E-Twinning: NJ & Trento

Why we learn foreign languages…to understand better the world in which we are living thus, in turn, understand ourselves and our homeland better. Except, with globalization people think barriers are being removed and everyone should just be able to speak English, since it is considered a global language.

But that is not globalization. Cultural globalization does not aim for homogeny, it rather foresees a growth of cross-cultural contacts, something that is dear to me as a language professor. Understandably, teaching foreign languages occurs in a rather artificial environment (the classroom) since the professor is the only contact with the target language that a student has.  With technological tools, this is no longer the case. Culture and language can be explored via different tools to bring the reality of the target language to life in and out of the classroom. In previous posts, I have discussed my personal exploitation of technology in the classroom, and, yes, I have explored Twitter ad infinitum.

And it is to Twitter that I return for this post too. Except now I am not alone. Just before the Christmas holidays, I chatted with @sethdickens (whom I know solely from following him on Twitter) and I proposed creating a community on Twitter for both his students and mine. This e-twinning proposal excited us both and we decided to use Twitter for 1) my grammar and composition course in Italian and 2) my Contemporary Italian Cultural Studies in English. Seth was agreeable and introduced his Italian high school seniors from his philosophy and history course to both of my classes.

We are in our third week on Twitter. Seth has prepared for everyone in our community a wiki to introduce and provide details for this project. Just amazing.
So far, I have been rather laidback giving students an opportunity to explore Twitter (again, for the majority of students, Twitter was a new social networking tool) and get comfortable with the text limitations, language use and course requirement (3 general tweets a week, 1 reply tweet to another community member). As past experience has shown me, some students tweet away while others wonder why they should tweet.

Some exciting conversations have taken place, but with either myself  or Seth at the helm of the discussion. The prompts that we provide have led our respective students to engage with us in the target language and Seth’s students have engaged with me and vice-versa. Just the other day, there was some good exchanges between our students, which pleased us to no end. To many of you reading this, you’re probably thinking that “it really ain’t much” but the truth is, yes it is. For students to feel comfortable enough to engage in the foreign language to discuss and assist other language learners is a great accomplishment. Knowledge, linguistic and cultural, is being constructed by the learners, and the scaffolding of new skills and concepts is evident.

Read for yourself:
In the culture course, the talk of some current events in Italy led to students contributing to the talk and wanting to learn more from one another.
culture
In the grammar course, learning new vocabulary was the impetus of the exchange.
profeac

In both exchanges, I would hope that students did, even momentarily, recognize the value of Twitter, both in synchronous exchanges (the second example) and asynchronous (given the time difference with Italy).

I am really thrilled to have found such an engaged and knowledgeable collaborator (read his blog to learn how talented his is) and I know this e-twinning project this semester will continue to surprise and excite me.

Annunci

to learn italian or english? both…

One of the greatest rewards of teaching is when your students teach you something. I have taught one of the most challenging courses in my 4 years here this spring semester: Advanced Italian Grammar a.k.a intro to Italian linguistics. I attempted to present students to the scientific study of language, from phonology to morphology to syntax to sociolinguistics. Interspersed there was also the history of the Italian language as well as a unit on dialects. I was very enthusiastic about this course and we all know that a good dose of enthusiasm is contagious…

As part of the course requirements, my students were to keep a linguistic diary. I wanted them to consult various forms of media and reflect metalinguistically on Italian. These 10 journal entries for many were expected: influences of foreign words in the Italian language, phonetic and semantic variations of dialects, denotative and connotative significance in newspaper headlines, web, etc. Then, a few students surprise me: YouTube videos, movie clips, Italian corporate websites & advertisements to provide great examples of living language and how the scientific study of it is actually relevant.

One student used this as a sample of the development of oral proficiency for an Italian ESL (English as a second language) learner and takes this discussion to the concept of sociolinguistic awareness. The ESL student asks the Corriere della Sera’s resident expert of Italians why it is so difficult to understand spoken English. Beppe Severgnini (columnist, author) replies to this question:

L’inglese, come mi ha spiegato il guru Giles Watson con cui ho aggiornato “Lezioni Semiserie”, è ostico per l’orecchio italiano. Noi – come i francesi e gli spagnoli – parliamo una lingua “syllable-timed”, in cui la velocità di pronuncia corrisponde grosso modo al numero di sillabe che contiene. L’inglese è una lingua “stress-timed”: la durata della frase corrisponde al numero di accenti con cui chi parla sceglie di scandirla.

