Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 4 / APRIL 1983 / PAGE 190

Cegolle; a new kind of language learning. Allen A. Rowe.


A New Kind of Language Learning

For now all you need know about the acronym CEGOLLE is that it is pronounced "Seagull' and defines a direction.

The need to define a direction came with the requirement to determine how to use computers in teaching foreign languages at the Air Force Academy. When the job landed on my desk, I was already overextended, as usual, fighting alligators instead of draining the swamp, putting out brush fires and in general applying all the principles of classical crisis management.

But with this job, instead of getting right to work I thought it over for a couple of minutes. The rest of this article describes my conclusions. I have tried to be brief and not altogether boring in their formulation. If you ever have to make a decision related to using computers in education, maybe they will save you some of that most precious of all resources--your own time.

A Case Against Computer Assisted Instruction

Computers compute quite well but they haven't met with much success in computer assisted instruction (CAI). The great tide of CAI enthusiasm, which crested in the early seventies, has subsided, leaving a few puddles of devotees scattered about. But the computer has not rewoven the fabric of education at any level nor in any field except, of course, in the teaching of computing.

But now, emboldened by the advent of cheaper, smaller machines, the computer faithful are orchestrating a CAI revival. Younger educators are flocking to hop on the wagon, committing with religious zeal considerable personal resources to the purchase and use of the most treacherous of all computers, the micro.

It is time for those of us who remember the first CAI fiasco to throw our full weight of experience and seniority into the defense of our unsuspecting junior colleagues who, like ourselves before, are ready to waste a good portion of their young lives and possibly gamble away their academic credibility on this CAI renaissance.

The weakest word in CAI is instruction. Instruction is teacher oriented and almost always institutional. But the microcomputer is not an institutional machine controlled by the educational computing oligarchy. It is democratic. It is subversive; it is already outflanking the old computer barons who made us feel like idiots because we didn't speak their arcane languages. It is the Model T of its time. You don't have to ride on somebody's train. You can get there on your own. In education, this means that the microcomputer will be a student-centered tool. Administrators may buy them for teachers to use, but, for a change, students will have a choice. If they are not learning on the instructors' machines, they can use their own. So scratch out instruction and put in learning.

Assisted is another weak word. A craftsman has a large choice of tools but chooses only those which enhance his skill. He does not use a sledge hammer to drive a finishing nail nor a penknife to cut timbers. If a tool does not help us do more with less faster and better, then it is not the right tool to use.

The computer is probably the most powerful tool ever developed, because it can be used to control numerous other tools. That doesn't mean it is always the best tool or that everything can be done better by machine. If the machine enhances the learning experience, use it. Never use it just for the sake of using a powerful tool. So scratch out assisted and write in enchanced.

Now we have a new acronym: CEL--Computer Enhanced Learning. Let's share it with our younger collegues and together find out if CEL really holds more promise than CAI. But how do we handle the fact that for many of our learners, computers are inseparably related in their minds to all the computer video games with which they have grown up?

Kung Fu in the Classroom

In the West, the goal of the martial arts and of most applications of violence in general is to use one's own power to overcome the adversary and force him to do what you want. Even though we educators may have an occasional skirmish with administrators, our primary adversary is the student. He is the one we must coerce into learning what we teach. In typical western fashion, we employ all our skill, power, intelligence, and experience in the confrontation and sometimes win. In contrast, an Oriental warrior in the Kung Fu tradition will win by taking advantage of his adversary's strengths. We might win more often in education and with less strain on ourselves if we capitalized on our students' own strong points. One strength which almost all students, even poor ones, have in common is the desire to have fun: they are motivated, inventive, and even industrious when it comes to having a good time. They have no trouble distinguishing between what is fun and what is boring.

This skill greatly complicates our task, because Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, et al. are tough acts to follow. Going from them to our classrooms is usually as enriching as switching from a stereo sound, full color extravaganza to an album of old daguerreotypes.

