Languages take FLITE

February 25, 2000

Dan Fruchter (T 00)

A Tulane student is in Louisiana's Cajun country, where a huge, bearded, barrel-chested man is carving an alligator and speaking in heavily accented Acadian French. Just 10 minutes ago he was at a bakery in a quartiere de Paris, buying baguettes and talking with the baker about how cold the Parisian winter has been this year.

When he exited the bakery, a political demonstration was taking place on the Boulevard de Liberti. Actually, the student experienced all this without leaving the language laboratory on the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall. The virtual trip through the world's French-speaking regions was made possible with the assistance of the Foreign Language Instructional Technology Environment (FLITE).

FLITE, a multimedia development center for language instructors, opened in January and is under the direction of Marcel O'Gorman, instructional technologist for the foreign language departments.

"We've been holding workshops for the professors since last October showing them the new technology and helping them learn to use it," O'Gorman says. "Many of the professors in the department are already coming in here and using the facility to enrich their courses."

A $280,000 grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Culpepper Foundation supported the development of FLITE. The center builds on the multimedia-equipped Language Laboratory and the new electronic classroom in Newcomb Hall.

FLITE serves instructors of foreign languages at Tulane in the development of multimedia materials for use in class, O'Gorman says. Through the center, they can create a course Web site with a chat room and online quizzes, as well as digitized video and audio formatted for computer projection. FLITE also allows faculty members to use the technology in their own research projects.

The technology in the center includes a digital camcorder, four Macintosh G3 computers and two Dell Pentium III computers, foreign-language and multimedia-development software, scanners, video- and audio-editing systems and a sound booth. O'Gorman says multimedia instruction allows students to experience a foreign language more completely.

"Foreign language is unique among academic pursuits because it requires multimedia and video not only for demonstration, as other departments do, but for immersion," he says. "To really learn a language, there has to be some type of immersion in the world of that language. In no other field is immersion so important to learning, and this type of technology is the best way we know to achieve this level of interaction, short of traveling to another country."

To engage students in the language and culture of rural French Louisiana, Thomas Klingler, associate professor of French, is using FLITE to produce video clips documenting the lifestyle and language of this community. In one clip, a loquacious man demonstrates how to carve a dead alligator, all the while narrating in his distinctive dialect.

"This is very unique footage," O'Gorman says. "Not only do students watching this learn about a rare dialect of French they've probably never heard before, but they get an insight into the culture that goes with the language."

With the digital camcorder and the editing system, instructors can turn video footage such as Klingler's into CD-ROM material, clips viewable over the Internet, or a full-length video or documentary. Other departments also are benefiting from FLITE. In conjunction with ACLRT (the Academic Center for Learning, Research and Technology), O'Gorman is helping the English department plan and set up a similar high-technology lab for its faculty.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000