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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL

Klaus Bung:
Inside the shell -
Programming and the language laboratory

Cover page of journalFirst publication in print:
Klaus Bung: "Inside the shell: Programming and the language laboratory'. In: NEW EDUCATION, November 1965, p 28-31, London, England

Published on the Internet
on 2010-04-08

© 1965 and 2010 Klaus Bung

Note (written in 2010-04-08):

The beginnings / endings of each page have been marked in such a way that the printed original version can be quoted from this html version.

Cybernetic Developments Ltd advertise a language laboratory installtion with an egg time and the slogan, times changeOne advertisement has been included to give a flavour of those revolutionary (but pre-computer and pre-Internet) times when tape recorders (language laboratories), acetate overhead projectors, visual aids (film strips) made their first appearance in language teaching classrooms. The magazine contains many such advertisements for a variety of technical teaching aids. Some teachers were hostile towards programmed learning (automated teaching through teaching machines) because they feared that language teachers might be made redundandant


Table of contents of magazineContents

Vol 1, No. 12

5 Picking the Priorities

6 Letters

New Trends in Mathematics

8 1: Reforming the curriculum
G. W. Gray

10 2: Industry and the sixth form
B. T. Bellis

13 3: Primary approaches
W. A. Baker

16 Focus Manchester

18 World News
Rhodesia: The educational challenge

20 Editor's Notebook

23 New Education Work Paper
No. 2. The Overhead Projector
Sqd. Ldr. Albert Cartmell

28 Inside the Shell. Programming and the language laboratory
Klaus Bung

32 Research Report
Science in the primary school
Peter Boyers

34 Equipment
The Brynmor Jones Report

36 Visuals
Reviews of films and filmstrips
John Chittock and Clement Bending

38 Abstracts

41 Books
Reviewed by John George, Barry Turner, Donald Cave, P. J. Samuels, Audrey Todd

45 Textbooks

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Editorial introduction

Everybody (so they say !) now knows about language laboratories. And everybody (so we are told!) now knows about programmed learning. But can the language laboratory be used for self-instruction? Klaus Bung, of Woolwich Polytechnic, here explains how it can be done.

Inside the Shell

Language laboratories have now been with us for several years. They have been, and are being, installed in large numbers up and down the country and are even forced upon schools that do not want them.

With the equipment, certain restrictive dogmas about the use of laboratories have been spread. The worst of them is the suggestion that the language laboratory is only a teaching aid. Another dogma is that a certain minimum number of hours must be spent in the classroom in preparation for every one hour in the laboratory. Finally, it has been suggested that students must on no account spend more than, say, one hour at a time in the laboratory. Such dogmas are based on the erroneous idea that the laboratory is `intended' for 'drilling' (disgraceful term) and 'pronunciation practice' only, and that there is a particular method (sometimes called 'the language laboratory method') tied to the equipment.

As a result, the expensive language laboratories have often been used very inefficiently; general language teaching methods have stayed more or less the same, with a little laboratory practice added to them; students have, in some cases, complained that work was boring and that even the one hour they were allowed in the labooratory was a waste of time. In particular, teachers have not properly utilised the facility of the laboratory which allows students to proceed through the course at their own speed, and have insisted on throwing them back into the lock-step rhythm of traditional language learning at the end of each session. This has in turn induced a British manufacturer to produce an installation which makes it impossible for students to advance at their own rate of learning (thus destroying the greatest attraction of the laboratory) and therefore also excludes the possibility of introducing programmed language learning at a school equipped with such an installation. These considerations show that one cannot measure the quality and up-to-date-ness of language teaching in this country in terms of the number of laboratories that have been sold or installed.

