About the Language Learning Center
A View of the Language Learning Center, from 1949 to today
In 1913 UF opened its Language Hall (now Anderson Hall, but still bearing the original name on the façade facing University Avenue). The building was never only or even mainly used by the language departments, however, and in the 1930s the teaching of languages was subsumed into another department. However, after World War II, there was again a separate Languages Department; French was the most important foreign language taught, though German and Spanish were also offered, as well as Classical Greek and Latin. At that time, there was a tradition of learning foreign languages primarily in order to read great literature. In 1949, department chair Ernest Atkin recruited a young Frenchman, Pierre Capretz, to teach French; Capretz, whose broad interests included science as well as letters, initiated a program which emphasized speaking and listening in a contemporary cultural context. His innovations included a French cinema festival, improvised visual materials such as magazine clippings and humorous drawings for overhead projectors, and audio recordings on wax disks and magnetic wire (he wanted to use movie cameras but was unable to obtain them). Under a new chair, Joseph Brunet, Capretz was able to experiment with magnetic tape recorders and install a substantial audio lab in the basement of Anderson Hall. At the time, the taped materials had to be created by instructors, and Pierre Capretz, who went on to create the revolutionary telecourse French in Action, came up with many delightful and memorable exercises. The lab's technician was a Hungarian-Transylvanian immigrant and novelist, Albert Wass de Czege, who kept the lab going for a while after Capretz's departure for Yale in 1956. UF continued to innovate and experiment with audio-visual language instruction (in what would now be called a communicative approach) during the 1950s.
Dauer Hall was built in 1936 as the Florida Union, the students' social center. In 1965, the new J. Wayne Reitz Student Union was finished, and by 1968 the old Florida Union was converted to offices and re-named the Arts and Sciences Building (ASB). It now housed the Language departments, Classics, Linguistics, Speech, Anthropology, and Communication Sciences. At this time, the ballroom was partitioned to create a language lab. In the late 1980s, the building was re-named Dauer Hall, after the distinguished political science professor Manning J. Dauer. From 1970-97, the University of Florida Language lab was housed in Dauer Hall, in the former ballroom, a two-story room with tall windows and dark-raftered vault that was probably meant to inspire "the boys of Old Florida" with a spirit of guild-hall brotherhood. Whatever its acoustic defects, it was undoubtedly the least claustrophobic lab in the country.
This Chester "control panel" was succeeded in the mid-70s by a Wollensack lab which used audiocassettes, finally turning over some control of the tapes to the students. The Wollensack lab was installed and administered by the Office of Instructional Resources (OIR), under Dr. Jeanine Webb; OIR continued to run the lab until 2001.
These earlier labs were a far cry from the Sony LLC-5510 computerized, interactive teaching consoles and sophisticated student player/recorder units which replaced them in 1987.
The design finally chosen for the new Sony lab was simple, with 70 audio stations in two sections, each section linked by a console and facing 4 television sets, allowing it to be used with great flexibility as an audio classroom or a video/audio library facililty. This is the period, under the direction of Inés Chisholm, when the facility was named the Language Learning Center; it eventually counted 15 TVS and 12 VCRs, plus a multi-standard setup and a laserdisk player, as part of the equipment for individual and group video. A third Sony classroom, with 15 student stations, but also equipped with computers, was installed in 215 Dauer, upstairs from the main lab. At this time, also, a massive program for duplicating the lab manual tapes for home use was instituted, since even the enlarged lab could not accomodate all UF's language students.
In 1999-2000 the student staff produced over 16,000 authorized copies of audiocassettes for lab and home use, and assisted students in using audio, video, and computer equipment 8,500 times. They were available to set up the console for instructors bringing their classes to Turlington for about 450 periods.
In the summer of 2000, the Language Learning Center staff began digitizing lab audio so that students could access it over the internet. The online "Virtual Language Lab" served most students in the elementary language courses, though some still preferred to do their work in the lab, or even to listen to tapes until they fell out of use. As the decade wore on, publishers began taking back the responsibility for distributing lab audio to students, via the internet, and the local distribution became much less important.
