Go to the U of M home page

Monday, November 21, 2011

Green German Project Takes Off

The collaborators of the Green German Project have been busy this fall actively promoting the new course materials they developed for teaching topics related to sustainability.The website, from which teachers and curriculum developers can download the PDF learning modules, went live last week and can be found at http://z.umn.edu/greengerman. Included on the site are a bibliography, links to over 230 websites with authentic materials, a chart aligning each exercise with the National Standards, and a longer description of the project.

On Nov. 20, 2011, Charlotte Melin and Beth Kautz introduced the materials to an enthusiastic audience at the national AATG/ACTFL conference in Denver. Last month, Adam Oberlin and Beth Kautz introduced the materials to a local audience at the MCTLC conference, where their presentation was voted "Best of Minnesota." They have been invited to share their presentation at the March 2013 Central States Conference in Columbus, OH.

For information about other U of M projects linking sustainability issues and foreign languages and cultures, see this earlier blog post.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Hybrid French 1004 Class Development: A Conversation with Rick Treece

The French program debuted two sections of hybrid French 1004 this Fall semester. The five-credit classes meet three days per week, and have two online contact hours. Other language programs have also experimented with online learning, and Spanish has a long running hybrid 1022 class. French hybrid 1004 is distinguished by its incorporation of TandemPlus partnerships into the curriculum, as well as the fast pace of development. The majority of curricular development occurred over a single summer.

I spoke to the lead developer, Rick Treece, about the development process and plans for the future.

Students enrolled in the hybrid sections have a TandemPlus partner in France with whom they they communicate using Skype, and they are expected to complete seven activities during the semester. How will this opportunity enhance their acquisition of French, and their understanding of French culture?

There are three important benefits of the Skype exchanges:

1. Students in class speak for only a few minutes during a typical class session. And a disadvantage of small-group work is that weak students may have a too-sympathetic partner (who understands their English-influenced French too readily) while strong students may be frustrated by weaker partners who fail to understand their more advanced remarks. With TandemPlus partners who are native speakers of French, students get at least 15-30 min. per week of French conversation (often far more) in a situation that is far more authentic. This more than compensates for the speaking practice they're missing Tuesday and Thursday in class.

2. Research shows that language acquisition and retention are enhanced by the process of "negotiating meaning" in the target language in real communication. This is exactly what is occurring in the TandemPlus class-to-class exchange.

3. The over-arching theme of French 1004 involves comparing French and American cultures and their influence on personal identities. The Skype exchanges are based on detailed worksheets on which students prepare for their Skype sessions, take notes during the interview, and then follow-up on the personal and cultural insights acquired with meaningful Récapitulation assignments, which are evaluated with rubrics tailored to each type of assignment.

When students first learned that their sections would be partially computer-based, and that they would communicate with a partner in France, what were the general reactions?

General reactions were positive and even enthusiastic. Only one or two students said that they would have preferred meeting every day.

Did any students decide to switch to a standard section of 1004?

Only one!

Spanish 1022 has been offered as a hybrid-only class for several years. How were you able to use the experiences of the Spanish developers and instructors as a model, and what did you find was different when targeting higher-level students?

Because higher-level students bring more skills to the process, we thought that we could let them have more flexibility in their assignments, so we gave (or imposed) much less structure on the assignments than Spanish 1022 typically does. This has worked out for the most part, but in the case of at least one major large-group assignment, I think that we should have been more "hands-on" in the early organizational phases. But frankly, I don't think that the issue was lack of French skills, but rather just general generation of the escape velocity to get the project off the ground.

Spanish 1022 makes significant use of online exercises in My Spanish Lab, which is apparently quite good, but we found that the French equivalent was not up to our standards. The online substitute that we adopted, Tell-Me-More, is a bit pricey and has had a mixed reception from the students (and from us, truth to tell). We're meeting soon to decide on a strategy to tweak or replace it.

What has surprised you most about the Skype exchanges and the activities that students are doing as part of those exchanges?

I've been surprised to find that some students on both sides of the Atlantic simply fail to show up for their scheduled Skype sessions. Though overall the number is probably fairly small, every instance is a moderate to major irritant to the student inconvenienced by the missed rendez-vous.

Right now, Spanish 1003 is being developed as a hybrid class, and German is exploring options for hybrid development as well. How has this simultaneous development impacted French 1004, and provided opportunities for collaboration?

The coordinators of French, German and Spanish are meeting regularly to share updates on successes and challenges. In fact, our current French 1004 TandemPlus model was developed in imitation of one that Italian used last year, so we're all open to consideration of models and experiences from a variety of levels and sources.

Moreover, the Language Center Instructional Team addresses issues relating to hybrid-course development at our bi-weekly meetings. German, Scandinavian and Dutch liaison Beth Kautz and I will meet regularly with the Director this year as a particular task-group to foster hybrid-course adoption.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give a student enrolled in a hybrid language class?

