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Language Center to Administer Language Flagship PACE Project

The Language Center is pleased to announce that the University of Minnesota has been awarded a federal grant from the Language Flagship. The Proficiency Assessment for Curricular Enhancement (PACE) project will provide an integrated program of language assessment and continual curricular improvement for students of French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish with a goal of helping move all students to higher stages of language proficiency.

The PACE project has three components: assessment, professional development and sustainability. A cross-section of students will be assessed at various stages of language development from first year to upper-division courses and study abroad. A systematic professional development program will provide opportunities for language program instructors to work with national and international experts in workshops and to collaborate with one another to improve curricular and extracurricular opportunities available for students. A sustainable self-assessment program will help students understand and articulate their own competence and will empower them to be responsible for their own second language learning.

PACE is funded through a federal Language Flagship grant and administered by the Language Center with the support of CARLA and the six CLA language programs. It began August 1, 2014, and will run for two years with a goal of sustaining a culture of student-centered assessment, self assessment, and curricular improvement long into the future.

Other recipients of the Language Flagship Proficiency Initiative awards are the University of Utah and Michigan State University.

Until recently, the Language Proficiency Exam (LPE) was the only central tool available for language students to evaluate their language skills at the intermediate level, and there were no options for students who had surpassed that level. Today though, the Language Testing Program is working with language program developers to diversify the tools available to students, and to reach students whose language is not taught at the University, and those who have achieved higher levels of proficiency.

The LPE remains the most important tool available. In addition to tests already in place for Arabic, Chinese, Hmong, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and a second version of the Spanish LPE Reading and Listening sections, other new assessments are in progress. Development is underway for Finnish, Korean, Somali, and Swahili LPE's this semester. A new form of the German Reading LPE will be piloted in November.

Beyond the LPE, the following new assessments have been piloted, will be piloted or are now actively administered to students: the Spanish Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI), the Individual Language Assessment (ILA) and several Self-Assessment instruments.

The Spanish SOPI

A SOPI is a computerized version of an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) administered in a Digital Language Lab (DiLL) to a class of students simultaneously. The primary advantage of a SOPI over a traditional OPI is that the time required to administer the test is significantly reduced. It would take at least six hours to administer OPIs to a class of 24 students; with a SOPI, this can be done in less than one class period. Of course, all of those exams still need to be rated!

"In delivering an interview via computer, the SOPI may shift the center of power more toward the students; they may feel more ownership of their half of the (simulated) interaction, and thus feel more confident about speaking."     -Gabriela Sweet, assessment developer and lead trainer

Students are provided with a real-life context to speak in Spanish, recording their responses in the lab using DiLL. Student feedback was generally positive after the February pre-pilot. Students commented that the SOPI is more efficient and less stressful and that they enjoyed using the SOPI in lieu of the traditional face-to-face format.

The SOPI's delivery, in capturing extended student speech, reduces the possibility of a difficult-to-rate interview, which can occur in face-to-face interviews when learners may not get the opportunities they need to demonstrate the full range of their language abilities. Developers hope to use the SOPI assessment with College in the Schools (CiS) students in the future, and it is possible to adapt this assessment for other languages as the prompts are in English.

As with the OPI, SOPI tasks are designed to target a wide range of linguistic functions and real-world topics at the student's target level of proficiency. The SOPI is also more standardized compared to the OPI because it systematically facilitates a ratable sample of student speech. Students naturally tend to speak in complete sentences in the SOPI, which may not happen during the live interview when they can appropriately respond in sentence fragments. Since the SOPI response is at sentence-level, it may be easier for raters to analyze.

A six-person team carried out the SOPI pilot. This team included Spanish 1004 coordinator Sara Mack, Spanish 1004 instructors Marilena Mattos and Stephanie Hernández, Spanish Testing Coordinator Joanne Peltonen, Language Center Testing Development Coordinator Gabriela Sweet and Language Center Technical Coordinator Diane Rackowski. Additional input and support was provided by Language Center Director Dan Soneson.

The ILA

Did you know the Testing Program now provides assessment in languages from Amharic to Zulu?

CLA students who have achieved proficiency in a language not offered at the University of Minnesota have a new way to demonstrate their proficiency and complete the second language requirement. The ILA is a writing and speaking test that is adaptable for any modern language. It tests to the intermediate level, which is the level expected after two years of university language study. The test is rated by native or near-native speakers of the particular language who are trained and guided by Language Testing Program staff.

Since January 2013, a total of 32 students have been approved to take ILAs in 16 languages from around the world, including major languages spoken by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, but rare on our campus, and dialects specific to a particular village. The most common languages assessed are Vietnamese and Oromo.

For many languages, it can be challenging to find a qualified rater. Most raters are affiliated with the University as faculty, staff, graduate students, or former students. They are almost always native speakers with some prior linguistic or educational experience. Some of the raters have few other opportunities to use their language skills professionally, although they may use the language in their daily life.

Stephanie Treat, who has assisted with the hiring of most raters, said:

"We often get requests to rate languages that I've never heard of or know little about. We've had fun researching languages and scouring campus and beyond to find potential raters. The University of Minnesota is a global community, and with persistence, we can usually find someone currently connected to campus who is pleased to share his or her expertise."

In order to conform to the CLA mandate for proficiency in a second language, ILA raters are trained using guidelines that align with those used to evaluate student performance in languages that are taught at the University of Minnesota and that have an LPE. Before ILA raters begin the evaluation process, they are made familiar with both the instrument and the target level for production. The rater-training process is very hands-on; criteria are analyzed and then applied. The rater works closely with the rater trainer. Raters are guided through the process using a rater-training module.

