The University Record, February 22, 1999

LRC studio aids in videos for foreign language instruction

By Kerry Colligan

The black market value of video equipment in Peru has skyrocketted in recent years. So, when Jeff Middents, a graduate student instructor, traveled to Lima to obtain video footage to help “introduce students to Peruvian culture,” he was forced to store the equipment under wraps.

Despite the challenges, Middents returned to the U-M with countless hours of footage for use in teaching his Spanish languages classes. The project used equipment on loan from a recently equipped video studio at the Language Resource Center (LRC).

Designed to help foreign language instructors develop and distribute video material to meet the specific needs of their courses, the video studio can help write, produce, direct and edit material both in the studio and on location.

“We’re creating authentic material that’s tailor-made for a class,” says Kathy Kemp, LRC media distribution coordinator. If you need video of a religious ceremony that’s specific to Lima, Peru, you could look on the Internet, but you’re unlikely to find it, she adds. Middents found exactly that. And, he is not the only foreign language instructor to take advantage of the video studio since the LS&A Dean’s Office provided travel and equipment grants last May.

Instructor Alina Makin scripted a three-part video series for her newly designed Russian readings course, “Russian Foodways: History, Culture and Practice of the Russian Table.”

“I wanted to create an instructional video that would prepare students for the habits of the Russian table—what to expect when they eat and drink in Russia,” Makin says.

Part I of the series includes a visit to a European foods store in Oak Park. The store is owned by Russian immigrants and specializes in foods, beverages and magazines from Slavic countries. The video features an interview with the store owner, who provides information about the history of the store, its clientele and selection.

“It’s very challenging to go on location,” Kemp says. “So many things can crop up that really affect the shoot. Was the intonation right? Were the gestures appropriate? How well did the participants enunciate?”

Some instructors prefer to create a video in the studio. Chinese instructor Hilda Tao scripted a video on Chinese pronunciation. Seeing and hearing helpful graphics and tips in Tao’s video is invaluable, Kemp says. “That’s interaction. That’s learning. Video is text. It’s graphics, it’s audio, it’s multimedia, but not everybody sees that.”

Those who do are happy with the results. Tao’s video series has been sold to several midwestern colleges and universities. An English Language Institute project recently received praise in Brazil from participants learning English as a second language.

The video studio isn’t for everyone. “You need to be outgoing and creative and want to put in the extra work,” Kemp says. To see a video through to completion could take anywhere from one hour for in-studio work, to 400 hours for Makin’s “Russian Foodways” project.

And, some projects don’t lend themselves to video, Kemp cautions. A “talking head” on video is not only visually unstimulating, but often ineffective. “Make sure that video is the correct medium for your project. We want videos to stimulate the target audience because they can be very interactive on an emotional level.”

The video studio is designed for the production and editing of VHS, S-VHS, Hi8 and digital video for videotape distribution, Web site or multimedia presentations. Instructors have the option of broadcasting their studio presentations live or tape-delayed over UMTV and local community cable stations.

The studio’s services are free to foreign language instructors. All others are subject to a fee. For more information, contact Kemp, 647-7744.