Taste in teaching machines Sir: I was delighted to see that DESIGN had decided to examine the requirements of language laboratories (203/36-47), but I was a little disappointed to see that some of the parameters were ignored while others were, to say the least, very much a matter of taste. As an example of the former, I could find no mention of the advantages or disadvantages of differing types (not makes) of headsets; and the question of the type of microphone best able to ignore the high ambient noise level in a laboratory was ignored. There was no discussion at all of the facilities required by either teacher or student. Examples of the kind of opinon with which I would like to dissociate myself follow.
Illustrations 14 and 15 show a laboratory which appears to be considered by the author a significant improvement on laboratories previously examined in the article. I find it very difficult to take seriously a design which calls for students who wish to operate their equipment to reach down into a drawer on their left hand side (or is there a majority of left handed students ?).
I am not at all convinced of the advantages of having students' booties "which can be constructed on site" (caption to 15). My only comment, apart from "So what?", is to enquire what arrangements had been made to secure these booths to stop them being shaken or moved. Unless special care is taken, one of the major sources of annoyance in a language laboratory is the fact that students or floor cleaning machines can do considerable damage if a little muscle is applied. This is all the more true when the booths are of the light, easy to-assemble type. In view of the fact that there is probably less agreement on the ideal constituents of a language laboratory than on any other comparable complex system, I find it very difficult to see why there should be such a consuming interest in the standardisation of furniture. The design of most manufacturers' furniture seems to be conditioned by their knowledge of anres/pub/COID/or interest in the recommendations of BS 3030; the manufacturing facilities they have available; the amount of money the customer has available; and the requirements of their electronics. This last is the major ingredient in the stew, and I do not envy Mr Thomson's task if he intends to attempt to provide one piece of furniture which can accept units from even four laboratories of the 18 which are presently on sale in this country. If his desk is even more specialised than that, then I suggest that it is no more interchangeable than any of the furniture already available.
I am surprised Mr Thomson did not point out that one of the advantages of the Cybervox in 12 is that "the desk surface of the language laboratory is flat and free of electronic equipment which, for protection and convenience, is in a drawer." The words are taken from his description of his own furniture. A comparison of the attitudes of the students in this laboratory with those in a Rank laboratory, 2, shows many similarities. I would therefore ask why the Cybervox is blamed for an attitude which appears to be praised in the Rank system.
Space does not permit me to take up all the other points on which I would like to take issue, but I hope that the following shorthand form of query can be understood. What is the difference between an audio active system - in which, as I understand it, a student listens to a recording and makes a response which he cannot record - and the dynamic performance system - in which, as I understand it, a student listens to a recording and makes a response which he cannot record ? In the caption to 61 get the impression that Mr Thomson is complaining about the nonalphabetical coding of the buttons. These buttons, as the accompanying photograph shows, are inscribed A, B. C, D, E, F. G. H. I -which seems to me to be quite alphabetical.
I could extend my list of points but space is limited. I am sure other members of the profession, having heard some of the requirements, will be able to make sensible suggestions end I look forward to hearing them when the discussion is resumed. 1. Lake, Cybernetic Developments Ltd. Byfleet, Surrey
Misunderstanding Sir: I was most interested to read F. Paul Thomson's Teaching in a Technological Age. I dofeel, however, that there must be some misunderstanding in the appreciation of our equipment.
First, in the criticism of the machine: Mr Thomson suggests that the design weakness is due to the fact that the buttons are mounted too near the edge of the screen. There is, in fact, a remote control unit which is used in most cases, and which plugs into the back of the machine and uses a multi-way cable to a foot switch.
I would like to point out that this machine has been accepted for 'resign Index', and that it was the subject of a considerable
amount of work on the part of ourselves and our consultant designers, London and Upjohn. We have taken a great deal of trouble over the design in many ways; for example, over the method of loading the film, which we believe to be quite simple compared with other pieces of equipment. We have also solved the problem of not having lids to open to carry out this particular activity. R. J. Fox, Educational Systems Ltd. Ruislip
F. Paul Thomson writes: "In taking me to task for having excluded matters such as the electrical characteristics of microphones, it appears that Mr Lake has missed the object of my article, which was to give a general introduction to programmed learning devices with a critical appraisal of design as it influences user efficiency, and to provide guide lines on how to tackle problems inherent in the use of one set of equipment by students of widely varying personal characteristics. If Mr Lake has read and digested BS 3030 and the recommendations embodied in publications listed in my bibliography, he must know that the Cybervax booth can do little else than compel users to adopt postures which inhibit the breath control essential to effortless learning, and that the positioning of controls on the opposite side of the desk-top from where the student sits compels all but, perhaps, tall people to sit with rounded shoulders and tensed jaw, neck, throat, arm and hand muscles. If the object of installing a language laboratory is to help students to learn languages more effectively and efficiently, then surely the student should not be obliged to sit looking at electronic controls, nor have to strain to reach them.
"I have great admiration for the rationale underlying ESL's' device, but I must point out that the firm did not inform me of the existence of a remote control or foot pedal. Mr Fox could take his admirable device a stage further if he were to regard it as a building block in a system tailored to provide the user with optimum environmental conditions. The best can be got out of programmed learning devices only when all the factors which enhance user efficiency are embodied in application planning.
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