The Language Testing Program plans to create a video to facilitate rater training, as well as refresher training, for raters who have completed evaluations at an earlier date but would need a quick refamiliarization to ensure that they apply the criteria in the same way to a new student's ILA. "We've been fortunate to work with some very talented people," assessment developer and lead trainer Gabriela Sweet said.

"It's fascinating to work with someone on a language with which you, the trainer, have very little experience, to see them point out clearly how students demonstrate the target levels. It has been a wonderful experience for us, in the Testing Program, to see how students in a variety of languages are able to show their proficiency in alignment with the College of Liberal Arts student learning objectives. I think it's also a privilege to be able to learn from colleagues in diverse languages; in hearing what students say and reading what they write in the ILAs we begin to see that the world is, in some ways, quite small... we're all working toward many of the same goals."     - Gabriela Sweet

Students interested in completing the CLA second language requirement via ILA exam should begin by contacting their advisor. CLA Student Services approves requests first, and then students contact the Language Testing Program to schedule an exam. There is a $30.00 fee assessed to assist with the cost of rater compensation. Students who pass both sections of the exam complete the CLA second language requirement.

Self-Assessment Instruments

Self-Assessment instruments help students become more aware of their own language development and describe their level of proficiency. This type of instrument requires little time to administer and students can take it from home at their convenience. Students can take the same assessment more than once and track their language development over time.

Two Self-Assessments for Spanish are currently in development: one intended for Spanish 1004 students and another which assesses higher-level proficiency for students pursuing the Certificate of Advanced-Level Proficiency. Developers are also creating new self-assessments for German, Italian, and French.

Students can use these self-assessments for feedback on performance in a language and to better prepare themselves before taking the LPE or other exam. In a pilot study in Fall 2013, many students found the self-assessments helpful and noted that routine self-assessment would be helpful in the future. The test developers will be very pleased to share more information about these instruments once they have been piloted and results have been analyzed.

SOPI, ILA, Self-Assessments

Developers in the Language Testing Program and the academic departments have been hard at work developing and improving language assessment instruments to create a more personalized, modern, and enjoyable testing experience for students. Undergraduate students themselves have played an important role by piloting these assessments and providing valuable feedback to developers. These new tests are designed to accurately reflect students' abilities and to provide them with information they can use as they continue to develop their proficiency.

Type of Assessment Benefits / Improvements Development Timeframe
New Language Proficiency Exams (LPE's) Korean and Somali were added as new LPE exam options. Adding these languages provides students with more possibilities in assessing language proficiency. Korean: Will pilot Reading in Spring. Listening & Writing are ready to go!
Somali: Will pilot Reading, Listening, and likely Writing this Spring
New German Reading Test Developed another form in addition to Form A. Form B is up-to-date; the readings from Form A were 20 years old. Better quality photos were also added. The Reading test will be piloted this Fall semester
Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI) Spanish 1004: Extended time limit for thinking and speaking. Bigger, better resolution photos. Piloted in Spring 2013
Individualized Language Assessment (ILA) One format for all languages as a test of Speaking and Writing. Allows students flexibility in composing responses about real-world situations. The test has been administered to 16 students with many more expected in the future. The long-term goal is to develop multiple versions of the test.
Self-Assessment Instruments Spanish 1004: Students can demonstrate their second language proficiency before taking final proficiency tests
Spanish Advanced Level: To help students determine their proficiency level. Intended for students pursuing the Certificate of Advanced-Level Proficiency.
Spanish 1004: Pilot was completed in Fall 2013
Spanish Advanced Level: Piloted with Spanish students December 11, 2013
German: Pilot 5 sections in Spring 2014
Italian: Pilot in two section Spring 2014
French: Pilot in eight sections Spring 2014

World Languages Day 2013: Changes and Successes

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World Languages Day (WLD) 2013 saw many new developments and changes this time around. This year WLD attracted approximately 1,000 high school students, came home to the East Bank, and featured smaller, more personal Welcoming Remarks. 2013_poster.png

WLD began gradually and humbly as energetic volunteers directed students from school buses and instructors checked in to teach their classes. For breakfast, croissants were served with beverages in the indoor courtyard of Rapson Hall.

To acquaint high school students with the University of Minnesota's vast campus, Admissions Guides took the students on a short tour the Knoll area, so they could see their classroom buildings.

Several schools attended, comprising a variety of studied languages:

  • Avalon (Spanish)
  • Apple Valley (French)
  • Augsburg Fairview Academy (Spanish)
  • Cannon Falls (Spanish)
  • Coon Rapids (French and Spanish)
  • Melrose Area High School (Spanish
  • Milaca (Chinese)
  • Park High School (ASL, French, German, Spanish)
  • Robbinsdale Cooper (French, Spanish)
  • South High School (Spanish)
  • St. Louis Park (French, German, Hebrew, Spanish)
  • St. Anthony Village High School (Spanish)
  • Washburn (English)
  • Zumbrota-Mazeppa (Chinese)

TandemPlus: Connecting Cultures and Communities through Communication

Anyone who's studied second language knows the difficulties. One is the discrepancy between book-learning and real-life language use; for example, the dialogues in second-language textbooks are scripted and complete, but real-life dialogues are full of false starts, interruptions, and other complications which are notoriously hard to negotiate on the fly. Also daunting are the cultural differences involved; ways of saying "How are you?" can vary one from one country to the next, even in those speaking the same language. Also, to attain true linguistic fluency, extensive and frequent conversation with native speakers of the language is required. Fortunately, a program exists at the University of Minnesota that allows participants to gain experience in all these areas, without leaving campus or even spending any money.

