Emory to produce interactive videodisc French course

If Emory French professor Carol Herron has learned anything from adults who speak to her about their classroom foreign language experiences, it is that hours of rote memorization and endless lab time didn't actually give those students a command of the language. But for this generation of students who are video and computer junkies, learning language the high tech way--via video tapes--is what works. The fact they are in effect mini "soap operas" doesn't hurt either.

That's the way French has been taught by Herron at Emory with the successful linear video program, "French in Action," developed by Pierre Capretz of Yale University. Students who are intrigued with "The Young and the Restless" also become engaged in the Paris adventures of U.S. student-abroad Robert, his French girlfriend Mireille, and assorted other characters in "French in Action." Beginning this year, new funding and a consortium of experts at Emory will take that existing video technology a step further into the interactive age. Instead of being passive viewers of a French language video, students will be able to tailor the language instruction to their level.

The University recently received a $200,000 grant from the Annenberg/CPB (Corpo-ration for Public Broadcasting) Higher Education Project to produce an interactive videodisc for the study of French. Additional support for the project from Media Soft ($200,000) and the Gould Foundation ($50,000) brings external funding to $450,000. The new project, "French in Interaction," will bring together Emory, Yale University and Wellesley College experts to write and produce a multimedia foreign language instructional program by combining a microcomputer with videodisc technology. Students using a computer, a videodisc player and a monitor will be capable of starting, stopping and seeking more information at any point during the drama.

Last year, Herron brought the idea of collaboration between the three institutions to Capretz. After securing the support of Emory's Information Technology Center, Herron and Information Technology Division Director Jim Johnson invited Capretz to Emory's campus last spring. Impressed with the technology at Emory, Capretz then approached his collaborator of "French in Action" at Wellesley College about working on such a project at Emory.

According to Herron and her staff, the "planned immersion" program of learning a language does work. She and her staff studied French language students at Oxford College during the course of one year of study (30 weeks). They found that students who used the video-based instruction proved statistically superior in tests of listening comprehension compared to those students who used the traditional textbook and laboratory curriculum alone. "These videos work because they are typical life scenarios," said Herron. "Students are then able to visually note the dynamics of the language and to observe the accents, registers and various gestures that accompany it in a way nothing but video can duplicate."

Whereas "French in Action" merely allowed students to watch Robert and Mireille's adventures, stopping and rewinding as needed, the new "French in Interaction" videodisc will give students more access to information, according to Herron. "`French in Interaction' will allow students to have more control over the program," she said. "If they don't understand a phrase, they can click on a `hot' button and get detailed explanations of the words, up to 10. They also can see the written script, hear the dialogue delivered by a different person at a slower pace and start and stop as many times as they need for comprehension."

- Joyce Bell