undergraduate) level in Bergen is a very basic one: the students shall be able to master everyday-life communication situations adequately. For that purpose the students are offered group teaching which is accompanied by a video course that presents typical pragmatic everyday-life situations like going shopping, eating in a restaurant or being in a post office. Here, the CALLMOO system can provide an ideal supplement:

The students are instructed by the teacher to enter a specific room on their own, let´s say the post office. In this room the student will find objects typical for a post office which he or she can look at. To look at means to see the textual description, and by seeing the textual description s/he not only learns what it is called, but also how it is qualified and what it can be used for. One object could for example be a form which needs to be filled out by the student and be delivered to the postman. Another could be a postbox, where selvwritten letters could be posted. A so-called (ro)bot program, an artificial agent, can play the role of the postman who will ask typical questions, take orders, do services and so on. Other student-players-customers can be in the post office at the same time and natural communication about the subject would take place. The students can create their own objects and place them in the room, thus contributing constructively to the environment themselves. If one feels the need for input in the form of vocabulary, phrases, expressions or other types of information, in order to act adequately, s/he could go to , say, a post-office-help-room where s/he could work in private on additional material - or discuss them with others. When ready, the student can return to the post office and use in practice what has just been learned. - The landscape and the rooms will remain there, also when the teacher-initiated session is over. That means that the students can return to it and do more practice whenever they have access to a PC, a modem and standard communication software.

As far as content is concerned, this is obviously a very basic example, but still it illustrates the communicative structures of the system. The post office of this example can be easily replaced by more complex and challenging situations like for example a period of the German history, a specific literary theory, a topic of German grammar or current social issues in the target culture. The emphasis would automatically fall on dynamic online-discussion between the learners - fueled by the mode of communication and the prepared verbal environment which supplies the didactic input. Included in a natural way can be excursions into the internet, where students can get access to authentic information from the target culture. - Let me now sketch another scenario.

Scenario no. 2

An crucial feature is the easy accessability of the system which in turn leads to communicative openness and a high degree of authenticity in relation to the target language: German native speakers can easily be invited or attracted to join sessions; this can happen on a formal or an informal basis. Integrating native speakers in a dynamic process of communication adds a powerful dimension of authenticity to the interaction. For example, German students studying Scandinavian languages or German exchange students who stay, have stayed or will stay in Norway have a natural motivation to discuss cultural contrastive topics, current issues, social and personal matters with Norwegians and thus keep or get in touch with them. The tandem network (Klaus Schwienhorst´s presentation) formalizes this idea: it works on the principle that a Norwegian native speaker learning German and a German native speaker learning Norwegian are grouped together, being each others inspiration and teacher. The CALLMOO system would provide the ideal meeting place for tandem-pairs.

Scenario no. 3

CALLMOO opens up for more decentralized forms of learning. In courses that are designed partly or fully as distant-learning courses, the system would provide the natural platform for gatherings, online-study- and discussion-groups, including or excluding the teacher, on a formal basis or an informal.

 

Pedagogical aspects

One of our major arguments for the use of a MOO-based system is that it adds something genuinely new to the learning situation of a language student. In order to illustrate this, we have to cast a quick glance at the ways students are trained today. Seen from a students perspective, he/she works in the following modes:

a - oral-receptive mode (listening to/attending lectures)

b - oral-productive mode (speaking/participating in seminars/groups)

c - written-receptive mode (reading)

d - written-productive mode (writing assignments, notes in lectures)

This traditional model covers an appearantly comprehensive spectre of activities - but only apearently. There are two features that illustrate where CALLMOO can add a new mode to the learning process, thus varying and enhancing it.

In our view, the existing forms of learning feature (a) a significant division between written and oral production and (b) an emphasis on the receptive or reproductive side.

Traditionally, written production like writing assignments or doing translations works in an asynchronous mode, which means: it is uneffected by time or place, thus giving room for deeper reflection. On the other hand, oral production, for example in seminar or discussion groups operates synchronously, that means it is part of a process or a situation that unfolds along the time- and place-axis; interaction and spontaneity are keywords here.

The new dimension the CALLMOO system can contribute with is that it integrates to sides which in the traditional model couldn´t occur in one process: written production on the one hand, and the synchronous mode on the other. Thus it combines interaction and spontaneity, which both are characteristical for oral production, with the process of writing and its cognitve functions in a unique communicative situation. In this respect, we see the MOO-technology as a powerful means of stimulating the productive and cognitive skills of the students. This in turn will lead to increased motivation on the learners side.

In our thinking tradition as it is reflected by the universities, the production of texts can be seen as an existential activity. At this point it becomes clear which possibilities open up if we add an extra dynamic dimension to the process of producing a text. This will enhance the process of education in general, and the process of learning a language in particular.

 

Overview - general implications of implementing CALLMOO

 

Concluding remarks

Obviously, there are other aspects I haven´t been able to talk about - some because of the limited time of this presentation, some because we are in the starting phase of the project. Therefore, I would like to invite you to discuss with us these points - and of course the points already made - in the following panel discussion. Or maybe later in our new medium, the CALLMOO??