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Interactive videotape and videodisc language packages

Warwick H. Lobb and William E. Cartwright
Victoria University of Technology - RMIT Campus
This paper discusses a Pilot Interactive Language Package which is being developed to enable major language difficulties facing any newcomer to Australia to be encountered and overcome well before the need to interact arises.

The Pilot introduces concepts and interactive video and videodisc techniques which are used in the complete package of four units. Areas being developed within a Pilot are: Social Contact Language, Business Contact Language, Cultural Differences, and Study Skills. Concepts, teaching methodologies and skills areas which will be covered in the complete package are previewed in this Paper.

Interactive education and the use of interactive videodiscs as part of interactive educational programs and projects are becoming more and more commonplace. The use of such mediums offer an exciting and flexible medium for teachers of English as a second language.

This paper outlines an interactive language education project being developed by the authors. Interactive videotape and videodisc is being used as the vehicle for an interactive language project.

Interactive language acquisition

It is a common experience of English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to encounter students having a good knowledge of English language structure, vocabulary and function (in controlled communicative environments like ESL courses), yet to have severe problems in participating in authentic conversation modes - where rapid speech, interactive native speaker dynamics and problem solving language skills are naturally employed to resolve an immediate issue or to simply engage in idle chit chat. This shared native speaker knowledge essentially involves "knowing the rules" of the conversation game; usually quite a different game than most non native speakers are used to playing.

This linguistic minefield includes being able to use appropriate register (formal, idiomatic, local, slang and so on), communication signals which introduce semantic content, acceptable expressiveness, body language and gesture (non linguistic features), understand turn taking rules and many more elements of verbal and non verbal communication that native English speakers take for granted.

It is this overall inability to operate adequately in uncontrolled communicative settings that causes great despair and frustration amongst non native speakers; whether they be expressing a point of view in a boardroom or responding to an opinion in an informal social conversation.

The difficulties in interactive language acquisition is as daunting for foreign business people, government representatives, cultural groups and students as it is for the migrant language learner in the classroom. While the pedagogic value is needs based, the implications of commercial viability are also extensive.

Video based material in ESL

With the steady increase in immigration activating the burgeoning of ESL provider institutions, ESL teaching methodology continually seeks to provide students with an experience, both linguistically and socially of the culture, in which they will have to operate. Ideally, the language problems confronted in the classroom will be equivalent, or at least relevant to those the student will face when operating within the community. Unfortunately, judging from feedback from legions of past students, this is often not the case. The experience of not being able to function effectively in real interactive language situations can be devastating.

Video based material has become an increasingly important part of ESL teaching methods (usually in the form of off air television programs, formatted by individual teachers to suit their immediate needs). This has mostly been in the form of comprehension testing and discussion provoking, rather than analysis and evaluation of participants in authentic communication scenarios. Reasons for this are obvious: there are almost no materials of this type available. Much of what does exist is generally second rate (with notable exceptions).

Video, interactive video and interactive videodisc

Both large and small systems, from video player and monitor to computer videodisc player, video monitor, peripherals, offer the ability to merge video image with computer graphics with computer software. Many office computer manufacturers are marketing video enhanced models to be sold to corporations as training devices for the users of standard machines.

Home computers are available with interface cards to control the operation of home video discs - for example, quite some time ago Micro-Ed of the USA marketed a Commodore 64/Pioneer consumer laser video player interface. Similar interfaces are available for use with Apples II and Apple IIe microcomputers. With this wide range of microcomputer/ interface cards /video disc players on the market, they may become common place in homes and offices during coming years.

As long ago as the Japan Electronics Show of 1982, some Japanese consumer oriented companies offered integrated microcomputer/video systems. Sharp displayed its X1 system, which comprised an eight bit computer, a 14 inch colour television monitor and optical "Teletropper" which enable the computer to be connected to a video camera, video tape recorder or video disc. It allowed computer graphics to be superimposed and displayed simultaneously over video images and television signals. This is made possible by a RGB mix circuit. Sharp named the concept "Visual integration" and called the X1 the world's first personal computer/television monitor system.

Microcomputer systems linked to video players show great potential for use as a simple interactive teaching unit, which could be suitable for ESL programs. But the availability of integrated microcomputer/video systems (and especially those containing video discs) enable the production of highly flexible (and very useable) teaching packages containing dynamic programs in a format acceptable to a variety of students, from beginner to advanced, from newcomer to one wishing to improve interaction in the English language.

