Williams and Vassar to share foreign language grant

Williams College and Vassar College recently received a joint grant of $700,000 from the Mellon Foundation to fund training and development programs in foreign language learning.

The purpose of the grant is to train students and teachers in multimedia and technology and to enhance foreign language learning. The grant will be administered by a joint steering committee and each college will have a designated faculty liaison to oversee the grant. Associate Professor of German Helga Druxes has been selected as the faculty liaison at Williams.

The funding from the Mellon Foundation will provide facilities to hold workshops, seminars, and an annual conference between Williams and Vassar. A small part will also be spent towards upgrading hardware and software.

Jane Canova, the assistant director of the Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures, commented, “This grant is aimed at professors and the teaching end of foreign languages. It will allow us to train more faculty and fund collaborative projects between us and Vassar.”

Druxes added, “Technology is a tool for packaging culturally authentic information. It allows us to provide many visuals and illustrations in a neat package form.” Druxes and Canova are currently planning workshops for this fall and securing a keynote speaker for the opening of the Williams-Vassar partnership.

With the grant money, Druxes would like to expand the use of distance learning, teleconferencing and video digitizing. She added, “By sharing faculty and ideas with Vassar, we can share courses, and we may be able to offer courses electronically. For example, Vassar has a much bigger Italian program than we do. With videoconferencing, we will be able to have our students participate in their program.”

Canova believes the next step in foreign language technology will be digital overhead projectors which will broadcast the World Wide Web onto a large screen for the whole class to see.

Mellon-sponsored technology is currently being used in Professor Druxes’s German 104 class. Pictures, video clips and audio clips are blended with German text to give students an interactive multimedia experience.

A student in the German 104 class, Clare Murphy ’01, commented on the use of technology in foreign language instruction. “It helps to have pictures and interactive text. I really enjoy going out on the Internet and actually reading German newspaper articles. The combination of audio, video and text makes learning the language and culture easier and more exciting.”

Druxes has also used the hypertext shells to create lessons on the culture and history of Berlin for her German 109 course on Berlin. The students used these lessons as background information for their studies of the city.

The facilities for electronic classrooms are very limited; Williams currently has only two electronic classrooms. Druxes did receive assistance from other campus departments to help alleviate this problem. “Jesup [the Office of Information Technology] was kind enough to provide computers for the Berlin course in the Weston language lab.”

Canova commented, “We also need to develop better spaces and arrangements for digital classrooms. We need computers arranged in clusters to promote class discussion.”

The Mellon Foundation funds Middlebury College as the hub school of the 60 college national consortium. These 60 colleges are creating a pool of hypermedia lessons and information to aid in foreign language instruction. To speed the progress of these technological initiatives, the Mellon Foundation also funds Project 2001. Students, including Joe Busnengo ’00, Amanda Leach ’00, and Curtis Reynolds ’01, are trained at Middlebury over the summer in research, technical support, and audio and video digitization. They then work for professors at Williams and the Mellon Foundation pays their wages.

Busenengo is a Russian student intern currently working on a text-based lesson on Ivan the Terrible for a Russian culture class next year. The presentation integrates movie clips on laserdiscs, compact disc audio, pictures, a glossary and text written in Russian. An early demonstration of the presentation was very promising and drew much praise from the three professors who viewed it.

Leach assisted Professor Druxes with the guided readings for her German 104 class. “Amanda has been a wonderful help this year and I really appreciate her efforts. The Mellon Foundation’s funding of Project 2001 has greatly increased our ability to produce multimedia lessons,” commented Druxes.

Reynolds is a Japanese intern who will be trained at Middlebury this summer. He is working on a third-year language course on cultural norms and communicative strategies for Associate Professor of Japanese Reiko Yamada.

Canova and Druxes are eager to put their ideas into action. Druxes said, “There are a number of areas I’d like to explore, and I’m very encouraged by our progress so far.” Canova added, “we’re going to be in good shape come September. This grant will really further our ability to utilize available technology.”

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