Title: Sequel to Traditional Classroom Lectures Badly Combined with Distance Learning from 1987

Date Written: April 7, 1992

Date Occurred: April 7, 1992

Written by: Joel T. Kant


An hour and a half ago here in Cleveland, Ohio, I attended a talk on prosody given by Dr. Mari Ostendorf of Boston University. I had never heard of prosody until now. It includes intonation, stress patterns, pauses, semantics, and some other things. It is looking at the parts of speech which carry information other than the words. A simple example is a lilt at the end of a sentence which indicates it is a question instead of a statement of fact. Some sentences have different meanings depending where pauses or lilts are added.

For speech to process, Dr. Ostendorf used both a sample set of deliberately ambiguous sentences and sections of broadcasts of FM radio news.

She has two separate things she is doing. One is to separate out the pauses and stresses. I think her viewgraph gave a rating of the pause time of 0 to 6. These could be done be either by humans or by a machine. The second was to assign semantic meaning to what all the breaks and pauses mean. A big decision tree is used for the second task.

Five minutes before her talk, I walked into the seemingly empty lecture hall. I thought I must have gone to the wrong room or read the date incorrectly. However, when I stepped into the room, I saw four people in the back. One was Dr. Ostendorf. Another was Dr. David Wilson, the biomedical professor that got me to come out to visit Case-Western but had no assistantships available. I didn't know the third woman.

Dr. Ostendorf asked about my interest in speech processing.

I replied that I didn't know much about it, but I had a friend (Gary Choncholas, now at Nicolet in Madison, WI, formerly at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Boston, MA) who used to work on it. That gave me enough interest to attend this talk.

After this, I mentioned to Dr. Ostendorf that I had taken a graduate electrical engineering course in Digital Signal Processing at Boston University back when I lived in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts. Dr. Ostendorf is in the electrical engineering department at Boston University, so she knew the instructor that I had for it, Dr. Nawab Param.

Dr. Ostendorf asked about how I liked the course.

Unable to keep bitterness from my voice, I replied, "I'll be sure never to take another class at Boston University as long as I live!"

Dr. Wilson's jaw dropped. I don't think he could believe how I was talking to the invited speaker, Dr. Ostendorf. Given how I had considered the experience so bad that I had not continued for a master's degree in electrical engineering at Boston University, I was not fond of what had happened there.

I explained about how the lecture was videotaped for simultaneous transmission to satellite facilities for distance learning when I had thought it was supposed to be only a live lecture in a lecture hall. When I described the auditorium with the hard-to-see TV monitors on wheeled carts, Dr. Ostendorf knew which room I was talking about. I described how Dr. Nawab Param sat at a desk with a camera was mounted vertically above him to pick up the image of the tablet of paper he was writing on. Even though us students were in the same room as Dr. Param, we had to stare off into the corners at the TV monitors. Since the video was being telecast, the students could only ask brief questions that wouldn't greatly affect the timing of the lecture if with his focus on the tablet he noticed any hands up at all. I really resented paying full tuition for a presentation like that.

Dr. Ostendorf weakly tried to defend the videotape classes done at the same time as the live lecture for those in the lecture hall. However, I don't think she ever really considered until then how bad the experience had been from a student's point-of-view.

I elaborated how that one course I took at B.U. was taught caused me to remove it from all consideration as a possible school to continue attending. Before this past spring, I had been still considering taking classes at night and working on my degree while still working at MIT LL. Now I am an Ohio State University student doing research at the Cleveland Clinic.

I did tell Dr. Ostendorf that I thought Dr. Nawab Param did a good job as could be expected given the lousy circumstances. I believe he was told he had to give the lecture in that way. Having a lecture in that way was terrible, though, no matter how good the teacher was and how interesting the topic.

I tried to switch back to a safer topic. I mentioned that Gary Choncholas had told me about the missing Boston "r"s in the Boston accent (Pahk the cah at Havahd yahd--Park the car at Harvard Yard) are actually still there. She didn't reply to this, but moved to the front to finish her preparations for her talk.


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