CLAS Little Hall Computer Classrooms
Late in 1995, the deans of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced their interest in promoting language learning through new facilities. The first step in this direction was a dedicated computer classroom in Little Hall, which allowed access to multimedia materials. As in 1986, the faculty's proposed design was not implemented for technical reasons! However, at just this time the World Wide Web was being developed, and the new room took advantage of this. Also, a floor plan which maximized mobility and flexibility was chosen. After a year or so the lab was recognized by most instructors who used it as a superb language teaching space. Not only did the computers allow direct contact with contemporary cultural materials, but the room lent itself to a more colloborative, social model of learning.
In the year 2000, language use of the Little Hall facilities was expanded. The former statistics lab next to Little 225 became available for language instruction, and eventually (in 2006-7) was given a similar flexible layout. .
Move to Turlington Hall
In the meantime, however, 103 Dauer Hall appealed to the College as a project for restoration to its original glory as a social meeting-place, the Keene Faculty Center, which opened in November 1998 and is much used for meetings of all kinds. The upstairs computer lab, in Dauer 215, was also restored as a small conference room. Two Sony consoles, the student players, and 50 of the booths were moved to two rooms in Turlington Hall.
The facilities in 1341 and 1317 Turlington included, in the late 1990s, a "library" area for individual work on audio and video reserve materials, and a separate classroom, particularly suitable as an audio testing facility. In November, 1998, three computers were placed in the lab so that students could access the Little Hall classroom software and other important language tools during open hours. The Turlington lab was operated by OIR, while the Little facilities were under the CLAS aegis.
The New Millenium: CLAS Language Learning Center
By Spring of 2000, it became clear that the 13-year-old Sony labs were aging beyond our ability to repair them. In the meantime, digital interfaces emulating language lab players and instructor consoles had been developed, allowing video as well as audio to be manipulated by students and instructors in the lab. This interplay of text, images, and sound had not been possible before, and offered quite a different experience from the old "drill and kill" of listening to audiotapes.
The installation of a Tandberg digital language lab, the expansion of the "library area" to include more workroom for lab assistants dealing with more kinds of media, and better facilities for students using the media,--all this happened in 2001 as a joint project of OIR and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The old room 1317 and its neighbor were knocked together to create a new large room for walk-in use. CLAS took over administrative responsibility for the Turlington labs, so that the Little and Turlington rooms were officially united..
Thus the history of the UF language lab came full circle, as the labs, originally maintained by the academic Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, came back to faculty control in CLAS.
In 2006-08, the Language Learning Center benefitted from a federal grant to CLAS. New equipment for all the labs and new furniture where needed gave all the labs a new and superior design.
Whither the Language Lab?
The radical changes in ownership and use of electronic devices has changed the nature and role of the Language Learning Center. In 1987, the IBM 286es installed in Dauer 215 were useful as wordprocessors and "patient tutors" waiting for the student to fill in a blank with the correct term, properly conjugated or declined. The novelty of controlling playback of a jumpy videotape had not replaced the experience of watching a projected film.Ten years later, a few students were taking notes on laptops and such media as laserdisks and DVDs began to offer a high-quality experience of class or private viewing of films. More importantly, the World Wide Web made available immediate contact with other nations as they existed at this moment, not when a book was written or a movie shot. Languages could be heard spoken by all kinds of people and in many different places, and their changes and novelty became more evident. Let another ten years pass, and though students still need textbooks and--very much so!--teachers, they are capable of working collaboratively, sharing their experiences of a language. In the almost 30 years since the Language Learning Center got its name, it is no longer a place to sit in front of a machine and do what the instructor tells you, repeating set phrases. Rather, students meet to practice conversation or work on projects together, or to learn how to use a piece of equipment they own to complete an assignment. Classes are less likely to book a room for the sake of the equipment, and more likely to exploit the rooms for the opportunities to devote at least part of the class to small-group conversations (though in fact the Turlington lab equipment can be useful in permitting students to converse with supervision for an entire class period)..
Compiled by Judy Shoaf, with much thanks to Jean Casagrande, Jerry McCune, Mike Summers, Lee Neil, Wayne Daniels, and the late Wayne Wolfe. For information about the 1950s lab, I thank Celinda Scott, Etienne Brunet, and Pierre Capretz.