Developing a Tailored Language Learning Environment Supporting Interactive Media: A Case Study, J Draper, A O'Riordan

Tags: Irish Learning Technology Association, Computer-Aided Language Learning, technology, Ireland, software system, community site, online community, software technology, technology integration, Technology-enhanced learning, open source communities, software metrics, modularity, Annual Conference, system's development, system complexity, Maynooth, Ireland, online learning, Open source software, University College Cork, Interactive Media, Content Management Systems, Adrian O'Riordan Computer Science Department, Learning Environment, James Draper, Virtual Learning Environments, Cork, Ireland, interactive learning, Language learning, software development, interactive multimedia, interactive games
Content: 13th annual conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland Developing a Tailored Language learning environment Supporting interactive media: A Case Study James Draper, Adrian O'Riordan Computer Science Department, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland Abstract This paper describes a case study in the design and creation of a Web-based community site for language learners that enables users to create and share content in a collaborative environment. Currently is set up for beginners French, with a set of interActive learning material included, but the software infrastructure can be used for other target languages or ability levels. The community features include features from the social Web, such as the sharing of content, adding comments and ratings, and seeing who is online. The Interactive Multimedia includes a French-language conservation simulator that uses real-time speech recognition and interactive games. We chose a tailored approach to facilitate both flexibility and technology integration using free open source tools, combined, configured and customized to match the requirements, maintain control and reduce costs. The system's development time, footprint and modularity are measured using appropriate software metrics as evidence of this bespoke approach. Keywords: Computer-Aided language learning, Interactive Media, Virtual Learning Environments, Tailoring 1. Introduction Advances in the processing power of modern computers, interactive media technologies and the ever-growing use of social media provide an opportunity to create powerful technology-enhanced learning (TEL) environments for language students. Before describing, relevant background topic such as TEL, virtual learning environments (VLEs) and Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) are presented. 2. Background: VLE and CALL Technology-enhanced learning (TEL) is a broad term describing the support of any learning activity through technology. An example is a virtual learning environment (VLE), a Webbased software system designed to support teaching and learning activities in an educational setting. A VLE can be viewed as a collection of integrated tools enabling the management of online learning, providing a delivery mechanism, assessment supports and access to resources. (Weller, 2007). VLEs share features of Content management systems (CMS), commonly used to manage information in large Web-based applications. VLE systems include both commercial (e.g. Blackboard) and free open source (e.g. Moodle) solutions. Many popular VLEs are configurable and extensible to some degree: Blackboad
13th Annual Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland supports the concept of Building Blocks; Moodle supports interoperability with major CMSes such as Drupal and Joomla and supports extensions by means of plugins. Of relevance to our work is the concept of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) describing systems that facilitate the generation, sharing, organization, and communication of content using Web 2.0 technologies for two-way communication, tagging, dissemination, integration and mashups (Wheeler, 2010). PLEs offer educational institutions a flexible alternative to the normal practice of purchasing and deploying an institution-wide software technology such as a VLE (White and Davis, 2010). Related to this, Brown has written about a new form of technology-enhanced online learning modelled on open source communities (Brown and Adler, 2008). Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) can be defined as the use of computer technology to aid language teaching and learning (Levy, 1997). Terms such as Integrative CALL and Multimedia CALL have emerged to emphasise the role of integration and multimedia respectively (Warschauer, 2000). Language learning systems currently take on many different forms depending on the underlying platform, content and modes of interaction, whether interactive DVDs, VLEs, or online community sites, some of which provide task-based or game-based interaction with multimedia (text, images, video, animation, etc.) Bax has questioned how integrative current approaches actually are in terms of having students use a variety of technological tools as an ongoing process of language learning and use and concludes that Integrative CALL does not yet exist to any significant degree (Bax, 2003). He argues that Integrative CALL should include task- and problem-based interactions including interactions between students, and analytical and social features such as contributing, commenting, and evaluation. 2. A Tailored Language Learning Environment The inability to adapt existing software systems and applications for custom purposes is a critical issue facing software development and deployment (Fuggetta, 2003). Open source software in education offers many benefits in this regard (Lakhan and Jhunjhunwala, 2008). The concept of tailoring is useful to describe a component-based development approach offering both design-time and run-time flexibility (Wulf et al., 2009). A tailored approach to developing interactive language learning software has at least two potential advantages over using an off-the-shelf system or platform. It facilitates customized presentation of different language materials and content suited to particular categories of learner (e.g. beginners and children). Second, it can include interactive media such as educational games and interactive video and audio that may be either not possible or difficult on existing platforms. is initially deployed as a community-based online site for learning French (Draper, 2011). In order to provide a rich learning experience two technological areas were deemed to be of particular importance to this project: interactive media technology and