Of course, there are still students who would choose to read a book over watching TV or going to the movies. But they are probably a minority in most of our schools today. So if we structured our learning experiences to be full of sight, sound, motion, and maybe even touch and smell as well as essential content, we might not have to struggle quite so much. Rather we could let the majority of our young opponents pursue their hedonistic tendencies even at the risk of becoming educated.

The key here is to make learning more fun than work. Of course, a visitor from space would be unable to distinguish through observation between work and play in our society because, as important as the sensorial trappings of an activity may be, the essential difference is inside the mind. Some people fish for a living. Some people fish for fun. And there is very little overlap between the two groups.

Fun is something you do because you like doing it. Work is something you do for some other reason. Usually the external reward is the villain. As soon as somebody offers to buy those fish you have been catching and turning loose, the fun dynamic is in danger. And if that somebody tells you that from now on if you don't catch any fish you will be in big trouble, you immediately learn what it's like to be a working fisherman.

Now the nature of education in our society with all its external rewards and penalties ensures that our children become working students as soon as they enter the system, maybe even in kindergarten. By the time the survivors straggle into our universities, they have become accustomed to education that is not very interesting and often a little painful.

It shouldn't really be too hard to make our courses more fun than they have been before. Then maybe we could trick students into learning our subjects just as Big Bird conned them into learning numbers and the alphabet.

But Education is Serious Business

Of course, one can object to Sesame Street. After all, fun is frivolous, education is serious, and never the twain shall meet--or in any case should meet. The conflict here though is more apparent than real, and a small dose of dialectic will point the way to the synthesis we need. Education is serious because it is structured and must be structured: you just can't learn calculus before you know addition and subtraction. So is there such a thing as structured fun? Of course, it is called a game. Our goal is to optimize the learning experience by making it intrinsically rewarding--fun. So the game becomes a likely tool.

Now you can decipher our not altogether whimsical acronym, CEGOLLE, for Computer Enhanced Game Optimized Language Learning Experience. But what sort of games do we want to play?

Learning to Ski

Some people teach language for the sake of language: "French is such a beautiful language.' Our goal is language for two-way communication. This means listening and speaking, reading and writing.

The written language is not a separate reality independent of the spoken language, and for our students, language is both spoken and written, even though most speak more fluently than they write, mainly because they use their mouths more than they use their pens. The message for foreign language learning is clear. Learning is doing and vice versa. This is because language is a skill, not just a body of knowledge. You can read for weeks about skiing and memorize all the rules, but you don't really start learning how to ski until you strap on the skis and head down a snowy slope.

So we want games that involve the student in doing the language in both the spoken and written dimensions. But before defining some specific game possibilities, I would like to deal with a few pitfalls.

R2D2: Polyglot Pedagogue?

I really wouldn't mind replacing foreign language educators, myself excluded, with machines. I have had a great deal of experience with both and have found the latter more reliable, consistent, and much less expensive. However, there is very little hope, or danger, as the case may be, of this happening in our lifetime. The main reason being the nature of language.

To learn to communicate, you must communicate, and it will be a good while before machines acquire human level competence in communication. Anyone who objects to the use of computers for fear they could replace him may well be right, but this is only a smoke screen. For better or worse, it won't happen soon. The real basis for objection lies elsewhere.

Fuzzy Studies and the Lab Crash Syndrome

When you are dealing with language educators or anyone else in the humanities, you often encounter hostility to technology in general and to the machine in particular. A good example is the foreign language lab. Back in the sixties, there was a strong trend toward language labs. The suppliers made extravagant claims for their equipment. Zealots within the field corroborated the claims and pleaded for funds.

Administrators took the bait and bought, while the rank and file stood by a bit skeptically to see if all the promises would come true. They didn't, and the result was ultimately the lab crash with instructors and students bailing out right and left, to the point that now language reseachers (with clairvoyant hindsight) point out that the language lab was not the answer.

I happen to believe in the language lab because I learned a great deal of French in a lab at the Institut de Phonetique in Paris. The differences between what I experienced and the scene at the typical U.S. language lab are laden with lessons for the computer movement. The U.S. method was to install relatively complex hardware and leave it up to the teachers to learn how to use the stuff and to create their own software, a very dehumanizing experience for the average fuzzy studies professional.

