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Initiatives in Teaching French and Spanish at the University of Calgary: A Decade of Lessons (Good and Bad). Brian Gill UBC, May 2005 Overview. Our Present Situation Curriculum Redesign CALL at the U of Calgary Selected CALL Initiatives: Repsit

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Initiatives in Teaching French and Spanish at the University of Calgary: A Decade of Lessons (Good and Bad)

Brian Gill

UBC, May 2005

  • Our Present Situation
  • Curriculum Redesign
  • CALL at the U of Calgary
  • Selected CALL Initiatives:
    • Repsit
    • On-Line Reading Courses
    • On-Line Glossing
    • On-Line Dictation
    • Using a Discussion Board
    • Content-Based Blended Learning
    • Computer-Mediated Communication Project
  • Conclusions
teaching staff in 2005
Teaching Staff in 2005
  • French, Italian & Spanish (FIS)
    • 22 FT Academic Staff + Sessionals
  • Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies (GSEA)
    • 16 FT Academic Staff + Sessionals
  • Faculty of Education
    • 3 FT Academic Staff in French Program
    • 2 FT Academic Staff in ESL Program
  • Language Research Centre (LRC)
    • Director + Project Coordinator + Technician
    • No Teaching Staff
students fis
Students (FIS)
  • In Fall 2004 we had
    • French: 1264 enrollees (350 beginners or from French 30 + 450 first-year – from immersion)
    • Spanish: 1329 enrollees (600 beginners)
    • Italian: 219, mostly beginners
  • Our section sizes are 34, except second-year which are 60.
  • Most classes are 3x50 minutes a week
curriculum redesign
Curriculum Redesign
  • From 1998 to 2001, all U of Calgary departments offering majors were required to prepare an undergraduate Explicit Syllabus which included:
    • A graduating student profile
    • A detailed program with explicit outcomes for each level (200-500)
    • An explicitation of how the seven U of C “features of the curriculum” were implemented.
      • A clearly identifiable field of study
      • A well-defined interdisciplinary component
      • An international component
      • Experiential learning
      • Broad and extended Faculty-Student interaction
      • Integration of research.
  • Our Syllabi for French and Spanish are at
curriculum redesign french program
Curriculum Redesign: French Program
  • Main changes:
    • Quasi-elimination of grammar-based language courses except at beginner level
    • Implementation of content-based courses at the first year level and beyond (Francophonie and Introduction to Texts)
    • Introduction at second-year level of new courses in Literary Concepts, and History of Ideas, as a basis for later study of literature and culture
    • Requirement at third-year level to take courses in language, French Canada and literature
    • Freedom to choose among language and more specialized literature/culture courses at fourth-year level
curriculum redesign results
Curriculum Redesign: Results
  • Colleagues were pulled kicking and screaming through the two-year redesign process. There was little expert input, mostly gut feelings of experienced teachers.
  • The content-based courses have produced very mixed reactions from students. This seems due partly to staffing, partly to the fact that we are still working out the best content and delivery.
  • We have done no formal evaluation.
  • Little change in teaching practice:
    • Many instructors continue to teach as before.
    • Assessments in content-based courses continue to emphasize written production and correct usage.
call teaching initiatives at the u of calgary the alle project 1997 2000
CALL Teaching Initiatives at the U of Calgary: the ALLE Project (1997-2000)
  • In 1997, Esther Enns in German and Brian Gill in French were funded by Alberta Education for a project, called ALLE, to enhance the use of technology in language teaching in Alberta.
  • Activities:
    • Web Workshops for Language Teachers (20)
    • Invited Speakers
    • Web Sites of Links for French, Spanish, Italian, German, ESL
    • Support for smaller projects (CDs in Chinese & Japanese, French & Italian on-line activities, etc.)
  • ALLE was important for us because it established the principle of collaboration among language teachers at all levels and in different languages. This provided a critical mass of interested parties. It laid the groundwork for a successful application for funding to establish a Language Research Centre (LRC).
call teaching initiatives at the u of calgary 2000 2005
