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October 30, 2000

Language center offers new concepts to teaching

By Eric Rangus

Foreign language instruction has never been a high priority in American education. But with globalization becoming more of a buzzword, that is changing.

Emory is playing its part with an increased emphasis on internationalization, and that is most apparent with this fall’s creation of the Emory College Language Center (ECLC).

“What we hope to do is to improve the quality of foreign language instruction on our campus on many different fronts,” said Mahmoud Al-Batal, associate professor of Middle Eastern studies and ECLC director. Al-Batal said the center has two primary focuses, one of which is pedagogy.

“[The other] front is the technology area of our classrooms,” Al-Batal said. “We want to provide more opportunities for students to be immersed in the language, to be exposed to the language—the sounds, the images.”

ECLC’s technological jewels are a pair of identical “smart” classrooms on the eighth and ninth floors of the Woodruff Library. A total of 10 language classes share the rooms, which keeps them filled from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days. And anyone taking one of those classes is in for a treat.

Just a handful of the classrooms’ multimedia features include a multiformat VCR, DVD/laser disc player, a six-speaker stereo system and access to international television and radio programming. All these tools are routed into a computer and displayed on a digital projection screen. The screen is touch-activated, meaning an instructor or student can use his or her hand as a mouse by “clicking” on an icon displayed on the board.

In addition to the newly opened smart classrooms, a language lab is being built on the library’s fourth floor. Al-Batal hopes it will be ready by next March. A smaller lab with six networked computers is already open next to the smart classroom on the ninth floor.

Not only will many of ECLC’s programs help students, they are tailored to assist instructors as well, particularly through training.

“We are hoping sometime next summer to have workshops for language faculty who are interested in undertaking projects to rethink the way they teach, trying to incorporate new technologies intoteaching,” Al-Batal said.

“Faculty have had a lot of local support in the past, but they haven’t had customized and focused technology support geared toward languages,” said Jose Rodriguez, ECLC technology analyst.

“That often requires a lot of other things to think about, like the non-Western scripts, writing from right to left. You have to integrate culture as well as grammar, so there are a lot of things to consider.”

And, according to Al-Batal, exploring new teaching techniques, whether they involve new technology or not, is ECLC’s other goal.

“The language center sees as its mission to provide more exposure of the faculty to the latest trends in teaching and pedagogical matters,” he said. “I don’t want it to be perceived that our mission is only to deal with technology—but rather technology and pedagogy, and how they interact.”

For several years, language faculty have been looking for ways to upgrade Emory’s offerings in the area. One of the more positive advances came in 1998, when the college mandated two semesters of a foreign language in its degree requirements.

The University’s increased focus on internationalization also intensified the interest in addressing foreign language education. Then in April, college Dean Steve Sanderson announced ECLC’s creation.

“The general push on campus toward internationalization and globalization has made it crucial to have a center that could coordinate all efforts on campus aimed at enhancing the learning and teachingof foreign languages,” Al-Batal said.

As part of ECLC’s responsibilities, it has taken over administration of the 4-year-old Languages Across the Curriculum (LAC) program, which moves over from the Center for Teaching and Curriculum (CTC).

ECLC’s workings are guided by two committees—executive and advisory. The executive committee will meet once a month and is made up of representatives from each foreign language area. It will oversee the center’s activities and handle the planning and organization.

The 11-member advisory committee includes reps from the college, Oxford, the graduate school, the Institute for Comparative and International Studies (ICIS) and seven other departments that deal with the teaching of foreign languages. Starting in November, it will meet each semester to discuss ways ECLC can aid this instruction across the Emory community. The executive committee had its first get-together earlier this month.

While ECLC’s creation may not lead to any more foreign languages being added to college curriculum in the near future (Portuguese was added this fall), it can help students find language resources outside Emory.

“We have graduate students in anthropology who have research needs in African languages,” Al-Batal said. “We are hoping to find a formula by which the language center can assist the graduate school by providing training to graduate students using what’s called the ‘self-instructional model,’ where you find a native speaker or tutor who will meet with the students.”

New technology initiatives are already in full swing. This summer ECLC began digitizing archived audio and video materials. This would allow them to be posted to the web so students can download them from any computer.

While the music and media library’s cassette collection—long a staple of any foreign language program—would never fully disappear, the center hopes to build a significant collection of digitized files. A good representation of materials in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Italian has already been built, Rodriguez said.

The material in the new language lab, for instance, will be digital, making it more of a foreign language computer lab than anything else. The new language lab will include a digitizing suite so faculty members can digitize material on their own time.


Back to Emory Report Oct. 30, 2000