The TandemPlus cultural and conversation exchange program offers University of Minnesota students and community members the opportunity to use their second language skills with native speakers of the languages that they are learning. TandemPlus has different facets, including the Face-to-Face (F2F) Exchanges and the Class-to-Class (C2C) Exchanges.

The most popular facet is the F2F program, in which individual students voluntarily enroll because they want to improve their second-language skills. After registering on-line and being matched by Tandem staff based on their personal and linguistic preferences, participants meet with one another in person on or around campus on a regular basis. These partnerships often grow into strong friendships. U of M student Sean Nelson, who participated in a Japanese-English F2F exchange during the Spring 2013 semester, stated,

Tandem has helped more than I would have ever imagined. I initially didn't know what I'd gain from a Tandem partner, but it has become such an amazing experience. I have become very comfortable with speaking Japanese, my listening comprehension has improved tremendously and my cultural understanding has improved greatly.

According to Nelson, his F2F partnership has also increased his vocabulary, helped him improve his performance in class, and more:

Along with all that, I've gained an amazing friend. I've gained experiences and information I don't feel I would have ever been taught in class. It has also helped prepare me for studying abroad this summer. And finally, it has connected me to the Japanese community at the University. Without my Tandem partner, I would have never thought about signing up to join the board of the Japanese Student Association, where I am now an officer and love every second of it.

tandem_1.JPG

While the F2F program is individual and voluntary, the C2C program is done in conjunction with a language class at the University. In it, students are paired with a partner in a complementary language class abroad -- for example, students in a Spanish class at the U of M could be paired with students in an English class in Spain. Students communicate with each other in their first and second languages, using Skype or another on-line medium, and learn about different cultures while utilizing their language skills. Rick Treece is a French instructor at the U of M whose students have participated in C2C exchanges for several semesters. According to Treece, the program offers some great incentives for U of M students:

I liked the idea of giving my students authentic contact with native speakers their own age. The experience would be motivational from two standpoints: showing them how much they can really achieve in French already, and showing them what they need to work on in order to be more successful. The chances for cross-cultural insights (which is a big element of our French 1004 curriculum) was also attractive.
Treece pointed out that the opportunity did not come without challenges:
The mismatch of the academic calendars is a hassle. When we're putting together our Fall syllabus, the French are on vacation; they're not at work answering their emails, and even when they do reply, they don't know their enrollments or perhaps even their course assignments yet. The delay between the start of our Spring semesters is even worse, so that we end up with only about 5 weeks of course-time in common in the Spring, once you take out Spring Breaks, etc. The solution is just that we've learned to be flexible, to plan based on expectations, and then adjust in midstream.

Despite the challenges that came with the program, the benefits far outweighed the cost, according to Treece. He noted that while a "handful of students found it frustrating, even negative," the majority of his students had "pleasant and cordial" exchanges, and that some even had "life-changing experiences," such as the opportunity to visit their partner overseas.

All in all, TandemPlus is a free program that offers the potential for increased linguistic fluency, greater cultural awareness, or even a life-changing experience. The F2F program operates during all semesters of the academic year, including Summer, while the C2C program operates mainly during the academic year. Students or instructors who want to learn how to participate in these exchanges should get in touch with TandemPlus at tandem@umn.edu.

German Hybrid Development: The Digital Story So Far

This is the last of a series of articles on hybrid courses. The series began with an interview with Dan Soneson, who coordinates the Hybrid Working Group, followed by a Spotlight on Spanish Hybrid Courses and La Vie Branchée: French Hybrid Classes.

HailleyVT photo.jpg

Screenshot from a student's digital story.

German hybrid, first offered in Fall 2012 for German 1003, is the newest of the hybrid courses currently offered at the University of Minnesota. German hybrid is unique in that it integrates new technology such as Avenue, a video recording tool, VoiceThread for digital storytelling, special Moodle tools, and Wimba Voice Board.

In the summer of 2011, Beth Kautz, a German 1003 coordinator, participated in a hybrid course in Munich about teaching hybrid language courses. "This was a transformative experience for me, which led to a year of planning before actually developing the course in the summer of 2012," Kautz said.

A small team of graduates and coordinators received a "Tools for Discovery Grant" and funding from CLA, which allowed them to create new hybrid course materials.

Kautz said German hybrid developers created their own course materials based on reading texts, podcasts, and video clips from the internet. This development allowed the German department to offer two sections of hybrid 1003 in Fall 2012, and one section of hybrid 1003 and two sections of hybrid 1004 in Spring 2013. These hybrid courses met face-to-face three days a week and online two days.

New Technology

Developers experimented with different technology, including a video-recording tool developed at the University of Minnesota, called Avenue. Classrooms also integrated Moodle tools such as discussion forums, databases, glossaries, and polls, as well as the Wimba Voice Board.

Kautz said the highlight of the semester was using a tool called VoiceThread for digital storytelling. Students received instructions on using the technology. She described the project as an autobiographical essay about their youth experiences that have shaped their current educational and career goals. The student used personal photos and voice recordings to present their stories visually.

"Students focused on presentational speaking skills to make their stories engaging and easy to understand. All the digital stories were linked in a Moodle forum, where classmates could view and comment on each other's creative work... Students were able to complete the project on their own and we were all thrilled with the results! They took great pride in their stories and the sense of community was really strengthened by sharing them with each other."
    - Beth Kautz, German 1003 Coordinator

Instructor Feedback and Outcomes

Ginny Steinhagen, German 1004 coordinator, noted that hybrid instructors are learning the benefits of spreading out deadlines for student's feedback in forums, by allowing adequate time for students to respond to each other's posts.

