July 9, 2001
Grant will help establish 'Spanish Without Walls' web classroom
By John Newman
According to the visionary speculations of the web wizards and Internet gurus, over-the-counter
purchases should have been just about obsolete by now. By the middle of 2001, we
were expected to be lined up at the information-highway drive-thru window for all
our needs--credit card numbers whizzing through cyberspace in an orchestrated orgy
of high-tech consumption. Okay, it didn't work out that way and the dotcom downturn
has soured a lot of the Internet enthusiasm. But maybe commerce isn't the only, or
even the best use of the Internet.
|Pages from the soon-to-be-live Spanish Without Walls web site
Maria Victoria González-Pagani, a lecturer in the UCSC Language Program,
and her colleague Robert Blake at UC Davis, have devised a way of using the web as
a tool for learning a second language instead.
González-Pagani and Blake have received a FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement
of Post-Secondary Education) grant to fund the development of a Spanish-language-learning
web classroom dubbed Spanish Without Walls. For the UC system, anticipating an ever-increasing
demand on resources and space by a burgeoning student population, Spanish Without
Walls represents a promising alternative to the traditional classroom setting.
The project will unfold in three stages. The initial phase will involve creating
a Spanish-language database and an interactive web site, and establishing them on
the server at UC Davis Extension. González-Pagani will select the resources
entered into the database, drawing on her extensive experience teaching "topic-oriented"
Spanish-language courses at UCSC.
Topic-oriented classes differ from the traditional language classes by shifting the
focus of learning from the language itself to a specific topic in the language, such
as geography, nature, art, history, or any of a number of other topics. The web site
uses a multimedia approach, incorporating written material, audio clips, video, interactive
task-oriented activities, and a sophisticated chat room that supports not only text
exchanges, but sound transfers, web-page manipulation, and a collaborative writing
window. These web tools are augmented by a five-CD set called Tesoros (Treasures,
McGraw-Hill, Inc., and Boecillo Editorial Multimedia), compiled by Blake, a professor
of Spanish at UC Davis. The CD set will serve as the "textbook" for Spanish
Topic-oriented language programs benefit students by developing language skills and
learning strategies in the target culture, promoting communication in the language,
and motivating students with real-world activities. For most students, it is as close
as they can come to immersion in another language without traveling to a foreign
country. This approach has the added benefit of allowing students to progress at
their own pace, and measure their progress by proficiency rather than by hours spent
in class. Web-based instruction lends itself very well to this approach, allowing
teachers and students to individualize instruction, whether it is by distance learning
or in a classroom setting.
Initially, Spanish Without Walls will only be used by language students at UCSC and
UC Davis. The online class will run parallel to traditional language classes. González-Pagani
and Blake hope to be able to survey students from both classes in order to evaluate
the competency of the students in the Spanish Without Walls program. If the results
meet their expectations, they hope to expand the program to the entire UC system.
Although the program will only provide Spanish instruction initially, if it is successful,
it could obviously be applied to other languages, as well. Online language learning
could provide instruction in a wide variety of world languages--a tremendous benefit
on smaller campuses with limited resources, allowing them to offer language instruction
they would not have the resources for otherwise.
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