New Ways to Learn New Languages

Nov. 20, 1998

Students in the modern foreign language department are using cutting-edge technology to learn Spanish, French, Japanese and many other languages thanks to the new language acquisition center (LAC) which opened at 4 p.m., Nov. 19, in room 300 of the Draper Academic Building.

The department held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening, and Dr. Ute Lahaie, assistant professor of German, Russian and Japanese, gave a demonstration of the new computer system, a major technological advance for the department.

Lahaie, who wrote the proposal to update the lab, conducted extensive research throughout the United States for the new lab. She patterned the LAC's video-file servers after visited George Washington University, which was one of the first schools to implement the servers.

The video-file servers allow students to access software such as language videos and audio tapes easily through 95 computer stations. In the past, students had to wait in line to check out a limited number of tapes and then watch or listen to them on old tape-recorders and televisions.

"Its a drastic change from the hassle that we used to have to go through to check out tapes," Janai Nuckols, a Longview sophomore said. "You'd get the wrong tape or they wouldn't have any available. Now it's so much more organized."

Although the Spanish learning video, Destinos, and other software is "just a mouse click away" in the LAC, lab assistants will still be on hand to help students who are not accustomed to the new technology, Lahaie said.

"We will be responsible for problems with equipment and making sure that everyone gets equal use of the computers," said Brandon Sysaranth, a lab assistant and Grand Prairie junior. "Our job will be a lot different because we won't have to check out tapes. Students will like the LAC because it is fun to have new technology."

Another advantage of the LAC is that professors can hold interactive class sessions in the labs because in each lab there is an instructor station that has control over the other computers. Professors can access any computer screen in the room to help students who have gotten off track, and they can also communicate with each student through headsets.

"Classes may use the center during morning hours for interactive lectures, but when there are no classes scheduled the center will be in 'library-mode' for students to use the materials," Lahaie said.

The center will initially be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, but Lahaie said the hours may be extended if there is demand for the center.

Upper level students who have taken all their foreign language can use the computers in the LAC for Internet access and e-mail, but those needing to use the language software will have first priority in the lab. One senior at the grand opening wished that the updated center would have been available when he took Spanish.

"I didn't always watch Destinos because it was such a hassle to come over here and check out tapes with your ID," said Eric Gruel, a Houston senior. "I made a lower grade than I would've liked, but if this lab was here I would've been more motivated to watch Destinos and do the workbooks."

The actual classrooms housing the computers were also completely remodeled from what Lahaie described as a "1970s audio lab" to a "state-of-the-art digital lab." New carpets were put in, walls were knocked down and the ceiling height had to be adjusted to make room for a large screen in two of the labs. Planning for the lab renovations began four years ago and the remodeling began in the summer of 1998.

"When we began faculty training a few weeks ago, even the skeptics got excited about the lab," Lahaie said. "Students and faculty can finally start to benefit from the versatility of a high-tech digital lab."

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