Steinhagen emphasized the importance of instructor feedback for online activities in hybrid courses.

"In 1004, [Meagan Tripp, 1004 German instructor] has created some nice, quick Moodle quizzes that show us whether the students are understanding the reading or the grammar. As teachers, it is important for us to follow up on these quizzes (even if they are self-correcting) and comment on them in class. Integrating the hybrid day activities into face to face discussions continues to be a challenge."
   - Ginny Steinhagen, German 1004 Coordinator

Kautz added that there is great variation in how instructor feedback occurs and how students' assignments are submitted. "There are many possibilities and we are still figuring out what works best in which situation," she said.

At the moment, developers do not have specific data on student's performance comparing German hybrid and traditional face-to-face courses. Kautz noted that there are many variables to consider and considerations in terms of how to define performance. However, Kautz said, "I anticipate that students in hybrid sections will become more fluent writers through increased writing practice in online discussion boards, but that's a research project for the future."

La Vie Branchée: French Hybrid Classes

This is a continuation of a series of articles on hybrid courses. The series began with an interview with Dan Soneson, who coordinates the Hybrid Working Group, followed by the Spanish Hybrid article.

With the debut of French 1004 in Fall 2011, French was the second language program to offer lower-level hybrid courses. Since then, curriculum developers have experimented with different proportions of weekly face-to-face meetings with online components at the 1003 and 1004 levels. French 1002 was added as a hybrid course this spring.

One of the most exciting developments in hybrid French 1004 is the integration of TandemPlus class-to-class exchanges between U of M French students and English learners from Troyes, France. Students are assigned to communicate via Skype with their language partners on predetermined topics that complement the themes covered in the curriculum.

Trina Whitaker, French 1003/1004 coordinator and instructor, said "This is, for many students, a very positive experience."

Corbin Treacy, a French 1004 hybrid instructor, also described the online webcam activities as a positive experience for students. "My students got a lot out of the Skype exchanges," he said. "One student traveled to France over the summer and stayed with her exchange partner; other students have told me they are still in contact with their 'correspondent.'"

Experimentation with French Hybrid Format

Rick Treece taught a traditional five-day-a-week French 1004 class this fall. On the first day, he asked students how often they would like to meet, while maintaining the same five credit load. The majority responded that they would like to meet four days in-person and one day online. Treece then revised the syllabus to the four-day-a-week format (4+1), with an optional day when work could be done face-to-face if the students chose to.

Treece found that there was relatively high attendance on the optional days, with over half attending. However, most of his students had expressed interest in continuing past French 1004, which was not typical of other classes. Students who plan to continue studying the language beyond 1004 tend to be more intrinsically motivated.

For instructors and students alike, certain French hybrid formats require more work. This Spring semester, Whitaker is teaching a 4+1 hybrid course after teaching 3+2 hybrid. "I am frankly shocked at how much less time I have to spend on my teaching, when the class meets more often," she said. "The 3+2 classes are a lot more work - there is more grading, more planning... just more of everything that takes a lot of time."

Hybrid French 1002 course, introduced this fall, utilizes the software Connect, a new hybrid interface for the textbook Deux Mondes.

Reactions to Hybrid Content

The French hybrid format allows instructors to experiment with content to engage students. Treece was surprised by students' reactions. "Results didn't always match my expectations: a session on use of online translators, which I expected to be wildly popular, only attracted 4 students."

During the first semester of French hybrid, students could do work based on the individual's level of skill in French, but it did not always relate directly to the course content. This method included using separately purchased software based on readings, video, audio and grammar exercises, Whitaker said.

"There was a disconnect between what the students were being asked to do outside of class and what we were doing in class," Treacy said. "Initially, they liked the concept of independent learning, increased flexibility, and targeted online linguistic support. Before long, however, students began to look upon the online exercises as burdensome and arbitrary."

"Things that seem to work better," Whitaker said, "are having students do readings or watch videos that we select within the department and can make sure are entirely relevant to our course content."

Best Personalities for Hybrid

Whitaker found that, for students motivated and strong in French, hybrid is successful and adds extra motivation. However, she said, "students who are less strong in French, or who are not motivated, can find that the course feels like a lot more work to them." Whitaker explained that for a student who is used to the traditional format, which allowed more reliance on peers and instructors to answer questions, he or she is less successful.

"When students are doing the hybrid work, they are on their own, and they must do their best to figure things out without outside help, without relying on others. So it makes sense that it's taking more time [for these students], even if in reality the same amount of time is going by on the clock - it is more intensive time." - Trina Whitaker

Treacy agreed. "It requires a student who can learn independently and engage meaningfully during the hybrid section's more limited class time. Students who require constant, cyclical instruction, and who need more accountability, seemed to struggle in the hybrid section I taught."

Though the French hybrid format requires a motivated student, it also requires concise instruction. Treacy said, "The adjustment required me to be more organized and thoughtful with class time. Particularly difficult was the balancing act between responding to specific student needs (reviewing a tricky concept, for example) and moving forward with new material."

Treece also mentioned that hybrid courses require a special type of student and instructor. "One of the recurring topics in our Hybrid Teaching Work Group has been consideration of what instructional talents, skills and preferences hybrid and online teaching demand or favor vs. face-to-face teaching."

