WIDA Authoring Suite for VOLL

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1. General introduction
2. General comments on the authoring suite
3. How to prepare for authoring exercises
4. Conclusion

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1. General Introduction

The group  studied the following software with an eye on its potential application in vocational language education. In the following description and assessment of the software, the group used parts of a text prepared by Tony Williams of Wida Software on Getting the most out of Windwida's Authoring Suite. This 88-page text is supplied with the English language version of the Authoring Suite.

First and foremost Wida’s authoring programs gratify the students’  need to feel that they are working on material specially created for them and written by teachers close to them.
Wida programs differ from almost all other CALL programs, particularly other CD-ROM based language programs, in their underlying educational philosophy. These programs do not go back to behaviourist teaching ideas, and are not conceived of as teacher substitutes or as latter-day teaching machines.  They are designed from the bottom up as an adjunct to existing teaching practices and plans. Far from making teachers redundant Wida programs rely on teachers’ expertise and their desire to solve recurrent with problems without using up valuable contact time in the classroom.

In the new Authoring Suite, Wida Software has radically redesigned the programs and rewritten the code to take advantage of Microsoft Windows. By so doing we have:
1: added a new dimension of possibilities, integrating sound, pictures and video sequences with text
2: added to the complexity of the programs.
Yet teachers should not be too anxious over the last two points. They need only call on these enhancements if they feel they are useful and are confident that they as creators are up to it. If not, the Authoring Suite allows them to create straightforward text-based gapfilling, multiple choice, pair-matching and exercises using other familiar exercise types which need no steep learning curve or months devoted to the project. Fully-functioning text reconstruction and gap-filling exercises at their simplest can be created in a matter of tens of minutes rather than hours. Enhancement can come later.

The basic principle of Wida's Authoring Suite is that teachers can create multimedia-enhanced tutorial and exploratory exercises without any need for programming. Basic skills in handling a computer and Microsoft Windows are enough to create the materials.


The following parts of the WinWida Authoring Suite were examined:

A.  Choicemaster
B. Gapmaster
C. Storyboard
D.  Vocab
E. Matchmaster
F. Pinpoint
G. Testmaster 



A.  Choicemaster

- A multiple choice exercise
 The tutorial mode gives immediate feedback and offers further tries after a wrong attempt.
 The browse mode is a non-scoring option allowing learners to browse around the questions.
 The examination mode delays feedback until the end.
(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
Practising and testing factual information, eg. „What do you use to cool the engine?"  (water, oil, air, nothing)

B. Gapmaster

- A programme for gap filling activities on any subject
 Up to 90 gaps can be filled in a continuous text.
 With a range of alternative answers, accompanied by text picture or sound hint.
 The exploratory mode allows learners to explore with immediate feedback.
 The examination mode delays feedback until the end.

(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
 This is a re vision tool of known texts covering such areas as vocabulary, sequence of  events, etc.

C. Storyboard

- A text reconstruction programme, with special use for language learning.
It has a variety of different uses and help options, eg: asking for individual letters and words for the whole text, for part-word guesses and hints.

(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
Suitable for classroom activities where students are asked to reconstruct a text on, eg: technical, economic, etc. topics.

D.  Vocab

- A vocabulary programme for practising vocabulary with six different modes:
 „Which Word?": displays a gap sentence with five choices.
 „Anagram": demands unsrambling .
 „Alphagame": is a guessing game.
 „Skullman": is a letter by letter word building game in the Hangman style.
 „Mindword": uses logic to guess a hidden word.
„Wordorder": for unscrambling context sentences.

(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
This programme is very positive because it combines a game element with what is perhaps one of the
more difficult areas (ie learning technical vocabulary) in VOLL.

E. Matchmaster

- A programme for matching up to ninety nine pairs ranging from a single word to a short
     paragraph with three activities:
 „Matchit": with items for matching in two columns.
 „Memory": is a game to find a match by turning two cards.
„Snap": to „catch a match" by pressing a key or clicking the mouse.

(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
An exercise for practising conversation. It is also a useful exercise to use with classification texts where students have to make use of the skills of contrasting and comparing.

F. Pinpoint

- A programme for reading skills with up to ninety nine short texts including help options
      with three different activities:
„Pinpoint": displays a single word from a text and six possible titles. Learners can „buy" two more words at a time until the title can be guessed.
 „Matchpoint": is a simple matching activity of text and title.
„Jumble": for unscrambling the mixed up lines.

(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
This exercise involves the skills of inference and guessing in the development of reading comprehension skills.

G. Testmaster
- A programme for question and answer activities with up to ninety nine items. It can have a wide range of alternative answers, messages for the learner and comments on particular errors the learners might make. There are two modes:
 Exploratory mode with immediate feedback.
Examination mode with delayed feedback.

(Click here to see a screenshot)

VOLL Application
For preparing and administering tests.