Optical videodiscs are looked upon by program developers as a new and innovative means assembling interactive teaching units and packages. There are a number of reasons for this, including high storage capacity (54,000 frames on one side of a videodisc), random access to each "picture" or videotape sequence, the disc player can be interfaced with a microcomputer (allowing software control of scenes on the disc), an almost limitless variety of programmed alternatives and branches when developing teaching units from any one disc and there is virtually no wear of the disc with the laser reading device.

Video discs offer a means to produce a software controlled system to display video/computer graphics and audio in a static or dynamic mode. Programs can be written using an integrated personal computer/interface card/video disc player equipment package.

The advantages of optical disc format over lineal videotape for language acquisition are mainly concerned with the interface available for interactive computer driven sequences for optimum exploitation of the materials. The random search mode of teaching resources on an optical disc allows for a rapid selection of desired linguistic (or non linguistic) features of any conversation sequence on the disc, rather than the tedious, almost impossible operation of rewind/find and play modes of videotape. Add to this the ability to store student responses, the analysis of these responses and then the reformatting of particular individual teaching strategies as a result of analysis, then the true teaching power of such a package can be appreciated.

Language package content

It is proposed to concentrate on four specific areas of interactive language which present major difficulties to any newcomer to Australia. These will be presented as four language teaching units, namely:
  1. Social contact language
  2. Business contact language
  3. Cultural differences
  4. Study skills
Action/teaching scenarios within each unit will take place in authentic locations and will demonstrate typical everyday as well as the more formal business language interactions. This will highlight cultural and social differences between those practiced in Australia and elsewhere.

These variable language and social dynamics depend upon a number of factors. These include mode, setting, communicative function, group familiarity, shared cultural knowledge, occupation, temperament and so on.



As a research program, a pilot videodisc - programs, videotape, audio tape, videodisc and a comprehensive user's guide is being assembled. A "combination" of microcomputer, composite VDU, and "laser vision" videodisc player is being used.

Production will involve scripting, filming, editing and the assembly of a BW master 3/4 inch video tape. Once complete, a videodisc will be manufactured and programming of interactive routines using "Turbo Prolog" will link appropriate teaching units.

The material will be reformatted and republished in Digital Video Interactive (DVI) when that technology is commonplace.


  1. Production of teaching units using conventional videotape facilities and techniques

  2. Editing to produce a master BW 3/4" videotape with appropriate "headers and footers" to allow for videodisc production.

  3. Production of a "glass master" videodisc.

  4. Development of flow chart for interactive routines.

  5. Programming interactive routines in "Turbo Prolog".

  6. Production of text and guide for instruction package.

  7. Packaging and promotional materials production.

Developmental videodisc hardware being used

  1. Compaq XT Microcomputer

  2. MIC 2000 Videodisc Controller Cards and software

  3. SONY LDP 1500 Laservision Videodisc player

  4. SONY KX 14CP1 composite VDU
All the production tasks, with the exception of production of the master glass disc will be done within RMIT by the authors.

Language Package

It is envisaged that three versions of the language teaching package will be made available.
Version #1 will consist of videotapes, audiotapes, transcripts and text.

Version #2 will contain videotapes videodisc, transcripts and text.

Version #3 will contain videotapes, videodisc, transcripts and text and will include a training program presented by the authors for in house training personnel.

Tailored packages of teaching kits, hardware and training programs will also be offered after consultation with individual clients.

The Authors expect to liaise with commercial marketeers of educational media when the products are complete and marketable.

Target User Group

ESL teachers in Australia and offshore, visitors to Australia (business people, government representatives, cultural groups, students and tourists) and newcomers alike will be able to use the package as self directed self paced programs. On the job or remedial employer sponsored schemes would use the package. Those involved in linguistic research are also seen as potential users.


The packages being developed will teach appropriate language registers, communication signals, acceptable body language and turn taking rules.

Elements of verbal and non verbal communication techniques that native English speakers take for granted will be explained and practised.

After completing these four self paced language, cultural and study skills units a newcomer to Australia will be able to comfortably and positively participate in social, business and educational activities by "knowing the rules" of the conversation game.

Author: Warwick H. Lobb, Centre for English Language Learning, and William E. Cartwright, Department of Land Information, Victoria University of Technology - RMIT Campus, 124 Latrobe Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia

Please cite as: Lobb, W. H. and Cartwright, W. E. (1990). Interactive videotape and videodisc language packages. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 158-162. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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