To balance this grim picture, let me mention some of the encouraging developments in the field of language teaching. There is a tendency to teach speaking a language rather than writing it, and to reduce the teaching of grammar in favour of language practice. This tendency partly accounts for the distrust that language teachers feel for programmed learning. Programmed learning, it seems to them, may be well suited for the teaching of abstract concepts and of terminology in subjects where a graphic response is acceptable but not for the objectives of modern language teaching. In recent years, we have also seen the birth and rapid growth of the Association for Programmed Learning (APL), the Audio-Visual Language Association (AVLA) and the resultant spread of audio-visual aids, such as CREDIF, Tavor Aids, and others. These materials are true teaching aids, unlike the language laboratory, which is a presentation device, just like a projector. But audio-visual aids are not made for laboratories nor (unfortunately) are laboratories equipped for the presentation of individual audio-visual aids. (A West German manufacturer has produced such an installation, and it is hoped that British manufacturers will provide similar facilities, without which laboratories cannot survive once they have lost their gimmick appeal.) While some of the materials for classroom use are exceedingly attractive, the corresponding practice tapes tend to be abominably dull.

There are three great drawbacks about the present teaching with audio-visual aids. The method is committed to teaching students in groups, thus retarding the quick students and worrying the slow. It is committed to teaching comparatively large linguistic units at a time, thus making it rather difficult for students to master them. It is committed to an often complicated method of building up stimuli (the large units sometimes require this), so that often the teacher works for a long time (up to several minutes) before the first student is called to make a response.

Unfortunately, the great popularity of audio-visual materials has given the impression to many teachers that, as soon as one, or some, of these courses and a language laboratory have been bought, language teaching is modern and up-to-date. This is not the case. Laboratories are a shell with nothing in them, and tapes based on the current audio-visual courses cannot fill the vacuum. This unsatisfactory situation can only be remedied once it is recognised as such.

Programmed learning provides the remedy. So far comparatively little work in language programming has been done in this country because most language teachers have been satisfied with their audio-visual aids and widespread prejudices about the nature and purpose of a laboratory have had a discouraging effect. What kinds of materials should be available in them? There should be a fully programmed course, teaching acoustic discrimination and articulation. This could be used for beginners and for remedial work. There should be a course teaching students to make correct oral responses to acoustic or visual stimuli. The visual stimuli could be given either on a small viewer in each student booth, the pictures being synchronised with the tape, or on duplicated sheets of paper. Pages and pictures should be numbered and on the tape reference should be made to these numbers. There should be a separate course teaching the relationships between sound and spelling, with a final part giving comprehensive dictation practice.

Two courses in comprehension would be used to develop the student's imagination. One of these courses would consist of a graphic programme, the other course of an acoustic programme. Both courses would train the student in deriving the meaning of new words and structures from the context, without the aid of dictionary and grammarbook. Students might choose one of the

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courses or do both. The graphic course presupposes that the student has completed the basic spelling course, whereas the acoustic course only requires completion of the discrimination and articulation course. There should also be remedial programmes to eliminate specific mistakes (both acoustic and graphic) and programmes to teach special vocabularies to students already familiar with the basic structure of the language.

All the courses mentioned should be so constructed that the students can learn from the printed or tape-recorded material without the permanent supervision of the teacher, and the need for students to have to call for the teacher's help should be reduced as much as possible (in gradually improved versions of each programme).

