Language Online is a project of the Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation ( award SBE-035442) and the Hewlett Foundation.. Elementary Chinese, French and Spanish courses, and Arabic Culture courses are being offered to students who need a more flexible approach to language learning than that offered in a standard classroom course. All materials were newly created for LOL projects and are Web based, with extensive use of Internet technologies for research, writing and communication. All courses are now complete and in regular use. The French, Spanish and Arabic Elementary courses are now available through the Open Learning Initiativefor use as a full instructional method.
Language Online (LOL) supplies a structure and content sufficient to attain intermediate foreign-language skills, eventually corresponding to 2 semesters of university study. This is accomplished through flexible-access instruction which parallels current offerings but takes into account the myriad barriers which prevent students from participating in a standard language instructional sequence. The instructor takes on a management role in the learning process, as opposed to the more traditional delivery role. This altered role involves on-line monitoring of student activity, frequent communication with students on learning progress, and supervision of peer tutors for conversation and writing. Care is being taken to establish goals similar to those in classroom-based courses, so that students can move between on-line and classroom-based instruction without prejudice to continuity.
The specific goals of the project are four: 1) to deliver the course materials to students outside of conventional time/space constraints through a World Wide Web-based Course Center for placement, practice and testing as well as through synchronous and asynchronous communication via text, audio and video; 2) to supply progress charting allowing the student and instructor to identify and continually monitor achievement progress; 3) to furnish an language instructional model which can be generalized to other languages at Carnegie Mellon; 4) to achieve comparable language learning goals at a cost equal to or less than that associated with classroom instruction.
Class meetings are reduced to one weekly (from the now common 4 or 5 per week) and held in the early evening to avoid conflicts. Meetings consist of small-group teaching, progress and process updates. Individual Skype conferences with the instructor may be arranged as an alternative to class meetings to accommodate students without access to campus, though these students would participate equally with on-campus students in computer-mediated communication. The class is augmented by flexible electronic, face-to-face, or Skype communications between classmates, between students and peer tutors, and between students and instructors.
The assessment of the Language On-Line project has used qualitative and quantitative methods to understand the experience from both the teachers' and learners' perspectives. By all measures, we can conclude that the courses are working, though we continue to modify them. We are interested in teacher satisfaction with the course, and their perceptions of student progress. We are also interested in student satisfaction with the course, their suggestions for what might improve the course, and their perceptions of how well their goals for taking the course have been met. To address these issues, we have met separately with focus groups of students and teachers in both the on-line and classroom-based sections of the courses and have also gathered information via questionnaires and written course evaluations. Another major focus of the assessment is to compare student learning in the on-line and classroom-based sections of the courses. We have used pre- and post-test oral interviews and other test scores as a window on student learning. To date, we have found that students and teachers report a high degree of satisfaction with the courses. Test scores and interview ratings have revealed little difference in terms of student learning and performance.
An article derived from research on French Online recieved the 2005 Stephen A. Freeman Award for Best Published Article on Language Teaching Techniques to Appear in a Professional Journal during the Previous Academic Year (N. Ann Chenoweth and Kimmaree Murday, “Measuring Student Learning in an Online French Course.” CALICO Journal 20 (2), 2003.)
French and Spanish Online have been significantly rewritten, with support from the Hewlett Foundation through the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon, and additionally through the NSF-funded Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, a joint Carnegie Mellon-Univeristy of Pittsburgh project. The two Elementary semesters are now being offered through the Open Learning Initiative , including a publicly available version for independent learners, and the option of external instructors to build and lead their own sections for their own institutional use. The new course was awarded the 2007 Access to Language Education Award for best instructional materials available to the general public. (Esperantic Society and CALICO)
Among changes are be the capacity for extensive student tracking and modeling, enhanced media integration, including new video shot in Nantes (2005-6) and Montreal (2008), increased interactivity, and question-pool-driven testing capacity.
Two semesters of Chinese Online have also been created with funding from the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center. Enrollment is currently limited to CMU students through normal procedures.