2. General comments on the Authoring Suite

When starting to work with the software, it is of course somewhat difficult to decide on which exercise type to choose. Tony Williams addressed this issue and made the following suggestions. Certain activity types offered in the Authoring Suite suggest themselves for almost any kind of text - Storyboard and Gapmaster spring to mind. Other activity types would clearly be unsuitable: in a lesson using material based on a recent natural disaster, for instance,  good taste would dictate that word games as provided in Vocab or Memory and Snap in Matchmaster are unsuitable.
Almost every topic-based text slips easily into the multiple-choice and pair-matching shell, whereas it is not always useful to ask students to type in an answer at the keyboard.
Everything depends on what the materials writer wants the learner to achieve. If written and spelling accuracy are to be emphasised, then Testmaster is an obvious choice: here the students have to meticulously type in sometimes lengthy answers and whole sentences. Storyboard and Gapmaster also insist on spelling accuracy. None of these activities allow ‘fuzzy matching’ – where near-misses are accepted. The author may be tolerant of superfluous spaces, incorrect capitalisation or accents on characters (or not), but the student has to match exactly one of the alternative spellings specified by the author. In Storyboard no alternatives are permitted – the student has to suggest and type single words exactly as they appear in the text.
Activities where the student has to make a choice but not type in at the keyboard, as in Choicemaster, Pinpoint and Matchmaster, may be seen as more suitable for reading and listening comprehension work.
Pinpoint, which is based on sets of short texts each accompanied by a title, is highly suitable for rapid study of news stories of the day. News stories downloaded from the Internet can be used to create Pinpoint activities almost instantaneously - and discarded once they are no longer of topical interest. These Pinpoint files can of course be retained to provide the basis of longer-lasting materials using other exercise types where appropriate and given enhancement with graphics, if so desired.


3. How to prepare for authoring exercises

In his text on Getting the most out of Windwida's Authoring Suite Tony Williams quotes from a paper by Christine Flude. We found her list of things to consider based on five years observing students at the computer very useful:

• Make your instructions as short as possible.
• Ensure that they are foolproof by testing them out on as many students as you can.
• Make the register and terminology used for instructions and feedback 'echo' those used
 in class.
• Give students the impression that the exercises have been written specifically for them.
• Change or personalise some elements of the instructions from week to week.
• Avoid authoritarian comments in your feedback.
• Supervise the first couple of CALL sessions.
• Try to ensure that your materials are tailor-made to fit your course.
• Check that every last detail is correct.
• Stick to the same authoring shell, where possible.
• Make sure there is a good signposting system.
• Provide your package with a table of contents or menu which is easily accessible at all times.
• Be patient, and make sure your instructions and feedback reflect your patience.
• Give only constructive feedback
• Do not put too much information on the screen at once.
• Make sure your feedback appears not too far away from the item itself.
• Don't make the mistake of thinking something is too easy for your students.
• Try not to make assumptions.  Students often react to materials in quite unexpected ways.
• The game element is often more important to students than you  imagine.
• Make sure that there is a logical progression, and that the steps are small.
• Don't make your exercises too long.
• Stick to the same feedback phrase in response to a correct answer.
• Choose your feedback carefully.  Remember that students are likely to take instructions
• Make it clear to students what they are expected to work on.
• If an exercise is particularly hard, use familiar vocabulary.
• Choose vocabulary which will be useful in other contexts.
• If possible, give the exercises some interesting content.
• If there is a Help menu, make sure it contains the things a student would want to know.
• Limit the time students can spend at the computer, rather than the opposite.
• Make sure that CALL is an integrated element of your course, not simply an add-on.
• Systematic construction is more important than singing and dancing  images.
• If in doubt, ask your students for their opinion.

(Paper given at a meeting of the Standing Conference on ab initio German in the UK and Ireland at the Goethe Institut, London, on 25.10.97)
Reprinted in Tony Williams text with the permission of Christine Flude,  Department of European Languages and Cultures, Lancaster University
Why not visit her departmen at the Department of German Studies, Lancaster University?


4. Conclusion

All  exercises within the Authoring Suite can be authored by the teacher using material of his / her own choice. Pictures, sounds and video files can be incorporated from various sources or created specifically When ranged against other widely known software for multimedia creation such as Toolbook, Authorware, Director, CALIS and others, the Authoring Suite has certain shortcomings, but only at first sight.  The author using AS is not given unfettered control of page-layout in presentations; pictures and other such  ‘objects’ can only be inserted when and where the program framework allows. There is a trade-off here between flexibility and ease-of-use. By accepting  the reduced flexibility of the Authoring Suite in certain respects, the author greatly benefits from simplicity and the  reduced learning load. The slimline operational manual for the Authoring Suite does not weigh in at  kilograms and the learning process is timed in days rather than months. The author can also take it step by step, module by module: working first with say, the simplest type of activity to create, and moving on gradually to other modules. It is even possible to purchase the Authoring Suite in instalments, adding modules as needed (although there is a price penalty for doing so). None of the standard authoring packages have invested as much thought in the design of the questioning sequences as the Authoring Suite. Very often ready-made questioning routines are confined to multiple choice, true/false or place-in-the-correct-order. Anything as sophisticated as allowing alternative correct possibilities in gap-filling exercises is beyond their scope without additional programming. Nothing like Testmaster’s ability to process sentence-length student input with permutations of acceptable possibilities exists elsewhere.

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