What work is left for the teacher? He has to supervise students working on programmes, to ensure that they reach the required standard of performance before proceeding from one unit to the next. After some time, he will find out which students can be trusted when doing what, and he can concentrate his supervision on those few students who cannot be trusted. He has to decide for each student which courses he should work through and at which point in the total teaching programme the student should start on a new course. He has to decide the proportion of time a student should spend on any particular course. This depends on the ability of the student for the particular skill taught in a certain course and also on the learning objectives of the student. The teacher administers and evaluates regular tests. On the basis of the test results, he may change the overall teaching programme for a student. When the teacher is satisfied that all students are busy, he can, in a special section of the laboratory, or rather, in a room next to it, conduct those parts of language learning which can not be, or have not yet been, programmed. The one thing he will not do is to introduce new material, new structures, phrases, words, and so on, to his student. All that can be programmed. The teacher will conduct conversation practice, with groups of not more than four students, once these students have mastered the basic structure of the language through the use of programmes. He will take part in intensive conversation exercises with one student at a time, the conversations and the teacher's corrections and suggestions for exercises being recorded and later analysed and followed up by the student. The teacher will analyse conversation tapes that have been produced by two students without his taking part. The students will be present while the 'marking' of the tape takes place, and their queries and the teacher's comments will be recorded. (Recording of the teacher's comments always saves time!) The teacher will discuss essays and other written work with the students concerned. As a matter of principle, whatever work is done is only done with those students who are directly concerned. In conventional classes, students lose too much time by having to listen to corrections and discussions of mistakes which they themselves have not made. But backed by programmed courses, the teacher is able to give 'private lessons' to his students, unless the subject matter demands group work as a positive feature rather than an economical necessity, such as in small conversation groups where we have not only the direct interaction between teacher and student but also a positive interaction between student and student.

I am at present running an experimental German class at Woolwich Polytechnic which seems to indicate that such a plan is workable. It is workable despite the fact that we at Woolwich have as yet only very few of the programmes that I have described as desirable. Students were told at the beginning of the course that I was not going to teach them but that this was a self-study group and they had to do all the work. I was ready to assist them whenever asked for help but they had to do the pushing. And they are doing the pushing. I have never had such a lively class before. Students come to remind me that they want to do more audio-visual work (this is done as a substitute for the as yet non-existent comprehension programme) because they haven't done it for some time, that they want to do conversation again, that they want special tapes for listening practice (they can get the programmed tapes for themselves).

These reminders are necessary because, in a class in which every student does something different, it is impossible for the teacher to remember each student's requirements in detail. Students are told at the beginning of their course what type of work they are supposed to do, for what purpose and in what proportion, and it is up to them to make sure they get it. Expressly handing the responsibility for their progress over to the students seems to have a good motivational effect. In the Woolwich class, we have students who are absolute beginners and others who have an experience of German equivalent to 'A' level but not the required standard of accuracy. The more advanced students are, the less use of programmes can be made and the more teacher time they need. Therefore in one class, a large number of beginners but only few advanced students can be

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one-page advert for language laboratory

One page advert for language laboratory produced by Cybernetic Developments Ltd

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accommodated. The beginners will hardly require any attention and leave the teacher free to deal with the advanced students. It should be easy enough to fill classes in this way, because there are normally more beginners of a language than there are advanced students. But even if a class starts with beginners only, after some time the better learners will get ahead of the rest and therefore be able to demand and get more teacher time. Among the courses at present available at Woolwich is a programme "Introduction to German" written by myself, the Temac German programme, remedial tape exercises written by myself, and other non-programmed practice tapes produced by commercial firms. My own Introduction is in its first draft stage, does its job quite satisfactorily but will, I hope, be scrapped by the end of the year. It provides about one term's work for an average student coming to school one evening a week for a three-hour session minus a long break, and not doing any homework, a total of about 25 hours' learning time.

The materials consist of a tape, notes explaining points of grammar and learning procedure and giving the solutions for the spelling exercises, a set of drawings which serve as stimuli for the tape-recorded exercises, and the recording scripts, which are given to the students only when they have completed the programme.

In the past, two basic approaches to language programming have become known. Professor Rand Morton's fascinating techniques, described in his paper 'The Language Laboratory as a Teaching Machine' have met with a great deal of resistance in this country because they sidestep meaning for such a long time. (They do so for good reason.) Apart from this, Temac language programmes have been introduced to this country from America, but are only sold on a limited scale. (It is now being investigated to what extent these programmes are suitable for the British educational system and in what respects they have to be modified.) Externally, they closely resemble the linear programmes used in subjects outside the language field. Their principle is that the student should (as in most conventional linear programmes) not make any mistakes, and should be so prompted that he gets his answers right at first attempt. This procedure can be very boring for good students, particularly as in languages intelligent prompts can hardly ever be given. I therefore think that the conventional linear programme is not very suitable for language learning and have developed the Repetitive-Unit Programme, a programme pattern specially aimed at language learning with today's ordinary tape recorders. The system is described here as a framework into which language teachers can fit their own materials for the language laboratory.

