It is a truism that in order to improve the learner's proficiency the instructor must provide them with a large quantity of Japanese input and meaningful practice. When teaching Japanese strictly as a foreign language in an environment where there is virtually no Japanese heard or seen outside the classroom, instructors need to take full advantage of resources that would expose the learner to as much Japanese as possible. One such resource which, we believe, is still under-utilized is computer-based materials. There are several reasons for this. First, although there are, by now, quite a few commercial software packages available for Japanese, very few of them present appropriate content to augment college-level courses. Second, the number of software programs, commercial or public domain, that are flexible enough to allow the instructor to tailor the content is still very small. This lack of flexibility makes it virtually impossible to integrate such software into one's curriculum. Third, commercial software, even with a volume discount, can be quite costly. The cost often outweighs the limited benefit the software can bring. Fourth, with respect to public domain programs, they are often experimental and incomplete. They may also have bugs and may not come with manuals. One cannot expect much technical support from the authors, especially if the software is free.
It was against this background and to remedy this situation that we have decided to collaborate on a material development project.
The project was conceived under the auspices of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) , specifically their Learning Technology Initiative. This is a one-year project which started in the Fall of 1996 jointly funded by the three participating institutions, Purdue University, Northwestern University, and the University of Michigan. We specifically proposed to develop content materials using existing non-commercial software programs rather than to develop software programs per se. We have selected three "shell" programs in which we can author content materials that suit our curricular needs. The plan is to develop materials and use them among the three participating institutions first, and then share them among the CIC institutions, and eventually release them on the Internet as public domain resources.
Since the purpose is to develop materials and not software programs, we expected that the impact of the outcome on instruction would be immediate and the likelihood of successful completion of the project was high. It is fair to say that so far, our expectations have been met on both counts.
During the planning phase, we specifically avoided commercial software
in anticipation of inevitable copyright-royalty problems and the issue of
cost. A major advantage of using proprietary software systems is that they
are available for free and there is no copyright-royalty issue to contend
with. The software can be made available not only at computer laboratories
at each institution but also at the students' residence. That is, if they
have a Macintosh computer in their own rooms, they are free to take home
a copy of the software materials and work on them there.
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