FLEATing Summer

FLEAT 6 banner

What happens when you gather hundreds of professionals in the language education field from multiple continents and give them the run of Harvard’s campus during a few summer days? The FLEAT6 conference.

A number of us from the Columbia Language Resource Center spent the week in Boston participating in this year’s FLEAT conference, which was co-sponsored by the International Association for Language Learning Technology (IALLT) and the Japan Association for Language Education & Technology (J-LET). While the conference program covered a range of topic too wide to summarize here, including everything from how to use Wikipedia as a tool for Academic English instruction to the impact of particular spaced-repetition flash card tools on the study of Mandarin, a single theme did run through the proceedings: what to do with the language lab in a post-language lab era?

Over the past 15 years digital networks have spread the ability to listen to or record audio into computers and phones in every dorm room. This has undermined the traditional role for the language lab as a dedicated space for students to go and either listen to pre-recorded language practice materials or record their own practice sessions. Adapting to this networked reality has freed up significant resources for new types of collaborative and more flexible language education initiatives, many of which were discussed and had their merits debated during FLEAT6. I saw three major approaches to this change, though my view was necessarily limited since there were more sessions running than any one person could have attended. These three approaches each focused on a different aspect of the work done by modern Language Resource Centers: the use of space, the building of materials, and the building of bridges between institutions.

Re-examining the use of space by LRCs was the most common approach I saw to re-examining the role of the LRC, largely because all discussions included some re-purposing of older spaces. The simplest version of this approach suggests converting old lab space into open collaborative space for students to use as they wish. As Steve points out, this leaves open a number of questions about effectiveness. Also, as Jonathan Perkins discussed later in the conference, LRCs are unlikely to win a competition for best open collaboration space when libraries and student centers are already far along in that effort. Most discussions favored a more nuanced approach that incorporates re-purposing old space as part of larger changes to the activity of the LRC.

The most novel of these new approaches I saw was presented by Jonathan Perkins of the University of Kansas, who presented a compelling argument that building Open Educational Resources (OER) is the competitive advantage for LRCs in today’s university environment. He argues that LRCs are ideally positioned to coordinate cross-institution construction projects that can harness the expertise of multiple instructors as well as the pool of talented graduate student workers available on our campuses. Because of the low costs involved, materials can be distributed freely online, saving students in your programs thousands of dollars while increasing the visibility of those institutions building the materials. His case study is Между нами, a freely available Russian language textbook newly released to the world and written by instructors at Brown, the Portland State, and by our own Alla Smyslova at Columbia. I am a big supporter of community-built and freely sharable resources so I was particularly happy to see this approach working on such important resources and doing so through a continent-wide partnership of world-class universities.

These kinds of partnerships are also the focus of the third major strategy for the evolution of the LRC, though the focus here shifts from material production to direct student engagement. In this model, the LRC fosters collaborations between individual language classes, as in the CIRCLE and multiple other projects, or between whole programs and institutions, as in the Shared Course Initiative between Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. As with the construction of OER materials, this strategy builds on the LRC’s position outside of the departmental structure at most universities. Building cross-institutional collaborations can require the investment of time to build relationships around the country, expertise in collaboration tools and strategies, and even specialized spaces like distance learning classrooms or demonstration and workshop rooms. Making these investments in a single LRC can be much more efficient than building parallel capacity in each interested department. I am most familiar with this strategy since it is the foundation of so much of the work we do at Columbia’s LRC, but we were in great company pursuing this strategy at the conference.

Adapting to the challenges and opportunities of the post-language lab era is a large task but that task is made easier by the kinds of open discussions among leaders in the field that took place at FLEAT. I look forward to returning next year to continue discussing that and other areas of shared concern across the field.

Using Film in Foreign Language Instruction at Columbia (and Beyond!)


The cutting edge in educational technology, circa 1938.

Why Teach with Film?