13th Annual Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland community-based features. Facilitating communication between users aims to advance a Collaborative Learning experience where users can learn from each other's comments and feedback, while social media features aims to create a user experience where users can share and recommend content to friends. Content was based on the Irish Junior Certificate French Syllabus which is organised around needs, expectations and interests. Communicative tasks within the syllabus entail both productive use of the language, and receptive use of the language. A limited amount of content was created. Freely available French sound files were employed and some new recordings were created. A section of the site contains recordings of key words and phrases spoken by a native French speaker, demonstrating correct pronunciation and a facility for recording the user's voice and uploading the recording to the site. The user's knowledge and understanding of words/phrases and French culture can also be explored in a number of quiz-style games and Flash card style lessons. Community-based features include the ability to add comments, upload user recordings, rate user content, add tags to content and link to other social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Registered users can earn Contributor Points every time they upload a recording or add a comment. Every page on the site was divided into four key areas: header, body, footer and footerbottom, see Figure 1. The header contains login options, a translation module, a new message alert area, links to LinguaLife social media pages and a search area. A sub-area of the header then contains the site logo and the navigation bar. The body is the most dynamic section as it contains the main content for each page. There is also a large image slider present on the homepage which links to key pages on the site. The footer section contains updates of the latest content on the site as well as a list of other users currently online. The footer-bottom section contains user-specific content, enabling the user to view his/her account settings, messages, and the number of Contributor Points accumulated. There are also social media buttons enabling users to 'Like' the current page, along with links to a contact section and terms of use. Users must also be registered before they can upload a recording, which aims to restrict the presence of any spam or unwanted recordings.
13th Annual Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland Figure 1: Screenshots of To prototype interactive multimedia, we designed a conversation-simulator software module to support conversation-based language learning. Conversation agents are an emerging technology in CALL (Wik and Hjalmarsson, 2009). This feature uses graphics, audio, and speech recognition technologies. The application simulates a spoken conversation of a particular theme in French. We took a restaurant scenario where the user can greet the waiter and order food in a French restaurant, see Figure 2. Figure 2: Conversation Simulator: Restaurant Scenario
13th Annual Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland 3. Development Issues The CMS was implemented in Drupal with free third-party modules and plugins. Drupal modules can be downloaded and configured to add a large number of features to a website. uses 25 such modules; see (Draper, 2011). Additional Web server interaction was in the PHP programming language. CSS 3 and JavaScript code was used on the clientside and to maintain consistency across browsers. The back-end datastore was implemented in MySQL. The Views module with its smart query builder controls user browsing of learning materials. The Filter module enables the modification of individual content objects (termed nodes in Drupal). The conversation simulator was implemented in Java ­ this was for easy integration of the speech recognition library Sphinx-4 (itself written in Java). The User Interface was implemented in Java Swing. Sphinx is a widely-used software framework with an active community of developers which offers a high degree of modularity and flexibility. We used a free open source acoustic model for French called FrenchPhone. The Java application was integrated into the website using Java Web Start and the JNLP launch protocol which uses an XML file format. In order to listen for specific words, at the appropriate time, we created grammar files in the Java Speech Gammar Format (JSGF). Each JSGF file contains sets of keywords that the user must say to progress the conversation. The games and the audio recorded were implemented in Adobe Flash CS5. Audio recording used the MicRecorder and ShineMP3 encoders. All audio files are stored on the Web server and retrieved using a HTTP request. The Flash games store data in XML format on the server and use the Mochi API for functionality such as keeping high scores and social site integration. 3. Related Work A similar approach to ours is taken by (Kalz, 2003). He reports on the "eclectic use and combination of different systems and services ... to reach personalized learning environments with the combination of different open source applications." This uses the Mambo CMS, Mediawiki for content creation (as opposed to our custom PHP and Javascript), and RSS for communication (as opposed to using XML/HTTP requests). There is a number of commercial language learning software packages available in CD-ROM or DVD format such as Rosetta Stone. The latest edition of Rosetta Stone (Version 4) has added online (Rosetta Studio), social gaming (Rosetta World) and mobile features (Mobile Companion). Online language learning sites include and the BBC French language site. While LiveMocha offers a wide range of interactive content, much of this is only available to premium subscribers. The BBC website offers a large collection of material but little multimedia content.
