This semester, the University of Minnesota has partnered with several Big 10 institutions to provide less-commonly-taught language courses through teleconferencing and other digital means, a project funded by the Consortium for Institutional Collaboration (CIC) CourseShare program. When Junior Jack Kreiser learned about CourseShare, he eagerly got in contact about the possibility of an Indonesian course.
"I've always been interested in languages and geography in general, and Indonesia has always been a sort of favorite of mine," he said.
Thanks to CourseShare, Kreiser was able to enroll in an Indonesian course offered through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the only U of M student enrolled in this particular CourseShare class. The rest of his class and his instructor only know him from what they've seen of him on their computer screen.
"Before the program started, I was worried about how my classmates would feel about having a stranger in their class studying over videoconference," he remembered. "The students in the class had already had a year of Indonesian class together, and I worried I might be seen as intruding on their class."
Kresier was relieved to find that "all my classmates are very nice and have accepted me into the class." They've made him feel included and welcomed, he said, and they all enjoy joking around with each other--although some of their favorite jokes aren't ones that can be found in a typical classroom.
"For one class activity, we had to line up based on height, age, etc. Because I wasn't physically in the room, the class TA had to stand in my place. My classmates and I also like to tease each other by asking the other if they want some of our food when someone brings snacks to class."
After several weeks of observing the CourseShare classes, Program Coordinator Pablo Viedma is excited to see everything going so well.
"The students seem to be having a lot of fun; they're always laughing and having a good time," he said.
As is the case with most big projects, obstacles presented themselves early on in the semester. Viedma says the staff had to work quickly to correct some technological issues, primarily improving the sound. Since then, there have been no major issues, but Viedma is prepared to confront them should they appear.
"We're learning as we go," he said, "and now it will be nice to be able to anticipate these problems with future courses."
Kreiser is looking forward to continuing his Indonesian course next semester and encourages others to take advantage of CourseShare as well.
"I would really like for the CourseShare program to make itself more well-known on campus. The actual program itself is run very well, it's just that very few people know about it," he said.
He especially encourages those who are interested in less-commonly-taught languages, such as Indonesian, to find out more information about this program and enroll in a course.
"Studying a less-commonly-taught language makes you stand out and differentiate yourself from others. [It] also provides great academic and career options. There are many scholarship programs for a large number of less-commonly-taught languages due to an insufficient number of speakers in these languages. Employers also are interested in speakers of less commonly taught languages because it is very difficult to find employees that can speak these language to meet their language needs.
"Studying a less-commonly-taught language is [also] really cool because people will want to talk to you about the language you are studying. Nobody would be asking me questions right now about the language I study if I had chosen a commonly-taught language.
"I've really enjoyed knowing that I am the only person in the entire university that is taking a class in Indonesian. [...] Indonesia is home to a quarter billion people, but most Americans don't know or hear very much about this giant country. When I tell people I am studying Indonesian, the two most common responses are: 'That's a language?' and 'Where's Indonesia?' This strange lack of interest in Indonesia in our society has draw me to learn more about the country and its people because I believe that our society should be more aware of other places and cultures around the world."
If you are interested in CIC CourseShare and would like more information, please contact CourseShare Coordinator Pablo Viedma by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.