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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 through the Open Learning Initiative.  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 courses are now complete and offered through the Open Learning Initiative for use as full instructional methods.

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  web-based courseware for presentation, 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.

Language Online courses are used by many individuals and institutions in exclusively online or blended (classroom and online) models. At Carnegie Mellon students must be enrolled and present on campus (except for summer) and use the model below.

Class meetings are once-weekly for 80 minutes (reduced from the usual 4 or 5 per week for elementary language) and held in the early evening to avoid conflicts. An additional weekly individual face-to-face meeting of 20-minute duration alternates between the instructor and a peer tutor (usually a major or native speaker of the target language). Other student-student interactions occur in chat environments, and the remainder of the coursework involves listening, reading, writing, self-checks and tests in the online courseware.

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 and upgrade 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 received 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, Chinese 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. Two Elementary semesters are now being offered through the Open Learning Initiative , iwith sample content freely available and the option for external instructors to build and lead their own sections within their own institutions. The new French course was awarded the 2007 Access to Language Education Award for best instructional materials available to the general public. (Esperantic Society and CALICO)

Among recent French improvements are the capacity for extensive student tracking and modeling through the Learning Dashboard, enhanced media integration, including new video shot in Nantes (2005-6) and Montreal (2008), increased interactivity, and question-pool-driven testing capacity. Video for Spanish was shot in Guadalajara, Mexico during the summer of 2011 and is now integrated into the course, along with extensive rewrites from 2011 to 2015. Question-pool testing will be available in Spanish in 2015 and Chinese in 2016.  

Last update 3/4/15

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M L R C Modern Language Resource Center