Allow me to quote from a message that I sent to my students and posted on our Moodle site at the beginning of the term:
The student that will thrive in this hybrid setting is:
  • self-motivated
  • regular and disciplined
  • a good time manager
  • comfortable using the web
Conversely, this approach could be perilous for a student who:
  • puts off things to the last minute
  • relies on regular class attendance or personal over-qualification for the course level to skate by without doing much work outside of class
  • does not work well independently
  • is a technophobe
For more information on hybrid courses see this recent article on how sustainability content is being integrated into several classes, including lower-level hybrid Spanish.

Friday, November 11, 2011

New student-created art in Jones 135: Mi Casta Su Casta

Lead Multimedia Lab Attendant and Art History major Paul Fosaaen donated a painting to the newly renovated multimedia lab, Jones 135, and it was recently hung. Here is an explanation of the piece from Paul:

Mi Casta Su Casta for me stands as a testament to the power of inclusiveness over bigotry and xenophobia. Painted initially as an assignment for class, the painting itself developed into a response against a tradition in Spanish painting that arose in the 17th and 18th centuries. Casta paintings served as an attempt for the Spanish aristocracy to retain 'purity' of Spanish blood during a time of expanded colonization of Mexico. These paintings documented potential racial and cultural mixtures, essentially to prove to the Spanish that they had retained racial and cultural supremacy over the indigenous people in their colonies. My use of abstraction in Mi Casta Su Casta is not merely to deny visible reality, but also it asserts a sense of unity to further reject the intensive pigeonholing that occurred in Spanish Casta paintings. When abstraction allows for the disappearance of racial divisiveness, it also permits us as viewers to dream of participating in this vision. Mi Casta Su Casta becomes more than just a rejection of historical misdeeds, but it is a family portrait in which we all belong. The title itself, a pun on the ubiquitous mi casa su casa, declares that 'your caste is my caste' and that 'my family is your family.' Instead of imposing segregation and highlighting pejorative differences, Mi Casta Su Casta extends an invitation to all families and all people so that we may all feel at home.

Mi Casta Su Casta 2011
Van Gauguin (Paul Fosaaen)
Acrylic on canvas

Monday, November 7, 2011

LGTT 5101 Applications of Technology in Language Teaching

Two sections of LGTT 5101, Applications of Technology in Language Teaching are offered Spring semester:

5101-001 LEC , 01:25 P.M. - 04:10 P.M. Wednesdays, taught by Dan Soneson and Alyssa Ruesch

5101-002 LEC , 04:40 P.M. - 07:25 P.M. Thursdays, taught by Pablo Viedma and Zhen Zou

The course focuses on the use of technology in the service of teaching and learning languages. We demonstrate and employ various Web 2.0 technologies to reinforce the communicative focus of second and foreign language curricula. The course is organized according to the three communication modes of the ACTFL National Standards: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. Participants will use computer technology to develop activities and tasks that address each of these modes.

The course is appropriate for graduate students and P&A's teaching in the various language programs. Both sections are 50% hybrid, which means that approximately half of the time they will meet online in lieu of classroom meetings. Please email one of the instructors or elsie@umn.edu for more information.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sustainability and Language Acquisition: Different Approaches to Integrating Academic Content for Different Languages

When the French, German and Spanish language programs had the opportunity to collaborate on the creation of sustainability-themed content for their courses, they jumped right in. However, curriculum developers from the three programs had a different visions for how the content would ultimately be integrated into their university languages courses.

This spring semester, University of Minnesota language students will have several new opportunities to learn about sustainability at the same time as they continue second language acquisition.

Part of the curriculum development was funded by Title VI to create Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum Content (FLAC) resources for K-12 and university courses. The team working to get these initiatives off the ground is:

Elaine Tarone (CARLA)
Patricia Mougel (French)
Charlotte Melin and Beth Kautz (German)
Susan Villar and Frances Matos-Schultz (Spanish).

Here is an overview of the two approaches the programs took for integrating academic content with second language acquisition, focusing on examples of classes offered Spring 2012:

French and German: Upper-level course enhancement and redesign
FREN 3022 The Language and Culture of Business in France
GER 3501 Contemporary Germany: Environmental Debates--Food, Energy, Politics

Patricia is currently teaching her French advanced oral communication class as a new content-based language course on the theme of water. For Spring 2012, Patricia is revamping her ongoing business course, integrating new content on sustainability while keeping the focus on business overall. In the course students will learn about and discuss sustainable business practices in France through case studies of businesses that have moved towards sustainability in terms of resources selection, product development, marketing and human resources management.

During Spring 2011, Charlotte taught a German course with an environmental literature theme. For Spring 2012, she has completely redeveloped an existing course on contemporary Germany. Students will be able to use this course towards the completion of the Sustainability Minor by petition. Here is the course description:

Public concern about environmental issues is driving social, political, and cultural change in German-speaking countries today--a trend visible in the successes of the Green party in recent elections and plans to decommission nuclear power plants over the next decade. This course (taught in German) looks at the ways environmental imagination is expressed through language and contemporary culture. We will examine the evolution of the environmental movement and European conceptions of sustainability through the lens of nonfiction writings, literature, on-line resources, and film. Historically, concepts of ecology arose out of early 20th century discoveries about interconnectedness, epitomized by the term Umwelt (surrounding world), which was coined by Jakob von Uexküll. In keeping with this systems perspective, we will study examples like food production, energy consumption, and urban design. To take into account the divergent opinions that surround these topics, assignments will include debates, expository writing, and creative projects that probe differing positions.

