GO FLEFO - Software @ SFU Library

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GO FLEFO - Software @ SFU Library

GO FLEFO: An Electronic Network for the Foreign Language

Profession

Gerard L. Ervin

The Ohio State University

ABSTRACT: This article gives a general overview of CompuServe and, in particular,

the Foreign Language Education Forum (FLEFO).

KEYWORDS: CompuServe, FLEFO, data library, bulletin board, conferencing,

electronic mail.

Introduction

A new age has dawned in education: the computer has come out of the

laboratories, through the hands of technophiles, and into our classrooms. An

accompanying generation of mystifying acronyms (CRT, CAI, CALL, CAIV,

CALICO, MS-DOS) and vocabulary (modem, floppy disk, laser printer, baud

rate, upload, reboot) confront mid-career teachers with a potential for change of

perhaps unprecedented magnitude. one can hardly go into a school today

without encountering computers in the hands of 9-year olds (who often seem

more comfortable with them than do their teachers). Moreover, personal

computers suitable for home, office, and classroom use are being improved,

dropping in price, and proliferating so rapidly that their impact is likely to

increase exponentially over time. (For example, the first computer setup I bought

five years ago for $2,500 would now bring barely $250 on the resale market. Even

your car doesn't depreciate that rapidly.) Yet, many foreign language educators

hardly know where to find, let alone how to read, the professional literature of

computer-assisted language learning (CALL) and computer-aided interactive

video (CAIV), for example.

Even those who are computer literate run a risk of missing out on key

developments in CALL or CAIV; or of spending days, weeks, or even months

trying to solve a problem (with a program, some equipment, or an authoring

system) that someone else has already solved, but whose solution has not yet

made it into print. Enter the electronic solution to the electronic problem: the

CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 41


electronic network. Accessible day or night from anywhere there is a telephone,

constantly updated, and inexpensive to utilize, such a service may be just the

answer.

One such service, specifically for foreign language educators and

aficionados, has been in existence since the Fall of 1985: the Foreign Language

Education Forum on CompuServe. It offers a wide range of services, including

electronic mail and a bulletin board (where messages can be left, publicly or

privately, for any other user), so-called "data libraries" (like filing cabinets with a

semipermanent collection of reference files submitted by users), and on-line

conferencing (like a multi-party WATTS line).

What is CompuServe?

CompuServe is a private corporation located in Columbus, Ohio. Begun

some twenty years ago, it now provides an international computer linkage and

reference library service for businesses and the general public. Through it one

can gain access to, for example, the Official Airline Guide, up-to-the-minute stock

market quotes, or wire service reports (to name only a few), Such access used to

be the province of a few specialized offices (your travel agent, your broker, or the

newsroom of your television or radio station), but now it is available to all of us.

There are presently some 420,000 private CompuServe subscribers in over 95

countries, and the number of customers increases by about 12,000 each month.

Many of them regularly use specialinterest

forums, like the FLEFO.

How Does it Work?

Virtually any computer, old or new, can be connected to a telephone via a

"modem" (for "MOdulator/DEModulator"). A modem is an inexpensive (under

$100 for a good, basic model) device that, like the pushbuttons on touch-tone

phones, turns electronic blips from the computer keyboard into signals that are

sent over normal phone lines from one's home or office computer to the modem

of a receiving computer. The receiving computer responds with blips of its own,

and your modem turns the answering blips into letters you read on your

computer's screen. Some modems are small enough to fit inside your computer;

others--little bigger than a paperback book--are plugged into your phone line

between your computer and your phone. Once a modem is hooked up (no more

difficult than hooking up a stereo set in most cases) and matched with the right

software (another minor expense; $50 or less will usually do it), it will work

automatically when needed and one can largely forget it.

CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 42


OK, I'm Hooked Up. Now What Do I Do?

In some 600 cities across North America, you can dial a local phone

number on any phone line hooked up to your modem. (This can even be the

same phone line you normally talk on; but while your computer is using the line,

it's just as inaccessible for talking as if your teen-ager were using it.) The local

phone number ties you in to a large CompuServe "mainframe" computer

somewhere (you may never know which mainframe or "host" tied into, nor do

you need to know). When that mainframe receives your computer's signal, it

answers with a signal of its own that your computer will translate into a message

on your screen that says something like, "CONNECT." Then, when you type in

an account number and a password (the latter, in particular, chosen by and

known only to you) and the mainframe recognizes you, you're in.

So I'm In. Now What?

The world is your oyster. Selecting from menus that appear automatically

on your screen, you can consult the Official Airline Guide (and even order plane

tickets, rental cars, and hotel rooms for yourself); you can get stock market

reports, both immediate and, depending on the level of service you have elected,

retrospective (say, the highs and lows on any particular stock or stocks over the

past year); you can consult a complete encyclopedia; or you can simply watch the

news wire scroll across your screen.

Fine. But I'm a Foreign Language Teacher . . .

While you will find much variety that is interesting and useful in

CompuServe's many areas of service, as a foreign language teacher you may

often simply type GO FLEFO. When you do this, you'll be routed into the

Foreign Language Education Forum in a matter of seconds. (FLEFO is only one

of the literally dozens of forums: GO FISHNET gets you into the Aquarium and

Tropical Fish hobbyists' forum; GO WORK gets you into a forum for people who

work out of their homes; GO SCIENCE gets you into the Science and Math

Education forum; and so it goes.)

