Why do we still need language labs?

Those entities, formerly known as “language labs” but now more commonly known as Language Learning Centers, Language Resource Centers, and in my personal case, Language Acquisition and Resource Centers (the term acquisition as opposed to learning is a Krashen-centered debate for another day), are under increasing pressure to justify their existence. As technology turns to digital recording and as students routinely carry more technology in their pockets than some language labs maintain, how do we answer this question as language professionals?

The answer is to change our perspective. The language center was once a facility for housing equipment, providing access to equipment, and facilitating high-stakes assessments. As such, it was a center for technology. In order, not only to justify our existence, but to truly find our value in the language learning curriculum is to shift our focus away from being a center for technology, and towards being a center for learner support.

And the time is ripe for this change, as the administrative discussions in academia circulate around credit hour generation, student retention, graduation rates, and student engagement. By looking up from our technology, and out at the students, we realize that the language center is uniquely designed to offer an answer to these questions.

Take a look at this article on the 7 Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. By offering multimedia materials, open access to resources, and by the very nature of our diversity as language learners, language centers are already on the forefront of this initiative. With only minor adjustments, we can extend our focus to providing space and opportunities for collaborative learning, and increase contact hours in the target language through the pricipals of educating while entertaining.

What remains for language centers is to articulate our existing efforts in these areas, and our aims to expand these services, to those in administration who place a high value, both monetarily and philosophically, on student retention and engagement.

For further information on undergraduate student engagement, see this post by Dr Phil Wood.

New application for Oral Assignments

This fall, we have implemented Wimba Voice Tools for our Spanish and Japanese oral assignments, and during the process I have learned quite a lot about the leadwork required for a technology implementation of this type….although not quite fast enough, it seems, if the numerous crises are any indication….

This week I have had to create student and instructor help sheets, train my staff on the tool, set up workshops for the faculty, work one-on-one with various instructors, and soothe the nerves of many panicked students. All oral Spanish oral assignments are due by the end of next week, and then we’ll know how well we did preparing for the change in technology.

It’s interesting (and a bit perplexing) to me, though, that some instructors, primarily the French section, are still interested in using the older system of student recordings being sent via ftp to their instructor folders. Even stranger is the fact that the instructors in the ESL department (which funded the Wimba purchase), many of whom attended the initial Wimba training sessions, are still “falling back” on the ftp solution. Wimba is a much more elegant solution for everyone concerned. I had expected that with the initial level of enthusiasm they showed for the application that they would be leading the charge to utilize it as much as possible. But not so.

My questions this week are: why aren’t they using Wimba, how can I facilitate the use of Wimba, and why is it so hard to coordinate workshops for faculty? [No, nevermind….I already know the answer to that question!]

The Tyranny of the Urgent

As usual, the beginning of the fall semester came in like a whirlwind of confusion and exited like a shudder of resignation. ;- ) Actually, it wasn’t that bad, just harried. The greatest challenge of the beginning of the semester is presented by the combination of new faculty and new LARC assistants: the new faculty all have requests and questions, and the new LARC staff have neither skills nor answers! As a result, for about three weeks I have to juggle being all things to all people (trainer, media production specialist, manager, technical support, etc) and yet maintain forward momentum on current projects and initiatives. This is the classic case of the tyranny of the urgent overtaking the important.

I’ve created the little pyramid diagram below to describe the distribution of tasks during the first week or so of the semester. Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs diagram, the tasks at the top of the pyramid cannot be attempted until the demands at the bottom have been satisfied. What is critical to understand in this diagram is that it is the top portion of the pyramid that most excites me about my work as the LARC coordinator and most piques my academic interests. Just like any student, I arrive at the beginning of the fall motivated to start new projects, do new things, and experiment with new applications of technology in the language curriculum, and yet, as soon as I set foot on campus the first day, I must put all of that excitement and enthusiasm on hold while I revisit the most fundamental functions of the LARC with my new student workers. Sometime around the fourth week I try to regain that enthusiasm and pick up where I left off.

I think that this is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to get initiatives and innovations off the ground: just when the creative processes begin to flow together in order to plan for the implementation (two steps forward), the daily maintenance tasks of the lab siphon away the momentum (one step backward).

Someday, I hope to find a better way of balancing the ebb and flow of the beginning of the semester; for now, I should content myself with successfully treading water.

