July 6, 2004

Focus: Information Technology


Donna Price is communications coordinator for the Information Technology Division.


With offices in Paris and Atlanta, Bubbly-Cola is a French company run by Tom Cruise and Jacques Chirac look-alikes and their 10 employees, who gaze out from a group photo with relaxed indifference. The lively business world of Bubbly is just one of several fictional case studies invented by Holly York, lecturer in French and Italian, for "French 209/Business 371: The Language and Culture of Business in France."

Developed at a recent Emory College Language Center (ECLC) workshop, York's online course was one of the first at Emory to use the latest release of Blackboard (version 6.1), a course-content management system. Emory adopted the system in 2000 and today hosts more than 1,200 Blackboard course sites, with about 400-500 active at any one time.

Over the years, York had acquired a collection of multimedia resources but found that sorting, organizing and transporting the materials to and from classes was difficult. Partnering with graduate student Carrie Haight, York created image galleries for her case studies, added audio and video clips and placed them in a Blackboard website. This not only enhanced organization but also made the resources available to students 24/7, giving more opportunity for independent practice.

"Having the media makes it real," York said. "I've been teaching language for a long time, and I see a big difference."

Four faculty/graduate student pairs were selected for the 12-day workshop, held in the Computing Center at Cox Hall.   Each day began with participants presenting websites they found useful, such as a language site or online movie database.  

"This is a good exercise because it invests everyone in teaching, training and conceptualizing in the technologies," said José Rodriguez, director of technology for ECLC, who led the workshop and co-taught with multimedia developer Johnny Waggener.

Presentations were followed by an overview of applications and processes--for instance, how to digitize analog video, stream and upload it to a course website. Afternoons were dedicated to hands-on training sessions.

Blackboard already was being used successfully in first- and third-year Chinese studies. Wan-Li Ho, lecturer in Chinese, and Joachim Kurtz, assistant professor in Russian and East Asian languages, used the workshop to bring a unified pedagogical approach across all levels of Chinese studies by creating online course structures for Chinese 201 and 202.

Ana Santos-Olmsted, lecturer in Spanish and Portuguese, and graduate student Katherine Ford also tackled two courses, Portuguese 101 and 102. To supplement the lack of resources for Portuguese studies, they created a digital repository of photographs, documents and media content. More than 100 video segments, taped from Emory Television's Brazilian channel, were digitized, integrated with course reading materials and placed in lesson folders with related media.

Rakesh Ranjan, senior lecturer in Middle Eastern and South Asian studies, was inspired to apply for the workshop when he found that using Blackboard and multimedia content for teaching Hindi 102 was quite beneficial for his students. He and his assistant, Luke Whitemore, a graduate student in religion, sought to put Hindi 101 online as well.

Like other participants in the workshop, Ranjan designed his course to enhance acquisition of the four linguistic skills--speaking, listening, writing and reading--through both active and passive exercises. Context-rich materials, such as colorful movie clips, maps and links to websites with shared language resources, are organized in folders for each week. Audio and video files present step-by-step techniques for writing Hindi's Devanagari script and animations demonstrate the physiology of Hindi speech production. Grammatical gender is color coded; photographs serve as visual cues for vocabulary lessons and testing. Popular songs, stories and Indian art and film combine to engage the senses and immerse students in the language and culture.

"Learning language is something that not only involves your brain--your heart must be involved, too," Ranjan said. "It's not just a mechanical or grammatical thing. Showing these types of [materials] involves students and makes them relax, so they are engaged in learning beyond just reading books."

Blackboard 6.1 will remain in a testing mode until Aug. 23. Throughout the summer and into the fall, training on the new version will be offered through Emory's Center for Interactive Teaching. Training information and the schedule for downtime for the Blackboard 6.1 upgrade project are posted at www.web.emory.edu/services/blackboard/project6/.