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Friday, September 30, 2011

Green Germany and World Languages Day: An Interview with Beth Kautz

Over the past year, a Green German project has sprouted and continues to grow. A four-person team, including a faculty member, an instructor, one undergraduate and one graduate student has developed course materials for 3xxx-level German courses, and learning modules for high school German classes.

In Spring 2012, Dr. Charlotte Melin will offer a new German-language course Contemporary Germany: Food, Energy, Politics, that students can use towards the completion of a Minor in Sustainability Studies as well as a Major or Minor in German.

beth_kautz Beth Kautz, Director of Language Instruction in GSD and liaison to the CLA Language Center, piloted some of this course content at World Languages Day (WLD) on May 17, 2011, with a short Green Germany class for high school students. German students from Lincoln High, in Thief River Falls, Minnesota attended this course virtually through AdobeConnect. The class was offered three times, and for two of the class periods, only virtual students attended but one class was a mix of 50% virtual students, and 50% in-person students (not from Lincoln).

By offering this course at WLD before the U of M credit-course is offered, Beth was able to acquire feedback from the students on their engagement with the material, as well as feedback on the effectiveness of the virtual course teaching methodology. The students' reactions to this course will be extremely beneficial for the continuing development of the Green German course curriculum.

I asked Beth to further explain the project, how planning and teaching a class virtually was different from teaching in a traditional classroom setting, and what she gained from this virtual teaching experience.

How did the idea for a class focused on the environment and sustainability develop?

There are three factors that came together. First of all, there was a personal interest on the part of Dr. Melin and myself in topics related to the environment and sustainability. Secondly, the topic is and has been very important culturally, politically and economically in Germany for decades. Finally, this type of course is a step toward offering more courses at the university that integrate foreign languages and cultures into various disciplines and content areas, a program known as FLAC (Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum).

How will a knowledge of the German language benefit those who wish to pursue a career in environmental science and sustainability studies

Germany is a world leader in research, development and use of renewable energies, including solar, wind and bio-mass power. There also are German architectural firms that consult all over the world on urban planning and design. Our students can help bring that knowledge to American companies and communities investing in green technologies and sustainability initiatives at the local, regional and national level.

How is the process of planning a virtual class different from planning a regular class?

By far the most difficult aspect is structuring opportunities to get feedback from the virtual participants. In a face-to-face classroom environment, I really heavily on visual cues and body language to gauge how well my students understand me or the task I have asked them to complete. When I see that students need help, I can walk over to them and address their concerns verbally with the support of gestures. In the virtual classroom, I made use of "polls," similar to a clicker-response system and group responses on the virtual whiteboard to get feedback from students.

How did you engage the virtual students, and insure that they didn't feel they were simply on the receiving end of a lecture?

In this virtual course, all the participants were together in one classroom in Thief River Falls along with their regular German teacher. I was the only one physically separated from the larger group. For several activities, I introduced a short video clip and discussion questions, which they then watched and discussed in small groups face-to-face in their classroom. After 10 minutes, we established contact again and they shared their insights with me and the whole group through a multiple-choice poll or written text on the group whiteboard.

What did you learn from this experience that will inform the development of the German credit course?

In the virtual class I taught, I used a variety of authentic German materials from the internet. These online materials are extremely helpful not only in explaining the basic concepts of sustainability, but also provide a very rich cultural context for exploring how concerns about food safety, the maintenance of nuclear power plants, the preservation of urban green-spaces, etc. play themselves out throughout society. As our project has progressed, we have continued to compile an extensive set of web links to videos, websites, images and interviews for 15 different learning modules. Through Title VI funding from CARLA, these materials also will be available to high school and university instructors throughout the country.

What piece of advice would you give an instructor interested in planning a virtual or hybrid class?

Keep your learning objectives at the forefront of your lesson planning. Ask yourself the same questions you would when planning any lesson: "What should students know or be able to do at the end of the lesson?" "How will I know that they learned it?" "What kind of support, information and instructions to students need before, during and after to successfully complete the task?" Then you need to think about which online tools best facilitate each of the those activities. In general, it requires more advance planning and preparation so that all the resources are available to students online and instructions are clearly understood without additional verbal explanation.

Thank you to Teran Pederson-Linn, recent CLA graduate and former Language Center staff member, for her work on this article.

For more information on World Languages Day, see this summary of the 2011 event.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Title VI LCTL Grant Application Fall 2011

Limited funds are now available for the purchase of materials to enhance the teaching and learning of Less Commonly Taught Languages (all those taught here at the University with the exception of Spanish, French, and German). The funding source is the Title VI Grant managed by the Global Studies Institute.

