CALLMOO: An Internet platform for language learning

Carsten Jopp & Espen Aarseth

The CALLMOO Project
Dept. of Humanistic Informatics
University of Bergen, Norway
Sydnesplassen 7, N-5007 Bergen/Norway
http://cmc.uib.no/callmoo/
Carsten.Jopp@germ.uib.no
aarseth@uib.no


This paper reports on the CALLMOO project (http://cmc.uib.no/callmoo/) of the Department of Humanistic Informatics at the University of Bergen, Norway. The project comprises the development of an integrated, MOO- and web-based German language learning environment and its implementation into a specific educational and organisational context.

The aim of the project is to create a space where foreign language students with the help of the computer can get into authentic and dynamic contact with the target language, thus providing them with rooms for collaboration and social interaction and allowing them to develop their skills and understanding of the target language and its culture in new, creative and personally meaningful ways.

In its context, the CALLMOO project wants to call attention to the ways in which Internet technologies can be used to enhance the learning process in general and language acquisition in particular, and open up a broader and more fruitful definition of the applicability and use of computer assisted language learning as a pedagogical tool.

Beside describing landmarks of the development process, this paper also points out some of the pedagogical and organisational challenges involved in implementing and using the system in its context. By doing so, underlying implications of the use of an integrated Internet-environment will become transparent.

Technical Development
The first project phase focused on the technical development of a CALLMOO prototype. MOO-technology (MUDs, Object-Oriented) proved its capability and power as a multi-media platform by integrating key technologies like WWW and Java. At the same time, the option of access via Telnet has been retained. This underlines the policy of using low-bandwith Internet media, free software and low-cost local equipment, a prerequisite for a highest possible degree of equal opportunity in the access of the system.

The MOO-programming language has made it possible to design a German language interface that adapts flexibly to the syntactic and morphological structure of the target language - a crucial point for the authenticity of the environment.

Content development - theoretical assumptions:
The metaphor of the language traveller
The CALLMOO prototype is an application called Dreistadt, with the central metaphor of a German town featuring characteristic architecture and typical infrastructure. The basic operations in the simulated "third-place"-reality of Dreistadt are communicating, interacting and constructing; these can be seen as identical to that of a real-life journey through the target culture. Both forms are instances of authentic culture/language-contact and can be equally beneficial for the process of language learning. If the effects of real-life contact are undisputed in terms of high-scale "naturalistic" language acquisition, the same applies for visits to a MOO-environment: language learning takes place in a socially motivated and personally meaningful way.

The environment on the one hand simulates real-life situations, and on the other it also constitutes a reality in itself. Regarding modes of communication and their cognitive function, the situation in a MOO-environment combines authentic real-time interaction and spontaneity, which are both characteristic of oral production, with the process of writing and its cognitive functions in a unique communicative situation. Thus, the MOO-environment, with its focus on text, serves as a powerful means of stimulating productive and cognitive skills on the learner´s side - skills that tend to be neglected in the existing educational paradigm.

Recent research results underline the importance of written production - not only for developing writing skills, but also to develop oral proficiency and linguistic, metalinguistic, and learning awareness. In that way, the communicative situation in a MOO-environment can prove to be crucial for foreign language acquisition in general.
 
Implementation
The CALLMOO-prototype, an application named "Dreistadt", is put into use in two different courses at the German department at the University of Bergen. Primarily, it is used within the subject German cultural studies/practical language studies. Here, the focus is on new and more experimental forms of communication, interaction and collaboration. Examples of activities are on-line discussions, creative hypertext writing, students building their own rooms and objects, and a cooperation within the framework of the tandem-network that groups native and non-native speakers together.

The second application area is within a preexisting German undergratuate course which is partly designed as a distance-learning course; it can be characterised as a traditional lecture-styled course. Here, the application is used as a conferencing system, providing teachers and students with a channel for communication and presentation. This use exemplifies how the system can enable an institution to adapt to the permanently increasing demand for more decentralised forms of learning.
 
The two application areas within the same application show the unique potential of the MOO technology as a local learning tool, a ODL tool, and as an Internet based resource for any institution who exploit the Internet as a supplement to their traditional teaching resources.