While there may be substantive debate about the value of video in language education, there are many arguments favoring film as a resource for instruction.  In his 1999 article “Why use video? A teacher’s perspective,” Peter Arthur asserts that the use of film clips in the language classroom can:

  • give students realistic models to imitate for role-play
  • increase awareness of other cultures by teaching appropriateness and suitability
  • strengthen audio/visual linguistic perceptions simultaneously
  • widen the classroom repertoire and range of activities
  • help utilize the latest technology to facilitate language learning
  • teach direct observation of the paralinguistic features found in association with the target language
  • provide relevant scenarios and language for students of language for special purposes 
  • offer a visual reinforcement of the target language and can lower anxiety when practicing the skill of listening.

[Read more…]

Free Technology: Transcribing audio interviews with Transcriber and Audacity

Welcome to the first post in our new “Free Technology” blog series. In this series we will look at some of the best free technologies out there and how you might use these tools to teach or study languages. In today’s post we will look at Transcriber and Audacity, two tools that help with transcribing interviews from audio files.

A word about “free”

Before we look at the tools it is worth mentioning what kind of “Free Technology” you can expect in this series. There are many definitions of the word “free” and in education you run into different ones all the time. There are the services that are “free” until you start using them regularly, those that are free to you as a teacher but charge money of your students and colleagues at other institutions, and there are all those services online that are free as long as you let them follow you while you teach or track your students as they learn.

This series is about a different kind of free, “free” as in “freedom”. We will be looking at technology built by free and open source communities and meant to be shared. These are tools with no up-sell, no hidden fees, and no registrations required, the kind of tools you can give to your students with confidence. Audacity and Transcriber are great examples of such tools. [Read more…]

Using iMovie to Create Digital Stories

Digital stories are a wonderful vehicle for creatively framing a multimedia narrative with spoken or written text superimposed over image and video, and many language instructors assign these types of video projects as part of their curriculum. At the instructors’ requests, we frequently offer iMovie tutorials for students at the LRC for precisely these kinds of projects. Our learning spaces in the International Affairs Building are well-equipped for students to create their digital stories using iMovie.

In this post, we’ve assembled some great resources for faculty and students who are using iMovie. [Read more…]

Uploading Images and Videos to your WordPress or EdBlog Site

Due to limited server space, EdBlogs at Columbia has an upload quota of 100 MB. If your blog exceeds that quota, it will be difficult to add additional content without removing older content. However, there are a few simple strategies that can allow us to bypass this obstacle.  [Read more…]

Interview with Stéphane Charitos on the Fulbright International Education Administrator (FIEA) Program in France

BW_StephaneEarlier last year, LRC Director Stéphane Charitos was selected as a recipient of a Fulbright award for the 2013 US-France Fulbright International Education Administrator (FIEA) Program. As part of the award, he spent two weeks in France in October with the other eleven recipients visiting a number of institutions of higher learning and meeting with administrators, faculty, researchers, and students.

The FIEA program is coordinated by Fulbright in six different countries (France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea and the UK) and provides award winners to learn about their host country’s education system, helping to establish networks of U.S. and international colleagues in order to play a role in internationalization initiatives on their own campuses. While some of the programs have been running for some time now, this was the first time Fulbright sent grantees to France.

The Fulbright International Education Administrators Program is an excellent opportunity for Columbia administrators (and faculty with adminιstrative experience) to get an in-depth look at the higher education system, culture and society of the host country and provides an invigorating opportunity for networking with international and U.S. colleagues. All participants gain a new perspective on the need to internationalize U.S. campuses and insight into how it can be done.

The upcoming program seminars are in Germany and France. Both programs will be conducted over two weeks in October 2014, and the deadline for application is February 3, 2014. For more information on each of these programs, see the LRC’s Site.

[Read more…]

Blogs versus Wikis: Which Should I Use?

In speaking with language faculty here at the LRC, we often field this question. Sometimes the answer is clear-cut, but there are often “grey areas”, depending on the goals of a collaborative writing project. One place to start is getting a clear idea of how the two models differ, and how they are similar. This fictitious debate humorously frames a broad comparison of the two paradigms.

[Read more…]

Use VLC to Bypass DVD Region Code Restrictions

Language instructors will often import media from other parts of the world, and when they return to the United States, they find they can no longer play the media they purchased abroad. This is because of the international system of DVD region codes.

A map of the international DVD region codes (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A map of the international DVD region codes (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

[Read more…]