UC Davis-Developed ‘Chat’ Software Helps Students Learn Languages

October 18, 2001

Language students at the University of California are using “chat” software, developed by UC Davis computer scientist Richard Walters, to learn better and faster. The technology is so promising that the U.S. Army Defense Language Institute is funding further development and extension to other languages, particularly Arabic, with an initial grant of $100,000.

The Remote Collaboration Tool software, developed by Walters’ team, allows users to chat in real time, view and work on images simultaneously, surf Web sites together, record and send speech, and share other kinds of files. The system can be used for most languages and writing systems. For example, adding Arabic means writing from right to left instead of left to right.

The system has been used for teaching Japanese and French at UC Davis, Spanish at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, and German at UC Santa Barbara. Other major tests have been run at Oregon State University; the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia; and other institutions worldwide. Initial development was funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Previous attempts at distance learning had been driven by technology rather than by teaching and learning needs, Walters said. Instead, the RCT was designed around the needs of instructors and students, and was intended to be as flexible as possible.

“Learning should be student-centered, activity-driven, and have human feedback,” Walters said.

The RCT includes a “whiteboard” image-sharing program developed by bioinformatics specialist Jose Galvez and pathologist Robert Cardiff at the UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine. One important use for the whiteboard is to share and discuss pathology images with distant colleagues, Cardiff said.

“You can bring up an image, it appears on the other users’ desktop, and then you can doodle on top,” Galvez said.

The RCT software can run on Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Unix platforms. The software has been available without charge to educational institutions. The new version will be available by early 2002 as open source software.

More information and downloads: http://escher.cs.ucdavis.edu