At the Air Force Academy, we had a lab console that was worthy of the Space Shuttle controls in complexity. The fulltime lab technician was the only one who ever had a really firm grasp on the machine.

Our Canadian exchange officer at the time, a specialist in lab applications, did come up with some workable programs. The rest of us, students and instructors alike, just muddled on through at a tremendous cost in time and harbored an ever-growing hatred of those damn machines.

In Paris, the lab was run by professionals who acted as if they really believed that their machines and their programs could help us learn. And they did. The lesson here is that the hardware must be simple and robust and the troops in the trenches, not just the local field marshalls, must want it. For software, there must be two options: efficient authoring systems for the do-it-yourselfers and quality off-the-shelf packages for everybody else. Easier said than done.

You Can't Fly in a Vacuum: The Industrial-Academic Connection

Without that invisible medium air, airplanes, even the best of them, can't fly. Software is the usually invisible medium which makes computers fly, and right now good CEL software for foreign languages is rarer than oxygen in outer space. The federal government has invested some grant money to try to help fill the void. Here is an example from an NSF funded project entitled "Implementation of a Generative Computer Assisted Instruction System on a Small Computer.'





I suggest we look elsewhere for a solution.

Why not an industrial-academic complex to rival the old military-industrial complex? Industry has people who speak computer language. Around academe, there are some people with brilliant ideas on how to use computers in teaching. Neither group stands much of a chance of producing good software alone. But companies like Texas Instruments are now using professional educators as consultants in the creation of teaching software.

The industry profits when quality software helps sell hardware. The universities benefit from the availability of educational software programs which they could not have created alone. The key, then, to getting CEL off the ground is going to be software which for the most part, doesn't exist yet but which could result from the industrial-academic connection. So make friends with the vendors.

CEGOLLE Attack: Space Invaders a la Mode

Now for the game. Imagine you are enrolled in basic French. It is a five-semester-hour course consisting of five hours of communication seminars with the instructor and five hours of computer-integrated multimedia lab time per week. And that's it, no required homework. You are in the university learning center. Even though you can access the university computer system over the phone line through your own home computer, you like to work in the learning center when you can find a free terminal because you like the fancy peripherals they have here: videodisc, video cassett, random audio, student voice recording and playback, etc.

You just started French yesterday and got the full explanation of how the course would work. Most of the basics would be instructed in the lab. Class time would be reserved for questions from the students, instructor comments about results on the previous lab quiz, and a lot of human-to-human communication: student-instructor and student-student. Today is the first lab lesson.

You find a free learning station, put your headset on, and log in with your name and student ID number. The computer says "hello' and asks if you would like to choose a code name to protect your files for the rest of the semester. You start to say "no' but then decide you don't want to risk somebody tampering with your quiz results and type in FRODO. The computer reminds you not to forget your code name for future log-ins and then flashes up a list of your present courses, asking which course you now wish to work on.

You reply "French' and immediately get the introductory frame for your first French lesson which explains the goals of this first lesson and instructs you what software you need to get from the reserve desk for this lesson. You get it, set everything up, then for 20 minutes your attention alternates from the computer monitor to the adjacent TV screen as animation, still frames, film clips, script, sound, and voice introduce the essentials of lesson one. Then for another 20 minutes video and audio cues elicit your responses in French, which are recorded through your headset microphone and then replayed at the end of each segment of the exercise.

Cockfight Squadron

Then comes the quiz. When your instructor promised you would like it, you had your doubts. But the computer isn't showing anything about a test. It says that as a student of French you have been assigned to Cockfight Squadron (you learn later that a buddy in Spanish is in Condor Flight and a guy in German in Eaglestrike). Your first attack mission is called Interdict.

Depending on how confident you feel about what you just studied, you can choose one of the four possible mission levels: Cadet, Pilot, Ace, or Superace. You opt for Superace because you think you understand the first lesson pretty well, and besides you like a challenge. The computer then explains that you will have a total of five spacecraft with which to complete the ten sorties of ten seconds each which comprise this mission.

