University shows off language lab after recent facelift and upgrade by Sony Electronics

HAYS, KS -- An investment of 11 years and $112,000 has given Fort Hays State University one of the most sophisticated modern language laboratories in the country. The lab is one of just 15 of its kind across the country.

Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, and Dr. Ruth Firestone, chair of the Department of Modern Languages, showed off the new lab in Room 395 of Rarick Hall during a news conference this morning.

A combination of analog and digital equipment has been brought together to make a Sony 8000 lab, President Hammond explained. The lab boasts an integration of the standard Sony analog recorder system with a computer system. It is available for students from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The new language lab is equipped with 24 workstations along with a main console at the front. Each individual workstation is equipped with a computer with CD player capabilities, a cassette panel and headphones with microphone.

At the main console several types of additional audio and visual equipment are installed, including an overhead projector, a presentation stand and a VCR.

Within the lab, all stations can work together under the direction of the main console. Also, a single workstation can work with the main console or each station can work independently.

The president explained that money from an "action plan" provided the financing for the new equipment. The action plan funding was granted for the lab in the fall of 1999. "Under the university's overall strategic plan, faculty and staff submit action plans each year to request funding for projects that will help us accomplish objectives to improve education," he said. "The action plan system provides a framework to encourage innovation."

Dr. Marcia Bannister, chair of the Department of Communication Disorders, joined with Firestone to submit the action plan. While the lab is used primarily for the study of modern languages, Marla Staab, clinical coordinator for Communication Disorders, also uses the lab with her students.

"All language texts come with cassettes and up until now students have been more or less on their own in working with them," Firestone said, "but now we have a place where students can actually perform all the operations. They don't have to just listen. They can stop the tape, they can record their own voices and they can replay.

"Anything that will help students master the foreign language is right at their fingertips. This is light years from what we have been doing."

Firestone said full integration of the lab into modern language courses will take some time, and faculty and staff in the department are spending time in orientation sessions with Sony representatives Paul Knipp and Ken Busum.

Firestone and Carl Blunck, representative of Ceavco Audio Visual Company of Wichita, worked together for years to get new equipment for the FHSU language lab.

"For today's world, where most students are working with computers, we have integrated the two systems (analog and digital). People love it," Blunck said this summer when he was making final adjustments on the equipment.

Blunck, who is the area representative for Sony Electronics, said the new equipment was no more than six months old.

"There is no one in the area of Kansas that has this system yet. There is something like a total of 15 that will be installed by the end of this summer. Fort Hays is definitely by itself at the top of technology in colleges and universities," Blunck said.

Firestone said this morning that the department as a whole was excited about the upgrades. "We are quite delighted. We've come so far. Carl has outdone himself getting this lab installed. It was 'install it or bust' for him and for me."

FHSU's first language lab opened in 1961 in Picken Hall. Adjacent to the lab was a room for the teacher console. Two years after that first lab opened, a lab was added to the other side of the teacher console room. ETL Monitor supplied equipment in those labs.

Califone Electronics equipment replaced the ETL Monitor in the west room in Picken Hall in 1976. All the Califone equipment was moved to Rarick Hall 395 in 1980. Now, 20 years later, the Sony Electronics equipment has been installed.

Blunck said this summer that the beauty of the system is that it is versatile for many different uses and it can easily be upgraded. "The Sony equipment does not stop here," he added. "What was purchased here is not the end of it. This will be upgraded with software for years and years to come. We could also see an integration with other devices to this system."

After 11 years of searching, Firestone said this morning, it was decided that the Sony system was not only the most versatile and sophisticated, but it was the most economical.

"By the time we got the money, we pretty well knew that we wanted the Sony 8000 lab, that this was going to be, for the long run, the most practical and most versatile and most easily upgradeable without spending a lot of extra money."

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