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Online Language Classes Growing at MSMU

Dec. 9, 2005 -- Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles, (MSMU) is entering a new era of language instruction through online courses where students log in at any time of day or night to learn a foreign language, and even record oral exams.

Students are building on their existing language skills and in some cases learning Spanish, French, and Japanese for the first time. They are studying the cultures of Japan, France, and Hispanic civilizations in courses designed for convenient student access. The online courses, which have been increasing in number since they began in 2004, are designed to meet the changing needs of MSMU students.

Although students in a variety of disciplines at MSMU do online coursework, using technology to expand students’ language proficiency is especially relevant in this age of globalization. The U.S. Senate named 2005 the “Year of Language Study.”

Working adults taking a French Culture and Civilization class in MSMU’s Weekend College enroll for the flexibility it allows them to squeeze coursework into busy lives. Traditional undergraduates who spent their high school years steeped in technology enroll in the online elementary Spanish class familiar with hearing an instructor speaking to them from their computer.

“There is no alternative. We just have to do this,” said Montserrat Reguant, chair of the Language and Culture Department, who teaches several online classes. “We are living in a time of technology, and this is what works for our students. It offers fabulous flexibility.”

The online revolution, though still evolving and growing each semester at MSMU, has already doubled enrollment in some language and culture classes. Students are eagerly signing up for classes scheduled around other obligations.

About 55 students enrolled in three online language and culture classes during the Fall 2005 semester, plus an additional 22 in the Weekend College, Reguant said. The classes are enrolling close to 20 students each -- a significant increase from the same classes enrolling as few as six students before they were offered online. Especially popular is the online Spanish for health professionals course, which will be offered in two sessions for nursing students during Spring 2006.

Students in language courses log-in to their computers to hear the accent and grammar used in a professor’s lecture. Some professors, including Reguant, present a video of themselves speaking for students to access any time of day. Others use voice-only without video. Students take oral exams and talk to each other using headsets equipped with microphones at their computers.

MSMU’s capabilities have only begun to be explored with instructional software from Horizon Wimba, and Blackboard, the College’s main tool for online classes. The College’s technology team is working with faculty members to show them a full range of options. One such option still in development at the college is a “live classroom,” where students log in to a class at a set time, but from any location.

MSMU also is seeking $500,000 in grant funds to enhance its online course offerings in the languages. Among other plans, the college hopes to add more online language-culture classes or sections, provide more training for faculty, purchase new software, and upgrade Internet wiring.

Nancy Ballesteros, an instructor in the department, taught elementary Spanish in fall 2005 almost exclusively online. She said good communication is essential in online teaching. “I just don’t post things and let it go,” she said. “I have to really be in contact with the students through emails, postings, and voice discussion boards.”

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