Hybrid caters to a new generation of online learners. Treece noted, "As we begin to face a new generation of learners who have been learning online their whole lives (and who therefore are comfortable with that sort of instructional delivery and competent in that setting), we hope that we will have bred a new generation of teachers trained in that style of teaching and equally familiar with and comfortable with online learning."

Future Goals

Treacy expressed hope in French hybrid as it improves content in the future, despite student's occasional hang-ups related to content:

"I recall that on a mid-course evaluation, students expressed a simultaneous frustration with the specific forms of the online exercises and an appreciation for the hybrid concept. Despite their struggles to integrate in-class learning and out-of-class online study, the students overwhelmingly reported they would take a hybrid course in the future." -Corbin Treacy

Treece described a student's experience with the independence and accountability of the French hybrid format.

"I had a point of clarity when I asked a class about their experience with a (new) video assignment we were piloting. A student remarked that she had gotten a lot more out of it by being forced to do the work on her own. She said that if I had shown the video in class, she would probably have zoned out and waited for other members of her small group to take up the slack, but at home faced with her computer and the worksheet, there was no one else to do the task, so she worked through it herself." - Rick Treece

In addition to continuing the current French 1002 hybrid 4+1 format, Treece said the hybrid French 1003 4+1 format will most likely expand to all day sections in Fall 2013 and will primarily include online video.

Spotlight on Spanish Hybrid Courses

This is a continuation of a series of articles on hybrid courses. The series began with an interview with Dan Soneson, who coordinates the Hybrid Working Group.

Spanish hybrid courses first launched in academic year 1999-2000, when the Spanish and Portuguese Studies department and the Language Center received a CLA-OIT Technology Fees Grant to create a hybrid version of 1022. At that time, the format was known as "technology enhanced," and was one option for students taking the intensive first-year Spanish course.

Today all sections of SPAN 1022 are technology enhanced. In this 5-credit class students meet face-to-face three days each week and do online and computer mediated activities instead of meeting physically two days each week.

spanishTimeline.jpgClick to View Larger

Frances Matos-Schultz, the 1022 Level Coordinator, has managed and adapted the course since its debut. The course has changed considerably over time, as Frances and her fellow instructors learned from experience, and as technology tools have changed.

Spanish is unique among languages at the University of Minnesota in that it offers hybrid courses for introductory students at the 1022 level. Until recently, the hybrid format was restricted to SPAN 1022. While individual instructors in Spanish have experimented with modified hybrid formats in SPAN 1003 and 1004, replacing one day each week with online activities, a concerted effort to create hybrid versions of 1003 and 1004 along the lines SPAN 1022 was undertaken in the summer of 2011. Spanish piloted 1003 and 1004 as hybrid with three physical meetings and two days of online activities each week in Fall 2011.

Adjusting to Hybrid Spanish Courses

The introduction of new Spanish 1003 and 1004 levels of hybrid has been generally painless for learners. Students who had taken SPAN 1022 were already familiar with the format. However, for students who tested into 1003 or 1004 hybrid courses or transfer students, it may have required some adjustment.

Only half of the 1003 and 1004 hybrid instructors had previously taught 1022 courses, Matos-Schultz said, so the move to hybrid for these instructors was more involved and may have been challenging:

"The move from a fully F2F environment to a hybrid (3+2) format was more involved and perhaps a bit more challenging for the instructors that were completely new to hybrid teaching, even though they were experienced and very successful 1003 and 1004 instructors. It required a repositioning of the instructor/learner roles, redesigning lesson plans, rethinking feedback techniques and strategies online and extending the teaching presence online. It was certainly hard work." - Frances Matos-Schultz

Sara Mack, the new Spanish 1004 coordinator, described a smooth implementation of the hybrid format as a goal to serve students. "One of the challenges going forward is to find the best way to provide support so that everyone, regardless of their comfort level with the Hybrid model or with technology in general, can achieve his or her language learning goals and be successful in the Hybrid 1004 class."

One of the possible adjustments students should make when taking the hybrid class is to make sure they treat the online portion of the course as seriously as the face-to-face meeting so that they are fully prepared and can perform well in class.

For the most part, online aspects seem to have helped students. "Students come better prepared to class. Research shows that students who engage with materials online come better prepared to the classroom, thus making better use of the face-to-face time," said Pablo Viedma, Spanish and Portuguese liaison.

What Makes Spanish Hybrid Unique?

Some unique advantages of the Spanish hybrid courses in lieu of traditional face-to-face format include online activities such as group writing exchanges, Moodle homework, Wimba Voice Board, and the Tertulias designed by France Matos Schultz and Megan Corbin. These activities allow students to interact more fully with the course content.

"They engage with this format, see relevant videos about it, converse in forum groups, create voice recordings and write short compositions about topics related to each chapter," said Angela Carlson-Lombardi, Spanish 1003 coordinator.

In hybrid versions of Spanish courses, writing exchanges and feedback occur online, where students can practice grammar, conversation, reading, and writing.

The hybrid format also allows Spanish students flexibility and can accommodate different types of learners. "Students engage with the materials when they are alert, which might be at different times than class times," Viedma noted. "Also, hybrid classes are known to engage diverse learners (introverted learners, for instance). We teach the students the same way that they interact with each other and with the media: through the computer, smartphone or tablet."

Advice for Students, Instructors and Developers

Students who are self-motivated learners and have sufficient time management skills are most likely to perform well in a hybrid course.

Matos-Schultz emphasized the importance of community, patience, and humor when adjusting to hybrid.

