Kekul Shah sat in front of a Macintosh computer in Williams Hall, room 104. On the screen in front of him was a story in French about students at a sidewalk cafe discussing movies. He came across an unfamiliar expression -- Il y a pour son argent. He highlighted it and clicked with the mouse, and a dictionary appeared at the bottom of the screen with a translation -- It's worth the money. When he finished reading the story, Shah clicked on an icon on the screen, accessing a short reading about French movie theaters. The exercise Shah used is part of a series of interactive computerized lessons developed by University French teachers Rebaia Saouli-Corley and Bonnie Youngs. The two instructors began using the Macintosh programs, which are based on a textbook called French in Action, for both homework and classroom exercises this semester. The purpose of the French Department's program is to search for the most effective uses of computers in language instruction. Homework assignments differ from common homework assignments by providing immediate feedback to students' answers and incorporating games, like a French version of hangman and a grammar baseball game. They are accompanied by a dictionary and explanations of ideas in the reading. Youngs and Saouli-Corley said they cannot be sure what impact the new tools are having, but they said students have responded with enthusiasm. Shah, a College sophomore, said he enjoys the computer exercises although he is unsure what effect they have on his studying. "It makes it more fun," said Shah. "I don't know if it makes us learn more. Sometimes, I'll look at the word in the computer, and I can easily forget it in a few minutes." But although the computer games are fun, Youngs said students still do not complete all their homework. She added that the major problem is access to the computer labs, which are only open on weekdays, a problem the teachers are combatting by giving students disks to use at home. "The ones who have Macs at home are very willing to do it," Youngs said. "It's easier to do than pen-and-paper homework." Students also it was difficult to find time to use the computers, and they miss the freedom of having books they can use in their rooms. But College sophomore Kristen Baker said that despite the inconvenience, she thinks the computer homework is an interesting change from her regular studies. "I sit there doing reading and reading and reading, and I look forward to doing something different," she said. "When you go back to your books, you feel refreshed." The effectiveness of computer teaching methods is still in dispute. Youngs, who is writing her doctoral dissertation on the subject, said professional opinion on the subject is divided. "Half of the literature is excited computing is being used in education," she said. "And half is dismayed because they say it is replacing the teacher." But Saouli-Corley said the computer cannot substitute the teacher because students still need a teacher to introduce and explain new concepts. Youngs said some instructors are so excited about the idea of using computers that they do not realize that not all programs are equally useful. One drawback to computer instruction is that it does not require students to produce new phrases or words, but only to choose among available options or repeat something the computer says. A computer does have some advantages over a human teacher. For example, students who are afraid to ask questions in class or are embarrassed by making mistakes in front of other students can get feedback from the computer in private. College sophomore Josh Polster said the computer's immediate response is helpful. "We get to check our answers by clicking on the screen," he said. "I think it makes it faster and easier to understand the passage." When the computer is used during class time, it decentralizes the classroom, allowing each student to interact one-on-one with the teaching program and giving the teacher time to concentrate on students who need extra help. And as a side effect of the French program, some students are learning more about computers in general. "I have students who had never touched a computer," said Saouli-Corley. "They were eager to learn." Shah said he had never used an Apple before, but it was not an obstacle to his using the French program. Youngs and Saouli-Corley said the French in Action program will be improved in the future. They want it to keep a record of each student's performance and give more explicit feedback on mistakes, and they want to add a wider range of exercises.Comments powered by Disqus
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