Spanish: Integration throughout the lower-level curriculum
SPAN 1022, 1003, 1004 Second-Semester and Intermediate Spanish

Spanish has begun integrating sustainability content modules into all of their hybrid Spanish 1022 and 1003 sections. The program also plans to integrate the content into hybrid Spanish 1004, once that class debuts. This means that as more Spanish sections switch to the hybrid format, as many as 900 to 1000 students will interact with sustainability content each semester.

Interested in learning more? If you are an advanced student of French or German, or a beginning student of Spanish, take a class Spring semester! Registration for FREN 3022 is open for students of French who have completed 3015 (3016 is recommended). GER 3501 is open for German students who have completed 3011W. All sections of SPAN 1022 are hybrid, as well as some sections of 1003. Contact the appropriate department for more information on these courses.

You can also read more about the development of the German class, and how some of the content debuted at World Languages Day at Elsie Speaks, and Charlotte wrote an article about her Spring 2011 class for Neues Curriculum.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


On Friday, October 21, Dan Soneson, Rick Treece, and Alyssa Ruesch from the Language Center, along with Marlene Johnshoy from CARLA traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, where we took part in the annual conference of the MidWest Association for Language Learning with Technology. This year the 2-day conference, which was recorded and available for viewing, was hosted by Clayton Mitchell at Drake University.

donquixote.jpg The conference began on Friday afternoon with two presentations from Winona State University. Julie Gonzalez demonstrated Windows Photo Story 3 as an effective tool for producing image-based video, and Armando Gonzalez talked about various tools for students and instructors to use to produce audio and video and to store their work on the Web. He highlighted Windows Movie Maker and Audacity, pointing to Irfan View as convenient and inexpensive storage option.

Highlights of the conference included the Friday afternoon presentation by Alyssa Ruesch and Marlene Johnshoy who presented their work in designing and conducting a fully online course for language teachers and administrators dealing with social media and its role in the foreign language curriculum. The course was offered by the Center for Advanced Research in Language Acquisition (CARLA), located at the University of Minnesota. This 9-week course offered during the summer of 2001 was extremely popular with 27 participants from around the world.

Antonia.jpg The course used a Ning as a management tool, and introduced participants to a variety of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and VoiceThread, and a newly discovered tool, called Wetoku, which allows two participants to carry on a video conversation remotely and records both sides of the conversation. Although the course involved a great deal of work and attention for the facilitators, there was a high degree of engagement and innovation on the part of the participants, and their assessment of the course was extremely positive. CARLA plans to offer the course again this coming summer, reduced from 9 weeks to 5.

Saturday morning included two very interesting presentations, one virtual and the other theatrical. Jeff Kuhn joined us virtually from Ohio University to talk about revitalizing and repurposing Hot Potatoes, the exercise creation software produced at the University of Victoria. He showed us how to embed a variety of interactive web media within a standard HTML page created by Hot Potatoes to provide guidance and assistance for students to interact with this media. These HTML pages can be uploaded to a Moodle course site, and with a Hot Potatoes Moodle extension can even be connected to the Moodle course grade book. Examples included embedding Google Earth, an interactive timeline illustrating immigration patterns, and even a Moodle course site itself.

Aldonza.jpgA lively discussion ensued.

The morning concluded with a highly entertaining performance by LC's Rick Treece and CARLA's Marlene Johnshoy. They addressed the topic of online machine translators, such as Google Translate, and illustrated through donning costumes depicting figures from Cervantes' Don Quixote various viewpoints on how language programs might view students' temptations to take advantage of these increasingly accurate translation services.

While the virtuous Don Quixote trusted in students' honor to resist this temptation or to avail themselves of it judiciously, Donna Alvera would ban the use altogether, Aldonsa would encourage liberal use, and Sancho Panza would try to find a middle ground.

sanchopanza.jpg Rick then shared some course policies on the use of machine translators in specific writing assignments and provided a few models for scaffolding assignments which would allow students to construct their production in stages, relying on authentic input and models rather than on translating from English to French, for examples. Saturday afternoon include three informative sessions dealing with the use of Audacity in developing Spanish pronunciation, administrative restructuring of the Language Center at Gustavus Adolphus College to increase student worker participation and responsibility in the running of the center, and an informative presentation on a cross-cultural international project in which roughly 30 students and their instructor at a law school in Omsk in Siberia are connected to three instructors in the United States.

The project uses WebX as a synchronous video conferencing tool. Jan Marston talked about the division of responsibilities among the four instructors, with one person serving as the room manager, another as the facilitator conducting the lesson. A third is the coach, who monitors the synchronous text chat, and the fourth is a kind of prompter to help keep the conversation going. The presentation clearly illustrated the need for support staff to facilitate the various aspects of using technology in such a project.

The MWALLT conference was an opportunity for us to connect with colleagues from around the region and to share ideas and experiences. We returned to Minnesota with fresh ideas and renewed vigor. We look forward to participating in next year's conference which will with all likelihood be held at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. We invite you to consider attending.