"[It's important] to be patient and adventurous with the technology. A good sense of humor is essential. Keep in mind that "going hybrid" is a process that takes time. Trial and error are part of it. Engage your community in the process, particularly your learners. Remember that instructors need support too. Make sure to include a space for learners to create community. An instructor's community of practitioners (and supporters!) is crucial as well." - Frances Matos-Schultz

Goals for Spanish Hybrid Going Forward

In the future, instructors are trying to ensure equality among the different formats of hybrid courses and access to materials. "The online modules also ensure students come prepared for the class, which is what we would like to ensure via online assignment for all of our classes," Carlson-Lombardi said.

At the 1022 level, three online learning modules are currently being updated. "In my sections I have been using additional modules connected to other disciplines," Matos-Schultz said. "I am currently working on them with my students (they provide valuable feedback and are amazing sources of creativity)."

Mack highlighted some core goals that are maintained for all language courses: "As we move forward, I think our goals remain the same as they always have been: to give our students the best language learning experience possible regardless of the format of the class, and to help students understand language and culture as a core part of a liberal arts education."

Hybrid Language Courses Expand

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Hybrid language courses, made up of both online and classroom-based instruction, are growing at the University of Minnesota. French and Spanish are piloting refined second-year hybrid courses this semester, while German is piloting its first ever hybrid class this fall in 1003.

Spanish was the first to offer hybrid courses, starting with 1022 over a decade ago. Concentrated efforts to expand hybrid course development began in 2011, when Spanish created hybrid options for 1003 and 1004 and French piloted a hybrid version of 1004.

A Hybrid Working Group was formed during the Spring 2012 semester. It includes representatives from French, German, Italian, Spanish, the Language Center, CARLA and CLA-OIT. The goals of this group are to share resources, compare experiences and learn from one another without producing identical classes for various language programs.

The group worked diligently over the summer and continues to meet this semester. Meetings typically feature at least one technical training and exploration opportunity.

The new hybrid courses address the five national standards for foreign language learning, known as the "Five C's": Communication, Cultures, Comparisons, Connections, and Communities.

I sat down with Dan Soneson, coordinator of the Hybrid Working Group and spokesperson for ComSLE, to learn more about hybrid courses and the process of the work group's collaboration.

Saoirse: How are hybrid courses adjusted/customized to suit different languages? Is there a specific model for the ideal hybrid course?

Dan: It would be great if there were one model out there that we could all adopt, but the concept of a hybrid course has developed over time and only recently have we begun to think about actually replacing class time with time online. We started the process looking at how Spanish 1022 works, and went from there.

We quickly discovered that the amount and quality of prepared online resources available to Spanish is not as readily available to the other language programs, so French, German and Italian had to find and develop more of their own materials. While Spanish had begun with the intensive elementary course, both the French and German programs decided to start at the second year. The reasoning was that by the second year students have experience with the language and might be able to work more independently in a partially online context.

Saoirse: Will hybrid courses expand to more languages and levels in the future? Are there any more languages that may be experimenting with hybrid?

Dan: That will depend on the success of these newly developed courses. The original plan was to have blended learning or hybrid courses in place for at least semesters two through four of Spanish, German, French, and possibly Italian. If we can solidify the models we develop for these languages, perhaps they can serve as templates for related language programs.

Saoirse: Do you think a hybrid model would work with upper division language courses?

Dan: I definitely think a hybrid model can work throughout the curriculum. A great deal depends on what kinds of activities can be developed to take advantage of the wealth of material and communication possibilities that technology provides.

Saoirse: What are student's reactions to these new courses? Instructor's reactions?

Dan: As you can imagine, reactions have been mixed. One thing we've learned is that students discover quickly that this course involves more work than a strict face-to-face class, even though the expected time commitment is equivalent. While it may be possible to participate less in a face-to-face class, online you need to do all the work and demonstrate your participation. This work, however, can yield greater results, since everyone is participating equally.

Instructors also note the increased workload, primarily due to reading and responding to every student's contributions to forum topics and threaded discussions. However, regular classroom participation can increase as well. One instructor stated recently that once the class gets into the rhythm of online work leading to live classroom activities, the quality of the classroom work improves, with more engaged students and more stimulating discussions.

Saoirse: What are the expectations of a hybrid course? What are the characteristics of a student who will be successful in a hybrid course?

Dan: Basically, a hybrid course represents a transformation from a conventional course that meets exclusively in a physical space (a classroom) to one in which a regular number of classroom hours take place online or through use of technology. In our case, the conventional 5-credit course meets regularly at the same hour, five days each week. The hybrid version reduces the physical in-class hours to three each week, while the other two hours take place virtually, with students engaged with similar activities or with the kind of activities that are desirable, but difficult to accomplish in a large class setting. The expectation is that these online "classes" carry the same weight as a regular in-class meeting, and that students spend at least 50 minutes focussing on the assigned activities, at a time that is convenient for them. In addition to these online activities, students also complete regular homework assignments for each class period, whether it is virtual or face-to-face.

Successful students are well organized self-starters who can work independently and are willing to work with peers outside of the classroom. Much of the "group" work that takes place in the virtual classroom requires teamwork and an ability to contribute to a discussion in a timely manner.

Saoirse: What are some things the Hybrid Work Group achieved over the summer? What kind of technology were instructors trained on?

Dan: The Work Group met weekly over the summer to share ideas and experiences. The idea was to provide both structure and a support system for all instructors working on the process. We had people from CLA-OIT participate and share technologies in an effort to help the instructors develop activities and format the courses. We experienced the capabilities of Moodle, Kaltura, UMConnect, Google Hangouts, TurnItIn, and Avenue.

