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Interactive audio and CALL on the Macintosh

Geoff Rehn
Edith Cowan University
In this paper, the author briefly outlines some of the work he has undertaken using the built in sound features of the newer Macintoshes, in the development of genuine two way interactive audio language teaching. In particular, he discusses the use of some of the advanced features of HyperCard 2, as well as his experiments in using Apple's new QuickTime in the digitisation of colour pictures, video and sound. The paper will be supported by demonstrations of current developments including digitised video on the Macintosh. the session should prove of interest to the specialist language teacher as well as those interested in multimedia applications in general.

This short paper outlines developments that have taken place in the use of interactive sound on the stand alone Macintosh since earlier experimental work done by the author in September / October of 1991, the results of which are fully described in the most recent edition of the Australian Journal of Educational Technology (Rehn, 1992a).

In that article, I discuss the potential of the built in sound features of the newer Macintoshes such as the LC, IIsi and the Classic II for the development of interactive computer assisted language teaching, without the necessity for the addition of extra hardware or software. I describe my experiments with the AudioPalette in HyperCard 2, as well as the difficulties encountered in achieving genuine two way interactive sound using AuthorWare Professional. I also indicated that language teachers should consider the possibilities of exploring the use of the sound features on the Macintosh, given the priority shown to the new technologies in the then recently released Australian Language and Literacy Policy (ALLP).

My own pre-cognition of future directions was not of any benefit to me as an application for funding under the Innovative Languages Other Than English in Schools (ILOTES) Program in May of this year was unsuccessful (Rehn, 1992 b). I'm sure many amongst you have had the bitter experience of having a seemingly worthwhile project denied funding. However, it was my first experience of having to come to grips with the apparent vagaries of funding bodies and I must admit the experience was a most disheartening one.

Those who have read my AJET article would be aware a prime development was a prototype Nyungar (or Noongar) language teaching module that was interactive, incorporated graphics, text and two way sound. Nyungar is the threatened language of the southwest Aboriginal people of Western Australia. My ILOTE proposal had the unqualified endorsement of the Nyungar Aboriginal Language and Culture Centre who have done productive work in preserving the language, in a traditional print and audio cassette based mode. They saw my work as providing a very powerful resource for the language teacher, as well as building upon the known effectiveness of computer assisted learning for Aboriginal learners of all ages.

Thus, I thought I had everything going for me in the ILOTE project proposal with its apparent emphasis on endangered indigenous languages and new technology. A denial of funding certainly dampened my enthusiasm for some time and, like many others, I queried the rationale of the decision makers! However, I am pleased to report that Apple's new QuickTime with its capacity for compressed video, colour graphics and sound has recently rekindled my interest. This paper is then to be considered a report on a work in progress.

In hindsight, I realise that perhaps a project proposal that was centred around just a small language group could hardly qualify for a project of national significance. However, the proposal had broad significance not so much in its narrow language base but more in the application of the technology used. In addition, my proposal to develop a HyperCard based "language shell" for the teacher to "customise" as needed was not sufficient to gain funding.

Expansion on early developments

The earlier work was based upon previous work done by the Nyungar Language and Culture Centre in which elementary graphics were drawn (in black) and the English and Nyungar text related to the graphic stimulus was provided. These graphic images were scanned in and provided the graphic stimulus on each card of a HyperCard stack. The user had a choice of English or Nyungar to be spoken and the stack had the ability to let the user mimic the played back sound of the expert speaker and compare their attempts with the expert speaker.

Since that early work, use has been made of HyperCard 2's ability to incorporate colour pictures onto each card, using the Picture XCMD provided in the Power Tools stack. The earlier black and white scanned graphics were coloured (in one colour only) in a paint package (UltraPaint) and incorporated into the stack using the above Picture command. This has increased the visual appeal of the earlier work but limited the application to colour machines, such as the LC and IIsi.

Developments using Apple's QuickTime

One of the most exciting developments in recent times has been the availability of Apple's new QuickTime compression utilities. The Picture Compressor utility enables the compression of large PICT files, such as those produced by a colour graphics package or scanned images at 256 or more colours, to manageable sizes so that such pictures can be speedily opened up and viewed on the screen. Early experiments using this compression technique have proved its potential. The intention will be to photograph situations, flora, fauna and the like to use as the graphic stimulus for the computer based language teacher. This will be dependent on time or funding. However, prototype experiments indicate the methodology is sound.

More stimulating are the QuickTime MovieMaker and MoviePlayer utilities. These utilities enable the digitisation of video (and sound) and their compression to workable size. However, the question of what is workable is a mute one. As you will know, the digitisation of even a second or so of video at a low quality requires large storage space. The intention of the developmental work was to develop applications that would be useable on a stand alone Macintosh. Should such developments in video digitisation require larger mass storage systems such as removable PL/I cartridges, this prime aim will be lost.

