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Japanese language instruction: Telematics in distance education

Judy Steele
Open High School (OTEN)

A brief hands-on article an how to get started in Japanese language instruction using the Electronic Classroom (EC) as part of the Distance Education program. The article deals with necessary hardware, software, the location of the EC, training of personnel, telephone lines, and a tried set of procedures, all of which need to be addressed before introducing the EC into an existing program. Organisation requirements are also dealt with. The use of technology magnifies whatever we do, so an intense awareness of the move into a different mode requires new appraisals of existing teaching techniques. Introducing the EC into an existing program, timetabling, training of personnel, technical backup, materials preparation and storage are also dealt with. Some suggestions for the actual lessons, highlighting the need for interactivity, and how to achieve it. Sources for materials, preparation, content of lessons including use of varying methodologies and a variety of activities planned to maximise interactivity are introduced. How to handle pitfalls like what to do when the line drops out are included along with techniques, methods and planning which have produced positive and rewarding results. Basically how to link up, what to prepare what to say after you link up and what to do after the lesson.

Computer assisted learning has been part of the general education arena tor some time, but with the development of the Electronic Classroom software by Robert Craigo considerable shift in emphasis can be made in Distance Education.

Technical issues

Equipment A computer with extended memory to support the storage of a large number of screens on the hard disc; a graphic tablet (MacHandwriter) would be useful; a scanner is absolutely necessary for Japanese script visual stimulus; a modem and a good quality hands-free telephone. Booking arrangements for lessons, and lesson preparation. At all times personnel using the classroom for any purpose should treat it as a classroom: quit programs, put away windows, trash icons, eject any discs, remove books and so on.

If the computer is to be used for other purposes enough useable memory needs to be left accessible. Swapping computers, modems and phone lines is not good practice and is a cause for lesson failure.

Location The sender needs to be close to the general teaching area in a quiet, soundproof room. Easy access to teaching materials and other support personnel is desirable. Regular classroom courtesy for both teacher and student is particularly vital, as neither is visible at the other end. Students have in fact complained at interruptions at the sender's end. Demonstrations, unless the observer is to be part of the lesson, are best given off-line. At the other end. privacy is equally important, as speaking a foreign language itself has inbuilt inhibitors without an audience.
Lines Dedicated lines for both telephone and modem are desirable, as is a capacity for 9600 baud transmission to link up and for downloading screens.
Personnel Their efforts need to be recognised and rewarded.
Training Not only needed in the use of all hardware and software, but also in techniques necessary for effective language acquisition/learning/ teaching, with the emphasis on modern methodology and its application to telematics. In-service courses on lesson preparation, with the emphasis on interactivity and including a variety of learning styles, and learner input. Constant access to machines tor practice, materials development, and lesson preparation is essential to maintain expertise.
Copyright issues need to be resolved, similar to print media. Scanning material. storing and downloading. Students can also save screens. Otherwise, material would be largely teacher prepared. As with all effective language lessons, considerable planning and preparation is necessary. This time needs to be recognised by management, and paid either with money, or relief. Cut and paste either with scissors or computer is still the way.
Organisation Both locations need to have commitment, organisational ability, sufficient knowledge and expertise to include telematics in either a new or an established teaching program.
The sender must at all times maintain the agreed time; keep a record of attendance, the content of lesson and any problems with link up. A large whiteboard in the telematics room is useful to indicate link-up problems as different teachers will be linking to the one school. An agreed procedure for timetable change needs to be agreed upon at the introduction of telematics into a school. The number of lessons per semester, the number of hours, times (after school, sport day etc) need to be considered. Double periods seem to be the best, fitting in with the normal school timetable.

Maintaining punctuality at the source is critical and the same should be expected at the distance location.

Place of telematics in the total curriculum

In the long term courses will need to be re-written, with in-built sections suitable for telematics on floppy ready for lessons. Suitable computerised learning packages could be sent out to the student as a supplement to print media to accommodate alternative learning styles. Telematics gives colour, style, stimulus and life to distance education, and adapts smoothly to the interactive requirement of languages.

Content Telematics Lessons: As with all sound teaching practice, the needs of the individual student or students are assessed, and the place of the lesson in the overall program, decided. Once the objectives are identified a general plan can be established. The lesson plan itself can incorporate a variety of methodologies, learner strategies and needs with definite emphasis on learner input. Interactivity in all modes must be maintained at all times. Remember that you can't see the student to pick up the responses in that way, but it is possible if constant interaction exists. It is advisable to constantly use the students name, and watch that a more quiet student does not fall to the back and miss out.

The interaction can be:

Audio Teacher-student, student-teacher, cassette player-student, student-student, aural-student-computer screen.
Visual Screen-student, teacher-student etc. Constant variety in the type of interaction is stimulating tor both teacher and student, and using all at once is very effective. A maximum of 4 screens per lesson. Students can save screens at their end to work on at a later date. Students interact better with visuals in this mode than in the classroom. Always have a telephone-only lesson on hand in case the line drops out. Support material or follow up material can be faxed before or after the lesson to maximise the opportunity.

The first lesson needs to include work which will develop the students computer skills: dragging, typing, using the tool bar, writing with the mouse, as well as the regular housekeeping required, in terms of what to bring to a lesson. Instructions in the target language can be included. Tracking with the mouse during link up seems to stress the link.

Materials General purpose screens include a photo of yourself, map of Japan (names of islands, cities, mountains etc can be added in script), picture of the Shinkansen, Shinkansen route, Mt Fuji, railway signs, timetables, buses, bus routes, street maps, traffic lights, crossings, railway stations, subway entrance, shop signs: all types of realia. I took a lot of photos in Tokyo for this purpose (no copyright) and they scanned extremely well. Other realia includes QANTAS drink list, McDonald's place mats, etc. Information gap activities work well. Screens with rooms which need to be re-arranged (TPR), put the cat on the mat, etc. Games: Bingo, hiragana crosswords, kanji crosswords. Maps-instructions in target language, student finds the way. Closes: either input or dragging. Scrambled conversations (dragging). While students are writing with the mouse, kanji stroke order can be checked. All visuals I use with writing have written script only. Output in script too, depending on the level of student. Listening: Focus listening, using a grid, on the screen. Also inbuilt into the lessons are language learning skills as such which enhance acquisition. Material usage is totally open-ended.


The use of the Electronic Classroom is effective if it employs a high level of interactivity. Results to date have been very encouraging, with a noticeable improvement in fluency, confidence and enthusiasm for Japanese. The students have also developed a much better in-depth appreciation of language as such.

The weak part is the quality of the telephone link. The quality of the sound at the other end is affected by the link. Some newer Macintosh computer models have an integrated multimedia capacity including speakers, which would redress some of the sound problems. CD-ROM titles in Japanese should soon be available.

The introduction of Telematics into the Distance Education Program for High school students, in Japanese Language, has injected the human element into an otherwise remote situation. Learning a language when one is hundreds of kilometres from the teacher and any chance of practicing, is not particularly easy. Together with our students I personally have enjoyed very much the challenge of communicating over long distances. With a country as large as Australia, with a relatively sparse population, if educational opportunities are really to be equitable, development of these type of projects is of critical Importance on a national level.

Author: Judy Steele
Japanese Language Department
Open High School (OTEN)
PO Box 89 Rozelle NSW 2039

Please cite as: Steele, J. (1994). Japanese language instruction: Telematics in distance education. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 330-331. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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