#etmooc

For much of the spring semester I’ll be participating in #etmooc, a connectivist MOOC on educational technology and media. The global nature of the community gathering for this experience is really exciting, and I am certain it’s going to be one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had.

The View

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No, this isn’t the view from my second floor office window–it’s a wildlife refuge north of town–but if you added a few red brick buildings from the early 20th century, it wouldn’t be far off. Eastern Oklahoma does not look like you might expect if you’re not familiar with the area. We live in the foothills of the Ozarks about 30 miles west of the Arkansas line.

I teach Spanish at a regional university, and I’m also the program coordinator. We’re a small program in an institution that does not have a history of valuing language study, and we struggle to maintain our two majors. We were placed on the “revision” list after the recent academic prioritization process, and we have two years to make changes or possibly face the elimination of our majors. A supportive administration gave us an additional faculty line, and that has enabled us to propose an expansion of our program to a branch campus in an urban area. We hope to accomplish this expansion by offering our upper-division courses in a blended format and holding our synchronous meetings via a web conferencing tool so that students on both campuses can enroll in the same courses.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to our low numbers of majors and graduates: insufficient preparation for college among our traditional student population, especially with regard to literacy development; language programs in area high schools that favor worksheets over real communication; a lack of recognition of the benefits of combining language study with other majors; and sometimes, negative perceptions of other cultures. These are not unusual issues for regional universities, but they are a challenge for a program that must recruit and retain an average of 15 majors for each of its degrees to succeed in getting off the revision list. We believe there are students in the metro area where the other campus is located who would be interested in our majors but who are not able to travel to the original, small-town campus. Those students are served by a large community college with a good Spanish program, but there are no public universities offering bachelor’s degrees in Spanish in the city.

Expanding to the urban campus won’t be easy. The approval process for our proposal won’t be complete until summer, and there are no guarantees. The use of any form of distance education for language instruction is still unusual and even controversial. Few institutions in this part of the country offer any online or blended courses past the elementary level. Our course design must emphasize synchronous and asynchronous interaction, in spoken and written form, to assist students in reaching the expected proficiency level, a level that is difficult to attain in a face-to-face setting. We must also find ways to create one community of learners from two groups of students.

This blog will be my space to consider solutions for all the challenges we are sure to face.