Current experiments by the writer in the use of QuickTime compression of video would indicate that it may still be possible to incorporate video in a floppy disk based language teaching system which is module based. The intention is to visually record the expert Nyungar speaker on video, digitise the result and incorporate the additional option of the user being able to see the face of the speaker on screen, with a focus on the movements of the mouth. It may be necessary to record the voice of the speaker separately and digitise the sound as has been done in prior work, rather than use the sound tracks off the video tape. There are questions of sound quality that have yet to be investigated.

At the present moment, difficulties have been encountered in using the MovieMaker on the Macintosh Quadra which is the machine the author is using for developmental work. A NuVista+ card is installed and the writer is experimenting with a beta test version of a QuickTime extension provided by Firmware to enable digitisation of video with the NuVista card. The MovieMaker has difficulty with recording sound as well as video, at the same time. Experiments using the MacRecorder as opposed to the in built microphone of the Quadra would appear to be leading in a more fruitful direction. However, the writer needs to acquire the most recent MacRecorder driver (1.0.2) to pursue this work, as the original 1.0 is unsuitable for the Quadra. However, the MacRecorder with its separate line input will enable the sound from the video source to be digitised along with the video signal.

Provided with the QuickTime Developer's CD ROM are a series of HyperCard XCMDs that enable the very easy incorporation of video (and sound) movies into HyperCard stacks. Prototypes have been developed using these XCMDs that will be shown. The writer has yet to pursue the question of incorporating digitised video into AuthorWare Professional. However, he suspects that this task will not by any means be an easy one, given that the current release of AuthorWare does not support any HyperCard 2 XCMDs and that great difficulty was encountered in endeavouring to incorporate two way sound into AuthorWare. However, the issue will be pursued in the future.


The author has developed a working prototype in two way interactive sound for the Nyungar language of the Aboriginal people of the southwest of Western Australia. This was done in HyperCard 2.1 using the in built sound features of the Macintosh and the AudioPalette XCMD provide with HyperCard. Initially, the graphics were simple black and white.

Use of the Picture XCMD provide in the Power Tools in HyperCard enabled the incorporation of colour graphics in a seamless fashion onto the earlier prototype. Such developments restrict the use of the developed package to colour machines. However, of the newer Macintoshes, only the Classic II is both black and white and able to support in built sound (ignoring the portables). In addition, many institutions, including schools, are including such machines as the colour LC in their computing arsenal.

Current developments are in the use of Apple's new QuickTime compression utilities, firstly in the compression of static scanned in colour images and secondly in the potential for the use of digitised video as a means of providing the early with additional input on the correct spoken word. The writer looks forward to presenting his investigations in the use of this new technology, it is an area of great interest and stimulus. Apparently, the Department of Education, Employment and Training (DEET) will be calling for a second round of project proposals soon, sometime in August. It is hoped that this time a proposal will be viewed with favour and that the writer will be able to report a successful bid to the conference.


Department of Employment, Education and Training. (1991). Australia's Language: the Australian language and literacy policy. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Rehn, G. (1992a). Two way interactive sound on the stand alone Macintosh platform. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 8(1), 51-64.

Rehn, G. (1992b). The interactive computer assisted language learning project for schools in the southwest of Western Australia. Project proposal. Australian Languages and Literacy Policy. Innovative Languages Other Than English in Schools.

Author: Geoff Rehn is currently a lecturer within the Department of Aboriginal Programs at Edith Cowan University. For the past two years, he has explored the use of the communications and information technologies in distance learning for the remote student. In particular, during 1992 he has been a prominent participant in two projects: the Western Australian Office of Higher Education's "Networks for Learning" trial and the State Information Technology's "WestLink" Project. Geoff has delivered interactive lectures via satellite to centres across the State, as well as using audiographics in his teaching of mathematics, statistics and computing. In addition, he has facilitated state wide video conferences for Aboriginal agencies and communities. As well, he has a strong interest in interactive computer assisted language learning and is exploring the use of video compression using Apple's QuickTime. Geoff is secretary of both the WA chapter and the National chapter of the Australian Society for Educational Technology, as well as being on the executive of the Perth based WA CBT Focus Group. He has particular interests in media integration and the refinement and adaptation of teaching skills to the new media. He can be contacted at: Department of Aboriginal Programs, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford St, Mount Lawley WA 6050.

Please cite as: Rehn, G. (1992). Interactive audio and CALL on the Macintosh. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 69-72. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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