One of the major opportunities that I see for hybrid courses is the ability to pair our students with speakers of the language they are learning. Our TandemPlus program is developing connections with institutions abroad, and ideally we can connect our learners with learners of English to engage in mutually beneficial regular exchanges in which each participant has an opportunity to discuss cultural issues with a partner in the target language. Once we have these networks firmly established, our students could spend 50 minutes online with a language partner instead of in class. The possibility of using the language in meaningful communication in 50 minutes is much greater in this situation than in a large class. There is still much work to be done to bring these internet exchanges about in a regular manner, but it would be an excellent activity taking full advantage of what internet technology has to offer. Pilot programs are already underway in French, Spanish, German and Italian.

Saoirse: Is there anything else you would like to add about hybrid language courses in general?

Dan: This hybrid development process provides a great opportunity to rethink our language programs, to take advantage of the wealth of authentic materials available on the internet and the wonderful capabilities of Computer Mediated Communication, such as threaded discussions, chat, voice chat, and teleconferencing. You mentioned the National Standards above. We have an excellent opportunity now to address all five C's through technology, exploring Cultures, Connecting to disciplinary content, drawing Comparisons through in-depth experience of cultural practices and perspectives, and providing access to a vast array of Communities that function in the target language on the Web.

This is the first in a series of articles planned on hybrid course development. Look for future blog entries concentrating on hybrid courses for Spanish, French and German.

The LPE Changes with the Times

The Language Testing Program now offers computerized Language Proficiency Exams (LPEs) in more languages than ever before. Tests currently in development feature culturally-rich authentic source material such as clips from modern Korean film, a look at the Somali-speaking community in the Twin Cities, and much more!

scene from Korean film
Example of culturally authentic material that could be used in LPE

Computerized LPEs were established in 2001. Hundreds of language students take them each semester to fulfill the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) language requirement and as a gateway to advanced language study. The mission of the Language Testing Program has remained constant: to accurately assess students' ability to listen, read, write and speak in the target language.

However, the program has changed and grown since 2001. The LPE is constantly being improved and the pace of modernization and innovation has picked up in the last few years. The Language Testing Program has focused on two new goals since 2010:  to serve as many language students as possible and to improve the students' exam experience by including contemporary and diverse media from the target language culture.

Before 2010, a computerized test was available only for students of French, German and Spanish and a few related languages. Students of Asian and other less commonly taught languages were limited to paper-based tests, or had no exam options at all.

Tests are now in place for Arabic, Chinese, Hmong, Italian, Japanese and Russian, and there is a second version of the Spanish LPE. In addition, development is underway for Finnish, Korean, Somali, and Swahili. All of these tests were made possible through an influx of funding from Title VI and other sources, along with a committed effort on the part of the Language Testing Program and the individual language programs to work together tirelessly and collaboratively. Once all of the newer exams are completed, the LPE will be available for almost all non-Classical languages offered in CLA and will reflect the diversity of languages available at the University of Minnesota.

As new tests are created, the Language Testing Program and the developers aim to bring new depth to the student experience and to conform more closely to current trends in second language pedagogy with increased emphasis on culturally-rich contexts. The new exams retain the original LPE goal of validating the work of students in their four semesters at the university by providing an opportunity to show what they can do with the target language in a communicative context.

However, they are not just tests - they are also learning opportunities for students, highlighting something new about the culture, history, or people of the target language through the use of authentic materials. Students may learn, for example, how traditional holiday celebrations have changed over time as societies become increasingly multicultural. There are also explorations of how gender roles have shifted and how these shifts impact language as well as cultural practice. One exam features an innovative, and perhaps surprising, environmental initiative. Another explores the lyrics of a popular song from a YouTube video.

The piloting process for new LPEs often includes a survey of student opinions about the test. Reactions to the new authentic content have been overwhelmingly positive. Test-takers have said that they were surprised and pleased to see that they had no difficulty reading texts that they might encounter on a daily basis in the target culture.

Here are some sample student reactions:

It made me realize the potential of a real-life usage for the language I've been studying.

I liked that the readings were all things I'd have to figure out in real life. It was a very pleasant experience to read articles from Japan.

The Korean LPE also offers a significant technological innovation: the incorporation of authentic video segments into the listening section. The test includes five diverse clips from modern Korean film showing natural and interesting interactions between native speakers. The use of authentic video is an excellent platform from which to assess listening proficiency, since it ties closely to the construct of listening in a communicative context, where meaning is negotiated based on a variety of input sources. The Korean listening exam has already been piloted once, and the response to the test was enthusiastically positive. Students reported that they especially enjoyed the video segments and felt confident that they could understand content overall, even though there may have been a few words unfamiliar to them.

The Somali listening section will include some authentic video segments as well. This exam stands out because it is set locally and explores the lives of immigrants integrating with the larger community as they share their language and culture - a reflection of the changing face of the Twin Cities.

Since 2010, new LPE creation has been led by Gabriela Sweet, who has worked tirelessly to organize a rotating team of developers, coordinate with multiple departments and stakeholders, and keep all projects on time and moving forward. The Korean, Somali, and Swahili development teams also include Language Center AV Developer Alaina Witt, Item Reviewers Xinyi Wu and Meghan McFadden, and LC Technical Coordinator Diane Rackowski.

