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Setting the Online Precedent

Setting the Online Precedent

Spanish Department Paves the Way Technologically

By Katherine Yungmee Kim
December 2004

In Spanish 240, students discern between ser and estar—the two forms of “to be”—while examining photographs of Mexican immigrants being detained at the U.S. border. And they compare the sentiments of female characters in the post-Spanish Civil War novel Nada with those of the women in Picasso’s portraits.

This class—also known as Spanish 4, the most advanced level of Spanish in the Basic Language Program at the College—is a writing and reading intensive course that introduces students to themes in Hispanic cultures, such as feminism, the Mexican Revolution and immigration. A major component of the class also involves reviewing grammar skills.

Soon, students taking this course will be able to view all of their materials and complete all of their workbook exercises through an online, audio-visual, multimedia reader.

Sofia Ruiz-Alfaro and Claudia Soria, both full-time lecturers in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (and doctoral graduates of the program), were awarded a 2004-5 grant from the Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Teaching through the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET) for their reader project.

Currently, the class uses a traditional text and workbook, Avanzando, for core reading and grammar. But the two teachers found that the vocabulary and the exercises in the workbook did not reflect the thematic areas that they wanted to teach. So they incorporated comics, murals, films and songs into their lesson plan, “motivating the students to think not only of the written word,” says Ruiz-Alfaro, “but also making them more creative, to express what they see and to make possibilities.”

The online reader, which will contain images, songs and digitized film—all related to the cultural components in the classroom—will be ready in the fall of 2005.

Spanish as a Model

In the late-90s, Gayle Fiedler-Vierma, director of the Spanish language program put all information related to the Spanish language program—e.g. syllabi, makeup and academic integrity policies—online.

Although some of the technological advances seem obvious now, at the time they were seen as radical. “It was really a leap of faith,” says Dan Bayer, executive director of the Language Center. “If Dr. Vierma had not taken the jump, languages would not be as technologically capacitated as they are today.”

In 1999, the online workbook was introduced to Spanish 1, 2 and 3, paving the way for advanced Spanish language classes, like Ruiz-Alvaro and Soria’s, to move online.

“More than half of our enrollment is in Spanish,” explains Bayer. “Programmatically, we worked hard to make Spanish excellent. Now, it’s the model for other languages.”

Faculty in the Spanish department are well-versed technologically. Assistant Professor Bruce Burningham has set up a listserv so that student discussions can continue outside of the classroom. Lecturer Galina Bakhtiarova created a virtual museum so that her students can view images relating to their readings. And David Zarazua has his students write, direct, shoot and edit movies in Spanish about Hispanic themes.

Now, all of the Spanish classes have all programmatic information and are graded through Blackboard, a university-wide course management system. On Blackboard, students can see their grades, view their classroom materials and complete their homework assignments. The teachers can keep track of students who are logging on, tally how many times they have attempted workbook exercises, figure out grading percentages.

“It used to be that the business and journalism schools had all the technology while we were whipping out our overhead projectors,” says Fiedler-Vierma. “It’s nice to see language instruction on par with other disciplines and it makes use of the skills and capacities that our students already possess.”