For the practice and enhancement of oral language skills on various levels, Franziska Lys and Mark Schaefer at Northwestern University introduced new digital video technology in an advanced German conversation class and challenged students to create a German language news report. Students researched their topics on-line, interviewed speakers on camera, wrote and recorded their own narration, and digitized and edited their footage--all in German. Their web site "Lights, Camera, Language" presents a description and the results of the project which can serve as a fine primer for everyone interested in using the same kind of technology in their language classes, or as a resource tool for people looking for contemporary German language and culture videoclips.
Type of Material:
Tutorial/Resource: The website consists of downloadable handouts and manuals, a PowerPoint Presentation that describes the rationale of the project, and the final Student Projects (some of which are in Quicktime Streaming format and include English subtitles).
The materials can be used in two very distinct ways: 1. for a language class that strives to improve oral production skills by following Northwestern's model, or 2. as a resource to give one's own students access to the video clips produced by the German students at Northwestern University. The website could also be adapted by individual students for an independent study project, or by instructors who want to get started producing their own video vignettes--it is an excellent introduction to the efficient use of video in foreign language instruction.
The website is straightforward and easy to navigate: all that is needed is a newer generation browser, a .pdf reader to open the downloadable handouts and manuals, and the QuickTime plugin in order to watch the student projects and excerpts from the works-in-progress. Since many clips are in a streaming format, it is important to have a fast DSL or Ethernet connection. In order to fully replicate the approach, access to digital cameras, studio or other recording space, and editing equipment will be needed.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
Here it is useful to differentiate between the learning goals of the project described and those of the website. The authors of this website found that improving oral skills in advanced Second Language Learners poses several challenges to any instructor
that go beyond the provision of creating a class environment that animates students to speak. To increase accuracy in advanced students they decided to expose students to tasks that would allow them to slow down their speech and enable them to reflect on their expression and pronunciation. Students were introduced to digital video camera equipment and then asked to put together a video report based on a topic of their choice. In this manner, they were exposed to a large amount of language, to a variety of speech patterns, and to various inflections. The website's goals, however, are to share the project results and implicitly to provide an example for other instructors (and students)interested in similar strategies.
Target Student Population:
Adaptation of this project will work best for advanced high-school and college German classes. Students need to have a certain degree of fluency in order to put together a video report in the target language. The website itself, however, is not targeted specifically at students; at least intermediate knowledge of German would be required to understand the student projects available if they were not subtitled in English.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Apart from language skills, students need to be familiar (or be familiarized by their instructor) with the digital technology employed: A good grasp of a digital editing program like iMovie,
knowledge about Quicktime compression, and the intrinsic motivation to spend a lot of time on this kind of project are prerequisites for the success of any replicator.
This website can enrich any language/culture experience by bringing to the classroom and to independent study the voices of native and non-native speakers talking about advanced "German" topics such art, film, racism, study abroad, and the like. The vignettes on these topics are engaging and the quality of the video is quite good. Learners will relate to these vignettes and hopefully become inspired to replicate the approach and thus work on their oral, writing, and technical skills. Particularly notable is the fact that the students are clearly enthusiastic about their work.
Although some of the handouts do contain German glosses for some of the technical terms of video production, the content is not actually of any use for teaching German directly--though it also makes no claim to be. The counterargument, however, is that teachers of any language could make use of the ideas presented here.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
As a means for individual learners to practice listening to German speakers, and even more as a manual for an innovative approach to oral language production, this is an excellent tool and highly recommended.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The resources are presented in a clear manner, manuals are in downloadable pdf format, a PowerPoint Presentation (embedded in the site) explains the rationale behind the project and provides valuable hints and insights for both students and instructors. Handouts and worksheets are broken down into units/weeks, thus making it extremely easy to adopt this tool as a valuable resource for one's own teaching.
No notice is given that the necessary plugins are in fact required; if the user does not have QuickTime, for example, the browser (in this case Maxthon,
built on IE 6.02) simply freezes without an error message. Note also that if you do not have sufficient privileges on your workstation, you cannot install QuickTime, which gives you no "Install as administrator" option! These circumstances are bound to lead to frustration for a good many potential users in educational institutions.
Other Issues and Comments:
The authors have produced a fine resource which outlines the rationale and the technical processes employed in order to bring the German video projects to fruition. The design decisions they made reveal a desire to create a web resource that is easy to use at home or in the classroom and that adds value to the curriculum. They succeed on all counts. As noted above, the site was devised for use in an Advanced German Oral Proficiency Class. Users who are interested in the development of simpler materials for beginning students may want to have a look at the Href="http://www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk/Curriculum/modlang/shared/vod_de.htm"> Ashcombe German Video Resources .
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