English Express: A Look at a Multimedia ESL System

Article excerpt

We recently let a group of English-as-a-Second-Language teachers and their students try out the many components of Davidson Software's ESL program. Here's an overview of the system and the impressions they gave us from their test drive.

With the addition of a CD-ROM to the original videodiscs, software programs, picture books, and other elements, Davidson & Associates' English Express system for teaching English as a second language seems to be growing almost as fast as its target population of ESL students in the United States. The program, intended for grades five and up, will expand yet again later this year with the expected release of English Express-Elementary Version.

It's a broad and complex package, quite aptly called a "system." Virtually everything for an ESL class can be supplied, from open-ended sets of "raw materials"--visuals, word lists, classroom ideas, and more--to step-by-step lesson plans offering a specific path through the multimedia materials. It offers opportunities for teacher-directed or small-group class activities, as well as on- and off-computer individual study. Here's a piece-by-piece description and evaluation of the system as our teacher- and student-reviewers found it.

Multimedia Photo Dictionary

The core of English Express is the Multimedia Photo Dictionary, which covers more than 1,400 words in 67 categories and is correlated to the ESL print resource, the Longman Photo Dictionary. The Multimedia Photo Dictionary is available both on an eight-disc videodisc set and on a single CD-ROM, which we'll describe separately since the contents differ in some ways.

* Videodisc version: Best used for teacher-led, whole-class presentations or in cooperative-learning situations at a videodisc-and-monitor learning station, the videodiscs provide ready access to pictures and word lists through the use of a barcode reader. Each new word is introduced through a picture, an aural reading, and a short dialogue placing it in context. Once students are familiar with an entire word list, they work with the same picture set but a second audio track, which poses questions to help them practice and review the words.

Each word list also has an associated storyboard--a set of illustrations that visually represent a story. Typically, the stories relate to everyday activities and tend to be quite amusing to students, providing an excellent springboard for group discussion and writing. Barcodes are also included for easy access to these frames.

* CD-ROM version: This version contains the same pictures, dialogues, questions, and storyboards found on the videodiscs, but it is structured quite differently and features extensive computer-based capabilities, tools, and activities not available in the videodisc version. The result is that it lends itself best to small-group or individual practice at a workstation or in a lab.

Six computerized activities accompanied by an on-screen "notebook" provide students with a wide range of language-learning exercises, including listening and repeating; recording their own voices for comparison to the audio track; arranging panels of storyboard "puzzles" into logical sequences; writing, saving, and printing answers to questions; and more.

The CD-ROM version allows users to create customized word lists from their choice of categories. There is also a Teacher Control Panel that provides access to recordkeeping areas, two different graphic displays, and control of the language (Spanish or English) in which the online help appears.

* Teacher and student reactions: In general, the teachers and students who tested both versions found the bright visuals, clear audio, and ease of access to be strong points. In spite of the power of the CD-ROM product, many of them preferred the videodisc version. In part this was attributable to the greater availability of videodisc hardware. …