Originally published in the
12, October 1997
The ReCALL Newsletter is the former mouthpiece of EUROCALL: http://www.eurocall-languages.org
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This is an updated version of GapKit 1.0. As a Windows version it is much more user friendly, and incorporates multimedia features for the first time. For those new to GapKit this is essentially an authoring program providing teachers with the possibility of writing their own gap-filling exercises for students to exploit. Within the teacher's program features include the possibility of attaching textual hints, sound and picture files to individual gaps in a very simple and straightforward manner. Any learners familiar with using a mouse should find this program simple to use. They simply have to point at the gap, click on it, and are provided with visual clues as to what features are attached e.g. a sound file or a picture). When they enter their attempted answer using the keyboard, characters which match those required are shown with spaces to indicate the missing ones and therefore the shape of the correct answer. A textual hint might also become available after the first (incorrect) attempt, or might be available from the start, a choice which is made by the teacher-author. Alternatively, a list of choices may be available, making the program exploitable for multiple choice type exercises.
Teacher-authors will find this a very easy program to exploit. They will require reasonable IT literacy skills in terms of familiarity with Windows environments and file management, but do not need to be IT experts. The teacher-author can author materials for any level and any age of learner, from primary to HE. Pedagogically this program is only as good as the content provided for it by its teacher-author users. At first sight it appears to be limited, as it only works on the principle of gap-filling. However, with a little imagination (as is shown in the demonstration exercises supplied) gap-filling can be cloze exercise, multiple choice, grammar grids, sentence completion, vocabulary extension and, through the multimedia aspect, listening comprehension and dictation. A gap is not necessarily a single word, but can be an entire phrase or sentence, allowing the program to be used for whole text dictation, completion of one side of a dialogue etc. The flexibility of an authoring program means that students could be given access to the Teacher program to write exercises for each other (e.g. with instructions to incorporate certain sound/picture files).
One surprising aspect of GapKit 2.0 is the lack of a scoring system which, in other comparable programs is often found to be motivational. However, feedback to the student is provided in a number of other ways. The pattern of characters becomes available after the first (incorrect) attempt, the Reveal function becomes available after 3 incorrect attempts and there is a feedback message to the user after each attempt. Additionally, once an exercise is completed, the program asks the user to complete again those gaps which s/he had struggled with originally.
There are a number of choices which teacher-authors need to make when creating an exercise. In the Gap dialog box there are options, such as specifying criteria like correct capitalisation (particularly important for German nouns), correct pronunciation and whether 'Choices' should be enabled. If the Choices option is checked, the end user can choose from a list of answers which might belong to other gaps in the same exercise. If the Distractors box is also checked, then that choice is limited to a list of words the author provides for that gap alone. When the dialog box is expanded to the additional options of adding sound/picture files and/or a hint line there is the choice of the hint being provided from the start or only after an incorrect attempt.
With regard to sound files, the teacher-author needs to consider whether they are being used to provide an additional hint in a traditional text-based gap fill or to achieve the objectives of listening comprehension or dictation. Additionally, just because the feature is there does not mean that it has to be used for each exercise or for each gap.
Pedagogically this range of choices challenges teacher-authors to make decisions relating to their objectives in writing exercises and the levels of their students. But these choices also enable teacher-authors to adapt the same material to different levels with a minimum of effort.
There is always a range of technical considerations to be taken into account when using multimedia packages.
One technical area which was new to these reviewers was that of considering how to capture relevant sound files. The manual only briefly suggests how this may be done, and some more information would be welcome to most people, particularly regarding converting material on audio cassettes into a digital .WAV format.
We recorded our own voices, recorded from audio tapes playing aloud close to the computer's microphone (hoping not to pick up too much ambient sound) and produced surprisingly high quality results. We also found it easy to edit a dialogue into smaller sound bites using the Windows Sound Recorder. We connected an audio cassette player to the line-in socket at the back of the computer without any noticeable improvement in sound quality. Finally, we downloaded some of the comparatively rare .WAV format sound files found on the Internet.
For pictures, GapKit 2.0 accepts files in .BMP, .DIB or .WMF format which means that teacher-authors can use clipart files supplied with applications such as Windows, Word or alternatively, graphics packages. Once the sound/picture file exists and has been transferred into the relevant directory, attaching it to GapKit 2.0 exercises is extremely straightforward.
The accompanying manual is almost too detailed and provides explanations of standard Windows functions in addition to functions of GapKit 2.0. Most of the relevant information is also available through the online Help. The manual is also extremely useful in providing suggestions for types of exercise and exploitation methods, as well as tips on layout, use of colour etc.
To suit a range of users, who may not have much experience in the authoring field, we feel there should be more technical advice in the manual or in Help on the multimedia aspects, including suggestions about editing sound files.
Strengths and weaknesses
The major strength of the program, as we have seen, is its ease of use - ideal for busy teachers! With imagination it can be used to meet a range of teaching and learning objectives, with the one omission of a scoring system. It provides easy access to multimedia authoring and additionally offers easy conversion of exercises authored in either GapKit 1.0 or Wida's Gapmaster into a more flexible and user-friendly environment. It is, however, limited by only working for gap-filling, in spite of the range of exercise types that can be written in this medium.
Good features include text formatting availability (fonts, bold, italic, colours etc.) for the author and end users, particularly attractive to users with visual impairments. While the Windows environment and toolbar make navigation simple for both author and end user, there are a few features which we felt were less user friendly that they might be. The two arrows on the Expand button are not particularly self-explanatory, and the Help index concerned with creating new exercises does not include entries on attaching sound and pictures.
For the end user, it would be preferable to see the pattern of the gap before the first attempt. It is not clear, for example, whether the gap is a single word or an entire sentence. The first attempt is therefore likely to be a bit hit and miss, especially in the case of phrases or whole sentences. The subsequent feedback is to provide an indication of numbers of characters missing, but without showing them as separate words. The feedback message which specifies that the answer should fit the pattern can therefore be irritating. One other limitation is that there is no facility for customising feedback messages or instructions, for instance, to enable use of the target language.
GapKit 2.0 is easy to install and use, provides an opportunity for busy teachers to create attractive and motivational exercises very quickly and simply. The addition of multimedia to traditional gap-filling/text reconstruction programs adds to the motivational aspect as well as vastly expanding their functionality and is a welcome addition to the range of authoring tools currently available on the market.
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