CLA language instructors may request funds to purchase materials to support the learning of their language. While the funds may reach to support a number of smaller purchase, the total amount for each language may not exceed $200. Please submit an application for each item you wish to purchase with these funds and provide as much information as possible.

Priority will be given to critical languages, and language programs that were not awarded materials funding Spring 2011.

Successful proposals will be for materials that students can use directly. Instructors may contact their departmental liaison or email elsie@umn.edu for advice.

The deadline for submission is Monday, October 31, and you can apply online.

Last spring, Title VI funding provided a wide range of language-learning materials, including book sets, language-learning software, and DVDs. Movies purchased on DVD include popular Bollywood films, the Russian Winnie the Pooh, two Norwegian horror movies, Portuguese films not yet released in the US, and much, much more. Materials were purchased for Hebrew, Hindi/Urdu, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian and Swedish.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CLA Language Center Open House

Tuesday, September 27LC Multimedia Lab
1:30 - 3:00 p.m.
Jones 110

SPY on your students' on-line, in-class work!
GATHER up to 30 students in one high-tech classroom!
SPRAWL OUT on our brand-new comfy lounge furniture!

Come see the newly renovated walk-in Multimedia Lab and digital language labs, and learn more about Language Center services and facilities. Beverages and desserts will be served. Optional tech training and tours will be available.

While you enjoy coffee, cider and cookies, learn more about the following:
  • Our completely renovated walk-in Multimedia Lab, Jones 135
  • Our renovated classrooms, Jones 10 and 30
  • New LPEs for critical and popular less commonly taught languages
  • And more!

TandemPlus Registration is open; more partner countries added

TandemPlus Fall 2011 registration began Tuesday, September 6 for both Face to Face and Virtual Face to Face exchanges. Students can be matched with a language partner either on campus or overseas at partner universities in Honduras, Germany, Israel, Russia, Mexico, and more.

Register on-line at: http://languagecenter.cla.umn.edu/tandem/index.php

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Computerized LPEs for Critical and High-Enrollment Languages

This year, hundreds of students of critical and popular less commonly taught languages will have access to the same computerized proficiency exams as students of French, German and Spanish. Exams for the following languages have recently been developed: Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and a second version of Spanish.

In late summer 2010, Monica Frahm, Testing Director, received an initial Title VI grant from the Institute for Global Studies (IGS) to begin development of new computerized Language Proficiency Exams (LPEs) for critical and high-enrollment languages. Prior to this major development project, computerized tests were only available to students of Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish. Since summer 2010, additional Title VI grant funding has been received, as well as funding from other sources, to continue development in multiple languages.

The LPE is one method that students can use to complete their second language requirement, and this test has several other purposes as well. It can be used to place students into upper division courses, and some language programs integrate the test into their curriculum and use it as their class final exam. Students who pass the LPE receive a text line on their transcript endorsing their language proficiency, and they can receive other documentation of language proficiency upon request.

There are four sections of the LPE: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. The LPE Development Team has created tests for the first three sections. The Speaking section for all languages is generally administered as a one-on-one Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), and it was not revised through this project. In most cases, development of the Writing and Listening sections went faster, and they were ready for piloting first. The Reading was generally completed last, as it is the most time-intensive section to develop.

In the past, LPEs were developed over the course of years and were often the product of a single, deeply committed instructor. The current project was different, because it formed a development team of instructors working on multiple languages simultaneously, under the direction of a single coordinator. The team, called the LPE Development Team, was able to collaborate and share resources. They also worked on a similar development schedule and with the same level of technical assistance and resources. This process allowed development to progress very quickly, while maintaining a high level of supervision and quality control.

Development has not always been easy, and with different schedules and the requirements of different funding sources, few developers have been able to stay with the project from start to end. However, the contributions of developers from different backgrounds, and with different skill sets, may have resulted in better tests for students.

All of the LPEs feature authentic materials, such as culturally-appropriate readings and audio recorded by native speakers, often in multiple dialects. The tests target the appropriate language level, and the test items cover a range of tasks, topics, and linguistic functions. The teams created the tests using a common test blueprint and are consistent with the programming used by other LPEs.

In addition to tests developed for languages listed above, the paper-based Hmong LPE has been incorporated into a computerized format for two modalities, and the third is under development this semester. There is also a new Finnish LPE in progress.