You then learn that in Interdict a French sentence which is missing a word appears at the top of the computer video monitor screen. At the same time, a video representation of the reality which the sentence should express appears on the TV monitor. You must identify the place in the sentence where a word is missing be zapping the space where there should be room for that word. If you miss or choose the wrong space, your craft explodes, and you must start the sortie over again with a new craft. If you hit the right space, the sentence blows apart, making room for the missing word.

At the same time, four different words appear below your craft on the screen. You must home in on the right word and zap it. If you miss, choose the wrong word, or take too long, your craft explodes, and you must call up a new one to complete that protion of the sortie. If you hit the right word, all the wrong choices disintegrate and the right one pops up into its place in the sentence. At this point, you hear the sentence repeated twice and again see the video illustration of its meaning.

You put your hand on the joystick controller and press Return to start. After six sorties your forehead is damp. You have only one craft left and that is only because you made a lucky guess on the last sentence. You lose your last craft on sortie seven. The computer says you must begin the mission again and suggests you try something simpler than the Superace level.

You agree, opt for Pilot, and start the mission again. Five minutes later you have completed the mission losing only four craft. Then the TV screen comes alive with the mission debrief conducted by a 25th Century version of the squadron operations officer. You get an explanation of why you lost those four craft and an admonition to review your manuals so as to never again make the same mistakes.

Then the computer comes back and asks if you would like to play Intercept or Scramble. You look at your watch. You have been at the learning station for 53 minutes. You decide to do Intercept because the description on the screen indicates that the random access audio peripheral is essential for this game and you haven't been able to afford one for your home set up yet. So you opt for Intercept at the Pilot level.

The game is like Interdict except that instead of word choices appearing on the screen you hear them one at a time over the headset and must zap the right choice as soon as you hear it. The sentences are new but similar to those of Interdict. After another five minutes, you have finished the mission with only two craft lost. The mission debrief is very short. The computer asks if you would like to redo any previous parts of the lesson or play Scramble. You have been there a little more than an hour already, and you need a break, so you decide to quit for now.

Dinner Break

After dinner that evening, you log in through your home system. You install French Diskette #1, which you checked out from the learning center, call for Scramble and learn that each sortie involves pulling a group of words scattered at random over the screen into a coherent sentence using a tractor beam from your craft. If you latch onto a word in the wrong sequence, your craft is sucked down into the screen and you must call up a new one. No TV video or random access audio this time, but it is too far back to the learning center, and by this time there is probably a long waiting line for every station. You would have to stay there half the night just to get on.

Things haven't changed. Dad said it used to be that way in every comp. sci. course he ever took. Never enough terminal time available. Many of the brilliant guys got fed up and switched majors. It took a lot of patience just to make it through. At least now with your home system you have an option.

So you jump into Scramble, do the first mission once through at Pilot level, then again at Superace. No mission debrief possible without the TV video peripherals, but by the second time through you do it perfectly anyway. You call for Scramble mission two and start it off at the Ace level. Perfect score the second time through. You decide you want a change and call up Interdict mission two. After about an hour, you have completed the five missions in both Interdict and Scramble.

You decide that tomorrow, before going to the French communication seminar, you'll spend 20 minutes in the learning center and do the four Intercept missions you didn't get to earlier. You know your instructor will have a printout of missions attempted and success rate for everyone in the class, and you want to make a good impression right at the beginning. And anyway with all the variety involved, it's more fun than Space Invaders.

In fact, you decide to skip the TV video games for tonight and instead log in on the National Postal Network and write your girlfriend back home a letter about the first two days of classes, especially your French course. After all, French is for lovers. She happens to be on her system and answers you right away. She says high school senior French is a drag and wishes she could be in that course with you. You sign off with love and kisses and "wish you were here.' You have to make sure she doesn't forget, but mustn't overdo it either. Besides you are going to have to get some sleep and start early tomorrow if you want to finish those Cockfight Intercept missions before French class.