Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning

Author(s): Karin Duffner, Elisabeth Lillie, Gregory Toner
Institution/Organisation: University of Ulster (UK)


1.1 Scope of the initiative

The Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning was established in 2005, building on existing good practice in the School of Languages and Literature at the University of Ulster. It is part of a wider national initiative of Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning established to reward and develop further excellent learning and teaching in UK Higher Education. In England this is funded by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) and in Northern Ireland for the CETL NI initiative by the Department of Employment and Learning Northern Ireland. There are seven CETLs in various subject areas in Northern Ireland (see: and seventy-four in England (for England see

The core aim is to improve student learning through the use and development of appropriate teaching methods and the provision of suitable learning resources using multimedia learning technology, specifically exploiting the dynamic functionality of multimedia language laboratories. In the multimedia laboratories at the University of Ulster, a teacher can monitor students’ progress, broadcast the teacher’s screen to the whole class, set up work groups of linked stations, and intervene and assist where they identify a problem. The facilities offer an exciting opportunity to develop sophisticated forms of classroom-based multimedia teaching that will enhance the student experience and enrich their learning.

1.2 Range of languages learned

Languages taught in the School of Languages and Literature include: Irish, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and English. Innovations undertaken by the Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning have been designed and implemented in the first instance for Irish and French modules particularly, with a view to disseminating ideas to the other languages and transferring practice where appropriate, for example, staff in Spanish have been actively using the labs and integrating multimedia into their teaching.

1.3 Learning outcomes

The key learning outcome of the initiative as a whole is to improve student engagement in class. By devising pedagogy which ensures that students maintain an active presence in class, the initiative has concentrated on increased motivation and participation by students. Another important learning outcome has been the promotion of learner autonomy, responsibility and self-assessment. Development of ICT skills and other life skills/transferable skills such as collaboration, negotiation, group-work and time-management are also fostered in this environment. A number of modules in Irish and French were selected for development in the areas of grammar, translation, pronunciation and oral classes, as described in 1.4.

A staff survey of laboratory teaching helped to assess resource needs and identify areas for staff development workshops, just-in-time training and individual guidance. As a consequence to an incremental, supportive approach for staff, the number of colleagues using the multimedia facilities continues to grow and student satisfaction is very high.

1.4 Practical realisation

The CEMLL core team, consisting of a director, learning/language technologists and a technician, designed, implemented and evaluated four innovations initially which target key areas of language teaching and learning. These place the student at the centre of the learning process, incorporating active learning techniques for use in class under teacher supervision, to combat student passivity. These were trialled over the course of at least one full semester within core or main/major elements of Ulster’s language degree programmes. Through the development of these innovations, CEMLL has also been able to trial and use a wide range of software and Internet communication tools.

  1. Teaching for Transition - Computerised diagnostic tests have been developed to help individual students identify weaknesses in grammar. A range of remedial CALL exercises have also been developed in parallel, covering common problems encountered. The results of the diagnostic tests inform teachers of student attainment levels much more quickly than paper-based methods and provide a benchmark against which to evaluate student progress during the semester.
  2. Task-based Learning - Task-based learning is an approach to language learning which aims to make language learning more meaningful and, therefore, more memorable. The task becomes the primary focus of the classroom. Using the resource-rich environment of the multimedia language labs, students can work in pairs and groups to complete tasks, to access materials over the Internet, use specially prepared materials and make oral or written presentations.
  3. Pronunciation Development in Irish - Students of Irish suffer from a lack of suitable commercial resources from which to acquire skills in pronunciation and accent. The adoption of a dynamic teaching solution involves the development of multimedia resources for use in the multimedia labs and the integration of other media into exercises that will help to contextualise the sounds and show them being used in a natural setting, with an overarching aim of building good pronunciation into students’ speech.
  4. Translation Skills in French - To develop further the integration of computer technology into translation modules by developing flexible alternatives so that students can access translation materials off-campus, materials have been prepared and hosted in WebCT, the University VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). This allows students to interact with classroom resources at a time, place and pace of their convenience.

Other projects now include:

  • supporting year abroad students for both their language and pastoral needs
  • developing techniques for teaching professional language skills e.g. translation and interpreting skills that offer career options for language graduates



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