The LPE Development Team has been led by Coordinator Gabriela Sweet, who for over a year has corralled a rotating team of developers and juggled multiple languages, cultures, schedules, and deadlines. In addition to managing the development team and keeping the entire project on target, she has conducted stakeholder sessions with departments, taken advantage of any opportunity for piloting, managed to be friendly and cheerful, and amazingly enough, consistently greeted everyone in their native language.

The other core team member has been Lindsey Lahr, AV Tech, who has recorded and edited the listening sections, as well as completed all the multimedia work. Lindsey has been invaluable to the project in providing additional reviews and keeping teams on track and on schedule. Her creativity has given the new Reading exams, in particular, a very professional look.

Diane Rackowski, Technical Coordinator, has made an important contribution to the team's work by providing data after each piloting session, sometimes as quickly as twenty minutes after the session finished! Having these data enabled developers to analyze the performance of individual items and the test as a whole, and to then make informed decisions toward revision.

This project has been possible because of a large team of developers and instructors willing to review tests and contribute to piloting. A full list of developers is included at the bottom of this article.

As part of the piloting process, the team has surveyed students on their reactions to the tests. Students have reported that they enjoy taking the tests on the computer. From a survey after one of the new Reading tests: "I really like the way this test was set up and, in general, I feel the vocabulary was that which we had exposure to." And another comment: "I like the variety: some of the readings are articles, and some are actual pieces of literature."

Language instructors will have an opportunity to learn more about the the new tests at the upcoming Language Center Fall Open House, scheduled for Tuesday, September 27 at 1:30 PM.

LPE Development Team

Core Team:Gabriela Sweet, Coordinator
Monica Frahm, Principle Investigator
Lindsey Lahr, AV Tech
Diane Rackowski, Technical Assistance

Language Developers:
Arabic: Hisham Khalek, Sondes Wooldridge
Chinese: Ka Po Chow, Hao Ji, Liu Ya, Quan Jiahong, Andie Fang Wang, Zhen Zou
Finnish: Dan Karvonen, Jaana Viljakainen
Hmong: Maxwell LeYang
Italian: Cristina Cocchi, Anna Olivero-Agney
Japanese: Hiroe Akimoto, Michiko Buchanan, Sachiko Horii, Liu Ya
Russian: Sachiko Horii, Kateryna Kent, Marina Posse, Maria Schweikert
Spanish: Adriana Gordillo, Joanne Peltonen, Gabriela Sweet, Naomi Wood
Cross-language validation team: Kateryna Kent, Xinyi Wu, Xi Yu

Special Thanks to:
Instructors from the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures; Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch; Department of French and Italian; Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Follow Bethany's Adventures in Senegal

photo: View across the street from Bethany's hotel in Dakar, Senegal

Former Tandem Plus assistant Bethany Schowengerdt is studying in Senegal this semester, where she is learning French (and Wolof) and adapting to West African International Time ("WAIT") . You can follow her adventures on her blog, Bethany in Senegal. We will host a link to her blog on the LC home page.

Jones Hall small rooms now managed through Google Cal

The Language Center has moved all reservable small rooms in Jones Hall to Google Cal. These rooms are: 21, 25, 105A, 110D, 135B, 137A.

You can request a small room through our online request form.

We will reserve small rooms through Google, and "invite" you to the "meeting." Since the reservation will show up on your personal calendar, and you will receive reminder emails auto-generated by Google Cal, we will not send you an additional confirmation unless you request one, or there was not a small room available.

This procedure change is in place only for small rooms. Classrooms, media and equipment will still be reserved and confirmed through our internal reservation system.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Introducing the new Multimedia Lab

The Multimedia Lab in 135 Jones Hall was closed over the summer for some major renovation.
Language Center Multimedia Lab
The updated Lab is now open and offers the following new amenities:

  • Two lounge areas in which to relax, work, study, read, or watch multilingual TV

  • A "bar" where laptop and tablet users can work, charge their computers, and print directly to the laser printer

  • Six-sided worktables with 19 PCs and 14 Macintosh computers

  • Multiple areas for language-related DVD/internet viewing

  • A small room for collaborating, video viewing, using the flatbed scanner, and more

Mac computers in labAs before, the Lab offers high-quality, low-cost laser printing; computer use for 30 seconds or 3 hours; and of course, friendly and helpful assistance from Lab attendants.

The Lab is open Monday-Thursday 7:45 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., and Friday 7:30 am - 4:30 p.m. We look forward to seeing you soon.