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October 26, 2000 The Hall Building's face-lift begins




by Barbara Black

The Faculty of Arts and Science is about to create a state-of-the-art learning centre in the Henry F. Hall Building. The project involves the renovation and rewiring of four classrooms on the fourth floor, and construction will likely start as soon as the December exams are over.

The renovated area will include a multimedia classroom with video-conferencing facilities, a language laboratory, and an Internet facility. In addition, there will be an office for a full-time administrator, who will oversee the area and provide training for users.

Andrew McAusland, the Faculty’s Director of Academic Technology, is overseeing the Hall Building project. He said that the language laboratory, the largest component of the new area, will have the latest in voiceprint technology and will revolutionize the way languages are taught at Concordia.

Language learners have been using audio tapes for more than 30 years, but the technology has been refined to the point where pronunciation can be minutely tracked through voice imprinting.
With the software planned for this learning lab, any language can be taught. Lessons can be customized by the professor, and students will be able to access their courses from home.

New lab's voiceprint technology will be boon to language learners

Interest in learning modern languages has been steadily growing. Concordia offers degree programs in French, Spanish, Italian and German, and courses in English as a foreign language, Russian and Portuguese. French is taught through the Département des Études françaises, and the others through the Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics (CMLL) Department. The lab will also be used by the Centre for the Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL).

Since 1997, enrolment in the CMLL modern languages programs have jumped by 30 per cent. The biggest increase is in Spanish, where 1,470 students are currently in the program, up from 961 three years ago, or a 53-per-cent leap. Enrolment in the German program has declined by 20 per cent, but that has been offset by a 20-per-cent increase in interest in the Italian program.

Derek Cassoff, the Faculty communications officer who supplied these figures, said, “I think these numbers demonstrate the rise in popularity of language instruction, and explain, in part, the need for a modern language lab.”

The video-conferencing room will have 36 seats and a “smart board” or large screen linked to a computer. It will be a bigger, downtown version of a room in the Administration Building at Loyola that is used increasingly for thesis defenses and job interviews where some of the participants are in another city.

Dean Martin Singer said in an interview that he is excited by this prospect of significantly improving the Faculty’s competitiveness in several important ways. The new video-conferencing room could be used to enhance Concordia’s ties with institutions in India and China, enabling students and professors to conduct sessions over vast distances.

The third component of the new Hall Building facility will be 35 multimedia computers with access to the on-line courseware developed and produced by the faculty. This will enable students who don’t own computers to access on-line instructional materials and research.

Users will also include those taking the PASS course for students on conditional standing. This program is a requirement for about 600 students every year. PASS stands for Program for Academic Skills and Success.

The entire project was funded by the recent capital campaign, specifically, a grant from the McConnell Foundation. Designed to help the university make better use of academic technology, the Faculty of Arts and Science is the first to move forward with this project.

McAusland is responsible for the Faculty’s growing electronic component, including storing administrative data, upgrading facilities, conceiving new projects and offering several credit courses in academic technology. He said that the new learning centre will have soft lighting and some curved walls to provide a welcoming atmosphere.

The construction that will take place on the fourth floor next term will be just the beginning of a major refit of the Hall Building, as the new buildings for science and engineering take some of the pressure off the 1960s-era edifice.

Singer said that the Hall Building will house the social sciences. It will also be the site of all undergraduate classes for the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science.