CALL Teaching Initiatives at the U of Calgary (2000-2005)
  • ALLE encouraged collaboration, and provided focus.
  • Collaboration and focus continue in the Language Research Centre, which brings together colleagues from different departments and faculties.
  • All this is helped by
    • Targeted funding (Provincial, Federal, University)
    • Service units (Learning Commons)
  • Cumulatively, the success of these initiatives (especially in attracting funding and in consciousness raising) has caused the language departments to think more carefully about their language programs and begin to hire specialists who can (a) provide guidance and (b) respond to student demand for language specializations.
1 a french portal repsit
1. A French Portal: Repsit
  • Updated regularly
  • Extensive
  • Short descriptions of each site
  • Importance of localized portals for sharing and saving time. Search before doing. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
  • Also ALLE portals for French, German, Italian, Spanish, ESL:
2 on line reading courses
2. On-line Reading Courses
  • French and Spanish courses, created in 1999 and 2003
  • Advantages:
    • Learners are exposed to a great deal of authentic text.
    • These texts are engaging.
    • They provide a realistic image of the target culture.
    • Strategies practiced help learners realize they can understand texts without looking up every word.
    • In the Spanish courses, inductive, discovery learning is used.
    • In general, learners become more confident readers.
2 on line reading courses cont
2. On-line Reading Courses (cont.)
  • Problems:
    • We didn’t adapt our strategy training for Asian learners (cognates, low-level decoding)
    • Some parts were too static : explanations of reading strategies, grammar
    • There are many drawbacks to teaching one skill only:
      • No writing: Vocabulary not written or reused is not acquired
      • No listening: therefore no phonological representation of words, leading to poor retention and reading problems
    • Teaching reading comprehension needs constant interplay between teacher and learner
    • Learners reported a preference for face-to-face language learning
  • Lessons:
    • Stand-alone on-line courses are less than ideal for language learning, even less for reading comprehension – at beginner levels.
3 on line glossing
3. On-line Glossing
  • A Gloss is an annotation added to a text to help readers understand it better. They are standard in L2 textbooks, often at the side of the page or at the bottom.
  • On-line glosses, using hyperlinks, have seemed promising, since a large variety of material can be made available unobtrusively:
    • Translations, cultural notes, images, sounds, thought-provoking questions
  • Studies (Lomicka, Lyman-Hager, de Ridder) reveal mixed results for on-line glosses, in terms of improving reading comprehension, and in terms of vocabulary acquisition.
4 le dictateur on line dictations
4. Le Dictateur: On-line Dictations
  • Advantages:
    • Easy authoring
    • Save class time
    • Choice of voices (male/female, regional accents)
    • Feedback for anticipated errors
  • Problems:
    • Installation of plug-ins is a pain.
  • Lessons
    • Don’t let programmers impose technical requirements.
5 using a discussion board
5. Using a Discussion Board
  • Using postings to a Discussion Board as preparation for class discussions.
  • Advantages:
    • Encourages students to think critically
    • Ensures participation from all
    • Students take responsibility for their opinions and effectively run class discussions themselves
    • Effective in all types of classes, including content-based language learning, literature…
6 content based blended learning
6. Content-Based Blended Learning
  • In 2001, French 215 and 217 converted to content-based courses for incoming immersion students.
    • 215 – la francophonie; 217 – introduction au texte
    • 2 hours cours magistral, 3 hours tutorials
  • In 2005, we are adopting a Blended Learning format, combining classroom time with on-line work (3 hours in class, 2+ on-line). Blended Learning is a U of Calgary priority.
  • Better for language learning than on-line courses
7 computer mediated communication cmc


Electronic discussion boards (text and audio)


Chat (text conferencing in real time)

Audio conferencing & Videoconferencing

Student to student (in class or class-to-class)

Instructor to student (online office hours, e-mail)

7. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)
perceived benefits of cmc
Perceived Benefits of CMC
  • Studies on email and text conferencing show
    • Improvements in linguistic awareness
    • Greater cultural awareness when working with native speakers
  • Specific to text conferencing
    • Increased participation of all learners
    • More equal participation across
      • Gender and minority groups
      • Personality types (shyer students participate)
      • Level of proficiency
cmc project emily ballou
CMC Project (Emily Ballou)
  • In 2005, two 4th semester Spanish tutorials chat online for one hour a week with students from ITESM, Monterrey, Mexico
  • Approx. 50 students total in each session (25 from the U of C, 25 from ITESM)
  • Divided into small groups in different “rooms” (4-6 students per group)
  • Half of the time in Spanish, half in English
  • One section uses text chat, the other uses text and audio
initial observations
Initial Observations
  • Advantages
    • Students actively engaged throughout the hour
    • Increased language awareness
      • Through feedback
      • Through observing others
    • Facilitates cross-cultural understanding
    • Labs considered “useful” by students
initial observations21
Initial Observations
  • Problems:
    • Uneven groupings due to absences
    • Various conversations at once
    • Confusion due to ‘chatroom language’
    • Logistical problems
    • Students more comfortable with text-based chat
    • Result: little oral interaction in audio group
classroom implications for cmc
Classroom Implications for CMC
  • Authentic and meaningful communication in the target language with native speakers
    • Increased cultural awareness
  • High level of participation & interaction
    • Enthusiastic response
    • Sense of accomplishment
    • Desire to continue with the language
conclusions language learning at the u of calgary
Conclusions: Language Learning at the U of Calgary
  • The set of initiatives culminating in the creation of the Language Research Centre in the Faculty of Humanities, the focus the LRC provides and the money it is seen to attract have had a positive effect on colleagues’ attitudes towards language teaching.
    • Although Education and Linguistics are fully involved, we have always insisted on ownership and leadership coming from the language departments. The LRC has no teaching staff or mandate.
  • Colleagues are more prepared than they were ten years ago to hire applied linguists and experts in language learning. Recent hiring (Spanish, French, Chinese, German) reflect this.
  • There is heavy demand for both undergraduate and graduate courses in language learning, and in language and technology.
  • At the same time, demand for literature courses has remained constant.
advantages of the internet for language learners
Advantages of the Internet for Language Learners
  • Accessibility
    • Available 24/7
    • From lab or home or office
  • Learner-control
    • Learners advance at their own pace
    • Learners can redo activities as many times as necessary
    • Learners can choose their learning path (links, verification)
  • Immense amounts of authentic text and audio in target languages available on the web
  • Enables communication with native speakers
advantages of the internet for language teachers
Advantages of the Internet for Language Teachers
  • Information
    • More authentic materials (texts, voice, video), literary texts, reference sources. Rapid access.
  • Sharing
    • Using pages, activities, lesson plans, which others have prepared enriches your teaching and saves time. But we must learn to search effectively, and to use what’s there before reinventing the wheel.
  • Management
    • Course management systems like Blackboard and Web-CT allow easier management of documents, grading, assignments.
internet disadvantages
Internet Disadvantages
  • Many sites, including authentic ones, contain linguistic errors.
  • Computers are not good at reacting to questions or mistakes.
  • There is still no clear methodology for using the web for language learning. And what teachers latch on to at first is often not effective.
  • Getting started is time-consuming and frustrating.
the status of call 20 th century
The Status of CALL (20th Century)
  • “a time of idiosyncratic learning, quirky software development, and naïve experimentation” Chapelle (2001: 175)
  • “A research agenda, a path for development, or even the problems to which CALL provides the solution have not been agreed and, without this, CALL is somewhat fragmented and moving in many different directions at the same time.” Levy (1997: 228)
the status of call 21 st century
The Status of CALL (21st Century)
  • Research is better established
    • Books by Chapelle, Levy
    • Periodicals such as LLT, System
    • Professional associations such as Calico, Eurocall, WorldCALL
  • Pressure to use technology
    • From administrations and governments
    • From students
    • From textbook publishers
  • The Internet, Word-processing and PowerPoints are pervasive