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Vol 3, No. 3 (March 1986)

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TELEClass: The Bottom Line in Second Language Learning

John D. Wollstein

EDITOR's NOTE: TELEclass was easily one of the "hits" of our First CALICO Conference on Language and Technology in Japan. This program illustrates one of the most effective applications of sophisticated technology that improves instruction significantly among all students while incurring only nominal costs.


Hawaii is piloting TELECLASS this fall. TELECLASS is designed as a supplementary program to incorporate available technological miracles with the fundamentals of good education in order to facilitate international communication between American students and students in other countries.

The U.S. foreign language program has received external support through President Carter's Strength Through Wisdom—A Critique of U.S. Capability, Our Nation at Rick, and numerous other studies. To complement this, language teachers must respond with fundamental changes in order to step into the 21st century. TELECLASS could be one significant change.


TELECLASS can be defined as a supportive program which uses available technology so that students can have direct and constant communication with peers in target language countries. TELECLASS is intended to motivate students to become fluent in a language and culturally aware through a realistic and practical environment.


The program has been funded ($80,000) and has the support and approval of the Hawaii Department of Education. John Southworth, a high school teacher, who is skilled in telecommunications and the author of many articles, will be working full time on the project. School demonstrations are scheduled this fall to determine the problems and advantages, to judge student attitudes and to evaluate progress in communication skills.


Level I. Introduction. An American language class is matched with a school in the target country which wants to learn English. The classes introduce themselves through video or slide tape presentations. Both languages will be used.

Level II. Telephone Conversations. Students will talk to each other about once a month. Speaker or conference telephones will be used so that all can participate during the entire conversation.

Level III. Electronic Mail. A computer in the American school and in the target language school will allow asynchronous and constant electronic mail.

Level IV. Videophone. The telephone conversations will be occasionally supplemented by slow-scan television which allows students to see each other along with slides or prompts during their conversations.

Level V. Students and/or teacher exchanges. For example, Hawaii has a direct teacher exchange this year with Germany. Both teachers will be able to maintain contact with their students and assist each other from afar through this program supported by a grant from AATG.

Ideally, schools will use all TELECLASS levels but students can benefit from any combination.


1. Technology. The technology is far ahead of classroom usage and many students are advanced in knowledge, confidence, and desire to use the technology.

2. Administrative Support. Many administrators will be pleased to participate in such a new and exciting program. Others will judge it according to how much trouble it might be for them and the anticipated costs. A well-formulated plan should show that it will be little imposition. If costs cannot be covered by the existing budget, help is available from community groups, e.g., ethnic organizations interested in sustaining the language, AAT's, Alliance Francaise, and parent organizations.

3. Obtaining partner schools. There is no limit to the schools in target countries which want to participate in a program


of this type. Contacts can be made through community roots or through previous teacher contacts, friends, or language organizations.

4. Finances.

a. Equipment. One astonishing part of TELECLASS is how inexpensive it is. Most American schools already have a television set, a video and slide/tape equipment. The levels which can be used with the partner school will be determined in part by the availability of equipment at both schools.

b. Telephone. A telephone extension can be run from a nearby telephone for the time of the international call. This means there is no installation or monthly fee. The cost of long distance calls varies considerably, of course, according to distance, time of day, and the country being called. An actual figure must come from the local operator but for general calculations, it is safe to estimate at $1.50/minute.

It normally costs less to call from America to other countries so as an added incentive for other countries to participate the American school might want to cover the cost of the long distance call. If not, the partner school could share or alternate.

c. Computers. Disciplines which have justified computers have received them. Now TELECLASS can be an additional justification to obtain computers for second language programs.

Regular commercial systems charge about $.50 per word for international messages. A typed page would therefore cost $125. In contrast, various electronic message systems such as EasyLink Instant Mail Service by Western Union are much less expensive. A school system would pay $25 per month as a base fee. It would cost an additional $1 for each time a page is sent. If 10 pages were sent within a month, the cost would be $35 instead of the commercial rate of $1250.

d. Slow-Scan (SSTV) or Freeze Frame. The equipment for slow-scan is specialized and not normally in the school inventory. For level IV to be implemented, the equipment would have to be rented or the school district could buy one set and have it transferred as needed to the participating schools.

Time cost for the slow-scan is approximately the same as a second telephone line of $1.50 a minute. A half-hour conversation using slow-scan could be calculated at $90. A small price for such a unique experience.


TELECLASS has the characteristics which are often mentioned as the elements of good education. The key words in TELECLASS are motivation and practice in a realistic situation. In addition, the program offers a meaningful experience. Language learning in TELECLASS is continual and effortless because it is more inconspicuous. The objective is to talk to people and learn about culture. The new language is incidental to that task. The process is a collaborative one. The teacher becomes the guide and the helper—not the lecturer. By pairing students, they can be matched with others of comparable abilities so there is a minimum of risk. The conversations and electronic mail allow for all levels of communication.


The intent of this pilot TELECLASS program is to quickly work out most of the bugs so that schools nation-wide can participate. Teleconferencing with schools in several states and one or more schools in the target country is only a little more complicated than a conversation between two schools.

Initially, TELECLASS will be with high school Chinese, German, Japanese, and Korean language classes.

Questions and suggestions are encouraged and welcome. In addition, any teacher who might be interested in becoming a Charter Participant should write to Dr. John D. Wollstein, Educational Specialist, Asian, European and Pacific Languages, 189 Lunalilo Home Road, 2nd Floor, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96825.

It is anticipated that by September 1986 TELECLASS will have participants from every region of the country and many parts of the world.


Because of time differences, initial contacts between schools might be done through clubs which can meet during school hours for the telephone conversations. Students should practice beforehand. They should not only practice saying their sentences but also enunciation, clarity, and speaking should be taken into consideration. They could practice with volunteer community groups or classes from another school.

Speaking over the telephone is particularly difficult because we do not have the non-verbal reinforcements, and telephone transmissions do not carry the full frequency range of someone speaking to your directly. In addition, understanding is often more difficult than speaking because the other person has a vocabulary you might not be familiar with, and words in actual conversations are somehow different from the dialogues we have practiced. This can be overcome by recording the telephone conversation and then using it as a later class exercise to decipher the missed parts. Students will be elated that they can understand with a minimum of collaboration from the teachers.

If the classroom environment is not conducive to a speaker phone because of extraneous noises, too many students, or poor amplification, the exercises can be done using the facilities of the language laboratory. Pre-exchanged slides which reinforce the anticipated conversation elements can do wonders for comprehension and in making the exercise more personal.