The current language-specific developers are:

Finnish: Dan Karvonen, Jaana Viljakainen
Korean: Hangtae Cho, Yunseong Cheong
Somali: Said Ahmed, Abdulkarim Maalin
Swahili: Angaluki Muaka

Much of the funding for Korean development has been provided by a CLA InfoTech Tools for Discovery Grant. Title VI funding managed by the Institute for Global Studies has provided some travel and development grants for Somali and Swahili.

The Language Testing Program and the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures plan to present the new Korean listening section featuring authentic video later this winter. The U of M language community will have an opportunity to see how the classic LPE format can be modernized with technology to provide students with an educational, culturally-rich, and even enjoyable testing experience.

New Computerized LPEs for Critical and High-Enrollment Languages

This year, hundreds of students of critical and popular less commonly taught languages will have access to the same computerized proficiency exams as students of French, German and Spanish. Exams for the following languages have recently been developed: Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and a second version of Spanish.

In late summer 2010, Monica Frahm, Testing Director, received an initial Title VI grant from the Institute for Global Studies (IGS) to begin development of new computerized Language Proficiency Exams (LPEs) for critical and high-enrollment languages. Prior to this major development project, computerized tests were only available to students of Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish. Since summer 2010, additional Title VI grant funding has been received, as well as funding from other sources, to continue development in multiple languages.

The LPE is one method that students can use to complete their second language requirement, and this test has several other purposes as well. It can be used to place students into upper division courses, and some language programs integrate the test into their curriculum and use it as their class final exam. Students who pass the LPE receive a text line on their transcript endorsing their language proficiency, and they can receive other documentation of language proficiency upon request.

There are four sections of the LPE: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. The LPE Development Team has created tests for the first three sections. The Speaking section for all languages is generally administered as a one-on-one Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), and it was not revised through this project. In most cases, development of the Writing and Listening sections went faster, and they were ready for piloting first. The Reading was generally completed last, as it is the most time-intensive section to develop.

In the past, LPEs were developed over the course of years and were often the product of a single, deeply committed instructor. The current project was different, because it formed a development team of instructors working on multiple languages simultaneously, under the direction of a single coordinator. The team, called the LPE Development Team, was able to collaborate and share resources. They also worked on a similar development schedule and with the same level of technical assistance and resources. This process allowed development to progress very quickly, while maintaining a high level of supervision and quality control.

Development has not always been easy, and with different schedules and the requirements of different funding sources, few developers have been able to stay with the project from start to end. However, the contributions of developers from different backgrounds, and with different skill sets, may have resulted in better tests for students.

All of the LPEs feature authentic materials, such as culturally-appropriate readings and audio recorded by native speakers, often in multiple dialects. The tests target the appropriate language level, and the test items cover a range of tasks, topics, and linguistic functions. The teams created the tests using a common test blueprint and are consistent with the programming used by other LPEs.

In addition to tests developed for languages listed above, the paper-based Hmong LPE has been incorporated into a computerized format for two modalities, and the third is under development this semester. There is also a new Finnish LPE in progress.

The LPE Development Team has been led by Coordinator Gabriela Sweet, who for over a year has corralled a rotating team of developers and juggled multiple languages, cultures, schedules, and deadlines. In addition to managing the development team and keeping the entire project on target, she has conducted stakeholder sessions with departments, taken advantage of any opportunity for piloting, managed to be friendly and cheerful, and amazingly enough, consistently greeted everyone in their native language.

The other core team member has been Lindsey Lahr, AV Tech, who has recorded and edited the listening sections, as well as completed all the multimedia work. Lindsey has been invaluable to the project in providing additional reviews and keeping teams on track and on schedule. Her creativity has given the new Reading exams, in particular, a very professional look.

Diane Rackowski, Technical Coordinator, has made an important contribution to the team's work by providing data after each piloting session, sometimes as quickly as twenty minutes after the session finished! Having these data enabled developers to analyze the performance of individual items and the test as a whole, and to then make informed decisions toward revision.

This project has been possible because of a large team of developers and instructors willing to review tests and contribute to piloting. A full list of developers is included at the bottom of this article.

As part of the piloting process, the team has surveyed students on their reactions to the tests. Students have reported that they enjoy taking the tests on the computer. From a survey after one of the new Reading tests: "I really like the way this test was set up and, in general, I feel the vocabulary was that which we had exposure to." And another comment: "I like the variety: some of the readings are articles, and some are actual pieces of literature."

Language instructors will have an opportunity to learn more about the the new tests at the upcoming Language Center Fall Open House, scheduled for Tuesday, September 27 at 1:30 PM.

LPE Development Team

Core Team:
Gabriela Sweet, Coordinator
Monica Frahm, Principle Investigator
Lindsey Lahr, AV Tech
Diane Rackowski, Technical Assistance

Language Developers:
Arabic: Hisham Khalek, Sondes Wooldridge
Chinese: Ka Po Chow, Hao Ji, Liu Ya, Quan Jiahong, Andie Fang Wang, Zhen Zou
Finnish: Dan Karvonen, Jaana Viljakainen
Hmong: Maxwell LeYang
Italian: Cristina Cocchi, Anna Olivero-Agney
Japanese: Hiroe Akimoto, Michiko Buchanan, Sachiko Horii, Liu Ya
Russian: Sachiko Horii, Kateryna Kent, Marina Posse, Maria Schweikert
Spanish: Adriana Gordillo, Joanne Peltonen, Gabriela Sweet, Naomi Wood
Cross-language validation team: Kateryna Kent, Xinyi Wu, Xi Yu

Special Thanks to:
Instructors from the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures; Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch; Department of French and Italian; Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Department of Spanish and Portuguese


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