This fall marks the launch of a new curriculum in Italian at the University of Minnesota. The previous textbook, Prego is being phased out in favor of Avanti!, a new textbook from the same publisher (McGraw-Hill) that is more communicative and less grammar-focused, co-authored by Diane Musumeci of "performed culture" fame. The textbook is being adopted for use in Ital 1001 through 1003; other materials, still to be determined, will be adopted for 1004 starting in Spring 2012.
The new initiative exploits technology in its pursuit of a more communicative, student-centered approach. Student blogs, hosted as Moodle Forums, are an essential component of the courses. Even more stimulating is a pilot in two sections of Ital 1001 using Google Video to facilitate student-to-student exchanges with liceo students in Ancona and Ravenna, Italy. Because of the time difference, students use email to set up a time over the weekend to video-chat with their partner in Italy. The exchange, coordinated through professional contacts by Italian DLI Carlotta Dradi-Bower with a hand from Kate Clements, Director of the Language Center's TandemPlus program, is 50% in Italian and 50% in English, so that both sides benefit. Students, though beginners, are excited to discover that they can communicate successfully in Italian, and teachers are gaining skills in serving as coaches to prepare the students (theme-specific vocabulary, etc.) for the weekly exchanges.
The Avanti! materials provide cultural context for the content presented through web-based video (also available on CD-ROM). The workbook is accessed through Centro on the Internet. Students (and teachers) find the new culture-based approach challenging, but tests scores are high, even though exams now assess culture and content as well as grammar and vocabulary.