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What is a digital language learning lab
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What is a digital language lab?

A digital language lab is a network of computers (or proprietary hardware in the case of digital hybrid labs), combined with appropriate software, which provides the functionality of a conventional (analogue) language lab together with integration of video, word-processing and other computer applications. Although analogue (tape-based) labs are still being used, their functionality and usability is limited, many are no longer supported or maintained and numbers are quickly dwindling.

Digital labs can be software-only labs or hybrid labs.

Software-only labs have no connections between the computers other than a single, standard, network cable. It is the software, together with headsets, that delivers the entire functionality of the lab. They can provide all of the live audio functions using VoIP (Voice over IP) technology so none of the proprietary hardware (like in Hybrid Labs) is needed anymore. This technology allows audio and video to be delivered to their destination over the same network that is used to connect the computers together. Software-only labs also allow for scalability and flexibility. Language learning lab

Additional computers could also be added to an existing lab at a later date to cater for bigger class sizes as with Software, you simply purchase the additional licences required to expand the lab. Upgrading is easier and, apart from the headsets, there should be no repair or maintenance costs over and above normal computer maintenance. A standard multimedia ICT suite can be transformed into a software-only lab with the addition of special language lab software. The Sony Digital Language Lab solution is a Software-only Digital Language Lab.

Hybrid labs, on the other hand, use a proprietary hardware engine (as opposed to PCs) with multicore cables leading to an interface box at each student position. The primary purpose is to deliver the live audio functions in the traditional analogue way rather than using a network. The additional cabling can restrict room layout and sharing with other subject areas. These labs were popular about 15 years ago when PC power was limited. However, computers no longer have any real constraints in processing power or storage so supplementing software with purpose built hardware is no longer necessary. Their cost is generally higher over time due to the proprietary hardware maintenance that is required.

Specifications, functionality, scalability, flexibility, training and support can vary significantly.

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