September 1996 — Volume 2, Number 2
In this column last issue, the focus was on the release of Netscape 2.0 and its new plug-in architecture — which was going to allow third party developers to create powerful extensions (called “plug-ins”) to the Netscape browser. And create they have. Last February 1996, I reported a total of 17 available plug-ins, and most of those were beta, or pre-release versions. As of this writing, a mere four months later, Netscape’s index of final release plug-ins contains over 80 different entries, including those which allow for the playback of digital video (QuickTime, AVI, MPEG, etc.); the exploration of 3D space and objects; the display of and interaction with documents created with, for example, Adobe Acrobat, Excel, Microsoft Word, Power Point, etc., all within the Netscape browser.
By and large, plug-ins are offered as freeware, and the majority of them have something to offer in the way of creating or viewing interactive CALL modules over the web. Yet it is the Shockwave plug-ins and authoring utilities from Macromedia that continue to impress me the most. Here’s why:
- Interactivity: Shockwave movies are interactive web-based modules created in either Macromedia’s Director or Authorware software, two of the most powerful and widely recognized multimedia authoring tools in use today. By bringing the interactivity of Authorware and Director to the web, CALL developers are now able to design language activities incorporating such advanced features as adaptive tracking, individualized feedback, rich graphics, animations, and high-fidelity sound as never before.
- Delivery: Developers shock their movies by processing them with the appropriate Afterburner utility, all of which are provided free by Macromedia. This simple procedure compresses the file and prepares it for delivery over the Internet. One clear advantage of the Shockwave for Director format over its cousin Authorware is that a shocked Director movie can be played back on multiple platforms (including Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, Macintosh PPC, Macintosh 68K). To achieve the same result in Authorware, both a Windows and Mac version of the movie must be created and shocked.
Shockwave’s compression of graphics and text has impressed me from the start, and with the recent announcement that the next version of Shockwave will support ShockAudio and allow for streaming of high-fidelity 16 bit sound (just like an audio CD) things are only going to get better.
- Installed Base:
To date, Macromedia reports over 2 million downloads of its Shockwave plug-ins — though I’d have to imagine that their figure includes many repeat visitors who, like myself, have downloaded several of the different beta versions which have appeared on the Macromedia website over the past 6 months. Even so, with the news that in addition to the Netscape browser, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will support Shockwave is a sure sign of its acceptance among leading software developers. On top of that, both Apple and Microsoft have announced that the next version of their operating systems will come with Shockwave already installed, virtually (no pun intended) assuring its place as a vital tool in the arsenal of web authors.
- Available ESL Shockwave Resources: In addition to my own experiments with CALL and Shockwave, there are several other websites that offer ESL activities in Shockwave format.
Of these, my personal favorite is Brian Rhodes’ collection of interactive TOEFL practice.
Another interesting series of Shockwave-based CALL modules is found at The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language website.
Another Shockwave demo worth viewing is entitled Phonics Match and was developed as part of a joint UCSF/Rutgers University project on remediation of Language Based Learning Disability.
Finally, a British publisher of English Language Teaching materials, Heinemann, has put up a couple of rather uninspired demos with shockwave, though their graphical content is worth noting.
It is clear that the interest in developing and using the power of Shockwave in CALL activities delivered over the web will continue to grow. As a result, ESL/EFL teachers and learners can look forward to benefitting from a list of resources that is virtually guaranteed to grow quickly both in scope and quality.
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