GO FLEFO: An Electronic Network for the Foreign Language
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
CALICO Journal, Volume 5 Number 4 46