Once in the FLEFO, you can "join the forum" (merely a formality) by

following on-screen directions. You'll want to leave in the FLEFO membership

directory some information about yourself and your interests, so that people who

scan the membership list—just as you might—to find others with like interests

will be able to find you. In addition to scanning the membership directory, you

can get a good idea of what goes on in the FLEFO by looking at the areas into

which the forum is divided. Currently, they are as follows:

CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 43


0 Potpourri/Polyglot 10 FL Education

1 Spanish/Portuguese 11 Translators

2 French 12 Computers/CAI-CALL

3 German/Germanic 13 The Directory

4 Latin/Greek 14 Jobs/Careers

5 Slavic/E. European 15 New Uploads

6 ESL/Bilingual Ed. 16 Using the Forum

7 East Asian 17 Sysops (a section reserved for use by the

SYStems OPeratorS of the FLEFO

8 Esperanto

9 Others

For each of these areas, there is a DATA LIBRARY and a MESSAGE

SUBTOPIC. In the data libraries you will find contributions from users like

yourself who have developed or run across something they think others will be

interested in: a list of the addresses of the consulates of Spanish-speaking

countries in Washington and other U.S. cities; a directory of producers and

distributors of software for learning and using foreign languages; a collection of

jokes in French or German, suitable for classroom use; and so on.

On the message board you might read an open inquiry from a translator

in Japan looking for clarification of a British abbreviation; or a message from a

French teacher in Louisiana wanting to set up a computer correspondence

between her second-year class and some other second-year class in another state

(or even with an English class in France); or an announcement from a principal in

Kansas looking for a Spanish/Russian teacher for next term. Inquiries may be

public or private, but the vast majority of messaging is done "in the clear,"

because you never know when someone simply scanning the messages will be

able to provide some valuable information. (Regular FLEFO visitors see this

happen almost daily; it's what the forum is all about: promoting

communication.)

Another way the forums promote communication is by allowing any

number (yes, ANY number) of users from any part of the international network

to "talk to" one another via their computer keyboards. This is the CONFERENCE

service, analogous to a multi-channel, multi-user WATTS line. (Or, to use

another analogy, it is like each user having a CB radio with unlimited range.)

Suppose you are researching the uses of popular songs in second-year language

CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 44


classes. You could post an open message to "ALL" on the message board, saying,

"I'm interested in finding out how other teachers of any foreign language use

popular songs in intermediate classes. I'll be in the conference mode next

Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. EDT." At the witching hour, you turn on your

computer, type GO FLEFO, and enter the conference mode. Suddenly your

screen lights up with, "Hi, there. Is this the foreign language song conference?"

You type back, "Yes, I'm Howard from Tennessee. Who are you and where are

you calling from?" Your conference is off and running. Depending on the topic,

do not be surprised if you are joined by teachers and/or students from Texas,

Ohio, New York, and Oregon--remember, it's a local phone call for each of them,

just as it is for you. No one has to divulge any more information about himself

than he wants to, and of course, one can drop out ("hang up") at any time.

All This Sounds Interesting, but I'll Bet It's not Free

The basic service is available for as little as $6 per hour. There are no

minimums; you pay only for the time you are connected. There are no initiation,

membership, or maintenance costs. Many users sign on once a week for 15

minutes or so, just to see if there are any new developments in an area of

particular interest to them. (On the other hand, there are people who sign on for

a half-hour each day because they want to keep abreast of many ongoing areas.)

If a month or two goes by and you do not sign on, you pay nothing, but the

computer will remember you the next time you sign on.

How Do I Get Started?

First you need the hardware: a computer, a modem, and a telephone line.

(Even an older, second-hand computer will work fine, in most cases.) Then you

need the communications software, which you may already have without

knowing it (it is a part of many basic software packages, such as Microsoft

Works). You might even be able to acquire it free (public-domain

communications software is available for many kinds of computers). Finally, you

need a CompuServe starter kit, which you can get at any good computer store for

under $30 (and they are often discounted to under $25 or even $20). The kit will

give you a user number, a temporary password, basic sign-on information, and a

coupon good for several hours of prepaid on-line time; thus, you come out just

about even. (As an aside, we also recommend the book, How to Get the Most out of

CompuServe, by Bowen and Peyton, publ. Bantam, 3rd edition. It's a good

investment, taking you through CompuServe in a chatty, non-technical way that

ultimately can save you much time and, therefore, money.)

CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 45


Conclusion

This introduction has barely scratched the surface of what CompuServe in

general, and the FLEFO in particular, have to offer the professional foreign

language community. As more and more foreign language educators and

professional organizations become active users of the FLEFO, it will provide

inexpensive, virtually instantaneous, and nationwide (even international)

communications among teachers, researchers, students, administrators, and

professional associations. It will probably never replace letters, phone calls, and

printed journals and newsletters; but it can fill a valuable niche where response

time, multi-party communications, and ready access to accurate and constantly

up-to-date information are important.

Author's Biodata

Gerard Ervin is Director of the Foreign Language Center and Associate

Professor of Russian at Ohio State University. He has taught Russian, Spanish,

French, German, and English as a Foreign Language.

Gerard L. Ervin

944 Farnham Road

Columbus, OH 43220

Author's Address

CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 46

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