A Rich Heritage
Over the many years of Texas Tech's history, one strategic goal common to all languages programs has been that there should always be a well-developed, robust language lab at Texas Tech University.
Technology Driven, Excellence InspiredFrom its earliest beginnings decades ago, Texas Tech's "Language Lab" has always been driven by the technology of the time, and a pursuit to continually improve—to always remain current and abreast of late-breaking innovations. Emerging techologies in equipment and educational resources have been a part of its fundamental operation, from early reel-to-reel recorders, to today's modern digital sound files and computerized speech recognition.
Language laboratory facilities are commonly described as bearing a level of capability and service, such as Level I, II, and so on. As is likely the case at many institutions, TTU's Language Laboratory has evolved through all levels, starting as a Level I operation many years ago, and ending today at the highest Level V.
The Evolution of the LLL&RC
During the mid 1960s, while designing the current Foreign Languages Building, the University specifically included plans for a well-thought-out and permanent lab facility. Professors Ted Alexander, who worked in German, and Bea Alexander, in French, were instrumental in not only campaigning for a substantive lab, but also materially contributed to the overall design of the original facility. (They also had the vision to include designs for what would eventually become the Qualia Room, a fully equipped theatrical presentation room.) The new "Foreign Languages / Math" building was completed in 1969, and the carefully designed Language Laboratory began serving students. The original lab facility included what is now the Central Practice Theatre (which was outfitted with 56 student cubicles, arranged in rows), the HelpDesk, the Private Booths, the Equipment Room, the Service Bay, and a recording studio.
A very significant upgrade of the LLL&RC occurred during 1986-1987, when Director Greg Geiss initiated sweeping updates to the facility. The core of the updgrades included replacing an aging reel-to-reel tape system with a Sony language lab console and student recorder stations. This allowed the facility to offer "Language Lab Level III" student service. The teacher control console was relocated amidst the new cubicle arrangement, allowing the instructor to be much closer to their students. A room adjacent to the Central Practice Theatre was annexed to become the "Computer Lab," providing a completely new teaching/learning area with Apple and IBM computers (computers then still an emerging language teaching technology).
Other updates included the addition of a soothing blue and gray color pallette, most notably anchored in new carpet, covering the vast expanses of tile floor. (Carpet is very important in language facilities due to the obvious noise buffering it provides.) The student cubicles were repainted dark blue, and stylish new graphics were added to the facility (all actually made by Director Geiss and his staff), completing the updated, modern feel of the facility.
During the early 1990s, under the direction of Director Phade Vader, the facility invested a great deal in expanding its central lab services, and invested heavily in developing a full score of educational media services. The video and other educational materials collection was more than quadrupled in size, a professional materials accessioning system was adopted, and the entire facility was networked and began using a customized data information system. The LLL&RC also became a subscribing member of SCOLA.
During 1997-1998, another sweeping change occurred for the LLL&RC—the existing student cubicle system was replaced with the exceptionally advanced ASC DI8, an incredibly powerful "digital-analog hybrid" system. The 60-station ASC DI8 continued to provide traditional tape-based services (albeit the individual recorders were controlled by on-board computers, and the supervisory system was completely computerized), while allowing integration and expansion into full digital services (another emerging technology for the time). The system also featured "dual instructor" capability, which meant that two separate classes could work in the Lab simultaneously, while still more students worked independently. The finishing touches came in the form of new student cubicles and the system's large dual-instructor console, finished in a soothing soft gray-blue color. As it turned out, Texas Tech's ASC lab system was the largest of its kind and capabilities ever built.
The profound change in the facility's capabilities was startling. Scores of problems with the old system and its dated technology evaporated overnight, and the advanced features of the ASC system brought almost limitless pedagogical improvements. (To say the LLL&RC bridged a chasm is an understatement—the new technology was vast and beyond comparison to anything TTU had before that point.)
Other additions during this time included expanding the Equipment Room, adding a new Instructional Media Processing area, and adding a new SCOLA Control Center, important since the LLL&RC was the hub provider of SCOLA programming to the entire TTU System. Additional space was annexed to the central facility, and a few areas not directly adjacent to the original facility became part of the LLL&RC. During this time, the facility became noted nationally and internationally for its progressive and proactive facility development. Other institutions dispatched faculty to tour the LLL&RC, to see its facilities and operations, with one coming from as far away as Egypt. There are several labs now in existence which modeled the LLL&RC (even down to its color scheme and custom forms used at the time).
During 2006-2007, at the hand of Director Terry Martin, the ASC Esprit was upgraded to the ReLANpro, from ASC Direct, and the facility entered yet another new realm of modern computerized capability. The new system, completely computerized, allowed the facility to work with all types of digital media files, including audio, video, presentation and document files. The system also allowed integrated exercises, tests and other assessments to be "pushed" out to the student stations, and data supplied by students to be stored on the Lab's central server. The information was then easily provided to the instructor in several computerized forms.
The new system conceivably allowed the LLL&RC to essentially unhinge space constraints in two veins: 1), with the ability, if ever needed, to expand the central student learning system to a highly nimble teaching/learning resource spread through several rooms in the building; and 2), through companion modules and resources which allow students to complete assignments and interact with their instructor's lessons through hand-held devices, such as smart phones and tablets, anywhere and anytime.
During the summer of 2012, Interim Director Stefanie Borst spearheaded acquiring funds to significantly upgrade the computing equipment comprising the student stations in the Practice Theatre. This in turn fostered an upgrade in the Computer Lab. Along with the new equipment at the main instructional Console came a significant upgrade in the ReLANpro system. The teaching/learning software represents perhaps the most powerful lab environment available, with innovative and exceptionally effective pedagogical tools.
A new addition to the facility configured during the fall of 2012, for implementation the following spring, was the addition of a collaborative learning center where students can work together, in remote connection to students or faculty over the Internet, in a variety of pedagogical and research-oriented projects.