Currently reading: Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

Just the facts….

Greetings, gentle readers! I’m Trish, and in order to introduce myself to my IT 8050 classmates, I’ve created this blog. [However, I hope to use it in the future to chronicle my studies and refine my own perspectives on instructional technology.]

I am currently enrolled in the PhD program for Instructional Technology at Georgia State University, with a cognate area in Applied Linguistics. My research interests include the use of multimedia to address multiple intelligences in learning, technology as a tool for ameliorating affective barriers to language learning, strategic use of technology in adult language learning, and the use of virtual environments to support meaningful and communicative language competencies. I am very fortunate in that I can’t imagine a better job than the one I currently hold. I love the people I work with, the toys I get to play with, the environment I work in, and just about everything about the world of academia [except, maybe, the pay…].

The interest in instructional technology within the context of language learing is a result of interrelated personal experiences and challenges: as an adult learner of a second language (Spanish and Japanese), as a teacher of elementary Spanish at the university level, and most recently, as the coordinator for the Language Acquisition and Resource Center (LARC) at Georgia State. As the LARC coordinator, I work directly with students and faculty to integrate media and technology into the language curriculum.

And now, for the fun stuff! I was born in the Army hospital at Ft Stewart, GA, where my father was stationed, but consider Fayetteville my hometown, and the “family compound” in East Point, where my grandparents still reside, as the center of my geographic world. As a military family, we moved around quite frequently, with the most interesting place being the Panama Canal Zone, in the Republic of Panama, where I was first introduced to both Spanish and Latin American Culture. As a result, my favorite food is Carribean food, including plantanos maduros, ceviche, banana fritters, black beans and rice, and empanadas. When I was 17, I had the opportunity to broaden my international horizons by travelling to Japan on a Lion’s Club Youth Exchange, where I developed a driving passion for sushi, and an even stronger aversion to anything with eel in it. [Undoubtedly, the foulest thing I have ever eaten was a Japanese eel dish, served with a raw egg on top, but being a polite and courteous traveller, I ate it without complaining. There should be a medal for that….] My other international travels include Spain, Mexico, and England. In each locale I have attempted to “go native” in my eating habits in order to both a) appreciate the cultural differences and b) travel on the cheap, and, fortunately, my enjoyment of international foods is enabled by the fabulous world cuisine of Atlanta! I would have to say that my favorite thing to do in Atlanta is to dine. Maybe sometime later I’ll post a list of my favorite international eateries….

Other “favorite things”:

I don’t have a favorite book. There are many books that I’ve enjoyed repeatedly, and some are A Room with a View, any of the Patrick O’Brian novels, Candide, El Conde Lucanor, and Cyrano de Bergerac. And, as a Christian, I consider the Bible to be both a wonderful read and a guide for my life and relationships.

Favorite films include A Room with a View, Out of Africa, Field of Dreams, We Were Soldiers, and most kung-fu movies.

My favorite month is May. The days are long and warm, but not too hot.

I have too many pets…..

My husband, Tony, and I “share” our house with three cats (who think they share the house with us) – Lia, a fierce huntress and nose-licker; Oliver, a shameless coward and loveable orange poofy cat; and Alys, a fat little bully of a cuddler. Abby, our mixed-breed two-year-old dog, rounds out the family and offers not only a constant source of affection and amusement, but also a convenient focal point for feline hostility.

and too many hobbies…

I’m either extremely fortunate to have many interests, or unfortunate to be so unfocused in my interests! In my “spare time” (when I’m neither working nor studying) I enjoy vegetable gardening at home and with my grandfather, knitting, digital photography, listening to music of every sort, weaving, hiking with my dog Abby, browsing antique stores, and travelling. (I think I like to do things with my hands because so much of my job and my studies are so cerebral and intangible.)

Why a blog?

The purpose of this assignment (create a profile page) is to foster actual community within an online environment, and as such, I felt that a dynamic space allowing for interactivity between the author and the reader would be more effective than a static and uni-directional, traditional website. Therefore, please feel free to comment! Additionally, I felt that the essense of community is based on the quality and the depth of the revelations shared, in this case, the content of the page, not the graphics. Because web design is not one of my strenths, by using a template for the organization and visual elements of the page, I was better able to focus on the content.