13th Annual Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland
4. Review and Assessment The system's development time, footprint, and modularity are presented here using appropriate software metrics. The system was designed, built and testing in a three month period largely by one developer with the assistance of a second. The system complexity is derived from the large number of tools that are integrated. Most of the work was in design, configuration and integration. Only a small part, relative to this, was new code (<5%). Table 1 below details size and modularity metrics for this new code, generated with the SourceMonitor tool. LOC gives the number of lines of code. The statement column is the number of non-black non-comment lines. Where relevant the number of classes, number of methods per class and average number of statements per method are given. These give indications of the low levels of software complexity, which can predict maintainability, reusability and other software engineering quality concerns. Note that Actionscript code, XML content related to the quiz and the JSGF grammar files are included. Table 1: Size and Modularity of New Code
Langauge LOC Statments Classes Meth/Class Stmt/Meth
WordSea rch Acti ons cri pt 425
FrenchQui z Acti ons cri pt 379
Les s ons
Acti ons cri pt 103
Cul ture
Col ours
Ja va
Di a l ogMa na geJra va
Comma nds JSGF
Me n u
Res ta ura nt JSGF
Res ta ura nt2 JSGF
Res ta uta nt2b JSGF
A general issue arising from initial small-scale user testing of the site is that more content is needed to bootstrap the site. Another specific issue was with the speech recognition capabilities in that, for non-native French speakers at least, word recognition was not accurate enough to progress the conversation simulator without users having to frequently repeat words and phrases.
5. Summary and Conclusions
We believe a tailored approach to building a custom learning environment, such as an online site for language learners to be a viable alternative to employing existing products and platforms, whether free or commercial. The quality and interoperability of open source tools and add-ons meant only a relatively some amount of new code was required to get an interactive site up and running. A sustainable maintenance and upgrade strategy is also a topic that needs further consideration.
13th Annual Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association, 31st May 2012, Maynooth, Ireland References Bax, S. (2003). CALL--past, present and future, System, vol. 31, no. 1, Elsevier, pp. 13-28. Brown, S. & Adler, R.P. (2008). Minds on fire: Open education, the long trail, and learning 2.0. Educause, 43, pp. 17-32. Draper, J. (2011). An Interactive Community-based Website for Learning French. MSc Thesis, University College Cork, Ireland. Fuggetta, A. (2003). Open source software ­ an evaluation, Journal of Systems and Software, vol. 66, no. 1, April 2003, pp. 77-90. Kalz, M. (2005). Building Eclectic Personal Learning Landscapes with Open Source Tools. In F. de Vries, G. Attwell, R. Elferink & A. Tцdt (Eds.), Open Source for Education in Europe. Research & Practice, Proceedings of the Open Source for Education in Europe Conference, pp. 163-168, Heerlen, The Netherlands. Lakhan S. E. & Jhunjhunwala, K. (2008). Open Source Software in Education. Educase Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2, April-June, 2008. Levy M. (1997). CALL: context and conceptualisation, Oxford University Press. Warschauer M. (2000). CALL for the 21st Century, IATEFL and ESADE Conference, 2 July 2000, Barcelona, Spain. Weller, M. (2007). Virtual Learning Environments: Using, choosing and developing your VLE, Routledge. Wheeler, S. (2010). Physiology of a PLE. Available online from White, S & Davis, H.C. (2011). Making it Rich and Personal: Crafting an Institutional Personal Learning Environment, International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, vol. 2, no. 4. Wik, P. & Hjalmarsson, A. (2009). embodied conversational agents in computer assisted language learning, Speech Communication, vol. 51, no. 10, Elsevier. Wulf, V., Pipek V. & Won, M. (2008). Component-based tailorability: Enabling highly flexible software applications, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, vol. 66, no. 1, January 2008, pp. 1-22.

J Draper, A O'Riordan

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