All items are presented in units of ten. Each item consists of a stimulus and its response. Each item has a number which is called out before the stimulus. The student has a printed scoring book which has numbers corresponding to the item numbers in a vertical column. Depending on the teacher's preference, the student either listens to each unit once or twice before trying to respond or he tries to respond at first presentation, even though the unit may contain entirely fresh material. This first attempt at responding is called a 'test run'.

The student ticks off all items he has answered correctly. He counts the correct responses at the end of each run through the unit and enters the total at the bottom of the current column. If. during a test run, he has made ten correct responses, 100 per cent, he proceeds to the next unit.

If the student makes too many mistakes, or if his mistakes occur in a certain pattern, the principle of 'intensive runs' comes into operation. An 'intensive run' is concentrated practice of one item or a small number of consecutive items in a sequence prescribed by a refined system which resembles the rules of a game. Intensive runs and "through runs" are continued until the student reaches the "passing score," defined as "two consecutive through runs with no errors". Only then is the student allowed to tackle the next unit.

In the early years of programmed learning, there existed a simple linear teaching machine, known as the 'Skinner disk'. The programme was printed on a circular piece of cardboard with a capacity of 30 items. The student decided, by comparing with a model answer, if his own answer had been correct and accordingly moved a lever to inform the machine of his performance. As the disk turned, the machine kept presenting those items to the student which he had answered wrongly while dropping those items which he had answered correctly. The machine could be set in such a way that the student had to answer a question correctly n consecutive times before the machine would drop the question.

In the language learning system described here, the student takes over functions which the `Skinner disk' fulfilled automatically, but which today's usual tape recorders do not perform.

The R-U learning method influences the actual programme written for it and I suggest that there are, as far as language programmes are concerned, the following advantages over the linear method with small frames:-

1. Since correct responses at first attempt are not expected, the programme can be more concise, and more challenging for the intelligent student. Each student hears one item only as often as he needs to hear it. This makes the R-U programmes particularly suitable for 'brushing-up' work.

2. As the units are small, and an unlimited number of repetitions is possible, weak students are not discouraged.

3. Concentration is aided by the aim of mastering each unit with as few 'through runs' as possible. The system of intensive runs makes sure that the student does not go to sleep and repeats the whole unit indefinitely without ever coming to grips with the 'difficult' items. The student is never in doubt what to do next. The challenge is always before him.

4. Mastering one unit by reaching the passing score gives the student a feeling of well-deserved success. In a conventional linear programme, the mastery of one frame occurs so often and demands so little effort from the student that the feeling of trimph quickly wears off.

5. The units give the student a sense of progress. The progress from unit 40 to unit 41 is a definite step forward, whereas a linear programme has so many frames that it makes little difference to a student if he has reached frame 540 or 56o.

When we look today at language learning without a teacher, it may be interesting to recall what James Russell Lowell said in 1889 to the Modern Language Association of America: 'For nearly two hundred years no modern language was continuously and systematically taught here. In the latter half of the last century a stray Frenchman was caught now and then, and kept as long as he could endure the baiting of his pupils. After failing as a teacher of his mother-tongue, he commonly turned dancing-master, a calling which public opinion seems to have put on the same intellectual level with the other.' (Quoted from: J. R. Lowell, Latest Literary Essays and Addresses. Vol. 2, p. 131f, London, 1892).

There is no danger today that language teachers may become redundant because of the advent of programmed learning. Teachers will be needed by eager advanced students, and the programmes will ensure that more students than previously reach the advanced stage which makes them worthy of receiving the time of a live teacher.

© 1965 and 2010 Klaus Bung