Teaching Languages from a Distance through Multipoint Videoconferencing

Article excerpt


The most commonly used and discussed videoconferencing mode for teaching languages from a distance is two-way simultaneous, or point-to-point, videoconferencing. Applications of multipoint videoconferencing to language classes, however, are not very common. This article aims to fill that gap by presenting the technical and pedagogical dimensions of a pilot project in teaching an introductory course in Turkish (102) via multipoint videoconferencing, which was conducted among students at Syracuse University, Cornell University, and Colgate University. This study shows how multipoint videoconferencing works for language classes and gives some pedagogical pointers to language instructors who plan to use such a system for the first time.

Key words: distance learning, multipoint videoconferencing, room-based videoconferencing, technology for multipoint videoconferencing

Language: Relevant to all languages


The development of technology has dispensed with the obstacles of distance in communication among people. The dazzling improvement of technology has reached a stage where it is now possible for people to see each other while communicating from a distance. Due to the application of such technology to language classes, teaching languages at a distance in real time is now gaining wide recognition. While at first, distance teaching was commonly used between two sites or two schools-a procedure called point-to-point videoconferencing-it is now possible to teach languages at a distance to more than two sites. A language instructor can teach a language from a school in the United States, for example, to students at schools in France, Germany, Turkey, and Italy via multipoint videoconferencing technology. While some reports of the applications of point-to-point videoconferencing are already available in the literature (e.g., Katz, 2001; Kinginger, 1998), this article aims to explain the use of multipoint videoconference systems in language classes, including specifics such as their technological and pedagogical dimensions, participants and their roles, out-of-class activities, and classroom activities.

Technological Dimension

Videoconferencing is the use of communication technologies to allow two or more people in different locations to see and hear one another in full motion video.1

Videoconferencing systems vary from room-based to desktop-based videoconferencing, which may employ different kinds of software. For language classes, which require interaction among groups of learners, room-based videoconferencing works better and this is what we used in our multipoint videoconferencing project. There was a large screen in the technology room at each site (Syracuse, Cornell, and Colgate Universities) where the participants could view and communicate with each other. We used the CUsee-me software2 originally developed by Cornell University.

In distance learning technology, there are two videoconferencing modes: point-to-point and multipoint. A videoconference between two sites is called point-to-point; when more than two sites are involved it is called a multipoint videoconference. The technology for the latter requires additional equipment for its implementation.

A videoconference unit consists mainly of a monitor, microphone, video camera, speaker, and coder-decoder (CODEC). Through the use of CODEC, the audio-video signal is converted to digital data, which are compressed so that they can be sent efficiently to the other site over a digital line. CODEC also decompresses and decodes the received signals so that the receiving site can view them. A multipoint unit requires an additional component called multiple conference unit (MCU, also called a bridge), which allows three or more sites to connect to one another.

All videoconferencing systems work by encoding and decoding sound and video signals in both directions simultaneously. The signal can be sent in mainly two ways; schools can connect to each other via the following two networks:

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