English, as it was explained to me by the master Giles Watson…is unpalatable for the Italian ear. We (Italians)-like the French and Spanish-speak a “syllable-timed” language whose pronunciation tempo is determined by and large by the number of syllables contained in an utterance. English is a “stressed-timed” language: the length of the statement corresponds to the number of inflections that the speaker wishes to articulate.

Interesting…

Even more interesting are the “one-a-day for a month” reasons Severgnini provides to encourage Italians to learn English. I will highlight those that I found utterly amusing 😉 (all translations are mine…)

1 Perché siete stanchi di dire “Non parlo l’inglese, ma lo capisco…”.
1. Because you are tired of saying “I don’t speak English but I understand it…”

2 Perché parlare con le mani, alla lunga, stanca.
2. Because speaking with your hands, in the long run, is tiring.

3 Perché capirete come riempire quel modulo su internet (un terzo della Rete funziona in inglese).
3. Because you will understand how to fill out that online form (1/3 of the Web is in English)

4 Perché così, quando vi insultano all’estero, evitate di ringraziare.
4. Because when Italians are insulted abroad, you won’t thank them.

6 Perché in America saprete leggere i cartelli stradali (one way non è una canzone di Frank Sinatra: vuol dire “senso unico”).
6. Because in America you will know how to read street signs (one way is not a Sinatra tune:…)

14 Perché quando sentirete “Vorrei shiftare la vostra attenzione sul break-even del nostro business, un must che stressa la necessità di downsizing”, almeno lo sapete: vi stanno licenziando.
14. Because when you hear “I would like to shift your attention to our business’ break-even point, a must which stresses the necessity to downsize”, you will know that you are being fired.

15. Perché un po’ già lo parlate. No comment, in fondo, è una frase completa.
15. Because you already speak it a bit. No comment, is in fact a complete sentence.

20 Perché comunque è impossibile far peggio di quel ministro italiano che, a New York, ha chiesto “gamberetts and fagiols”.
20. Because it’s impossible anyway to speak worse than that Italian minister in New York that asked for “gamberetts and fagiols”.

26 Perché capirete le canzoni inglesi e americane, e vi renderete conto che spesso sono più cretine delle nostre.
26. Because you will understand American and English songs and realize that often they are more idiotic than Italian songs.

27 Perché se George Bush dovesse invitarvi a cena, potrete commentare la cucina della Casa Bianca (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).
27. Because if Bush were to invite you to dinner, you could comment about White House cuisine (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).

29 Perché un brasiliano, per chiedere a un tedesco in Italia di presentargli un collega francese per discutere dello svedese Ibrahimovic, parlerà inglese.
29. Because a Brasilian asking a German in Italy to introduce him to a French colleague to discuss the Swedisch Ibrahimovic will speak in English.

31 Perché è trendy, baby.

courses taking on a new design in SP09

The end of another academic year is coming to a close and this brings me much relief. I would like to focus my efforts on my tenure package and continue to ride on the wave of teaching with technology in my department. This is an exciting time for the department, the most exciting in fact in the last 4 years. There has been some experimental redesigning of course syllabi with technology, but now, there is going to be a more concentrated effort on offering these courses in a more official manner.

One of the greatest downfalls in teaching with technology, as I have found, is that so many people implement technological tools to such varying degrees but then do not necessarily share this information, so it always feels like you are reinventing the wheel when you have a brainshower and want to do something pedagogically sound and technology-enhanced. Case in point, how many of my colleagues know that at our institution this spring term alone offered 26 online courses (many in the MBA program) and 34 hybrid courses. These numbers are surprising because I don’t know how many of us are aware of whom else is experimenting with this new course format and I wonder if there have been any conversations that have arisen from it…

Our college has now initiated a dialogue about hybrid and online courses with our first meeting scheduled Thursday. One question that has always intrigued me about hybrid courses is: how do we define it? By what parameters are we limited? After some research, I’ve discovered that there is no singular definition. This may or may not be disturbing (depending on just how prescriptive one may wish to be—or not!) but I think it is time that we share ideas with the hope of creating a model that works within our community, with our student population and with the support of administration. Our personal objectives will always remain very distinct (as they should be), but we really need to come together to enhance our common vision and promote it, as I believe this is very important.

The great thing for my department is that we have all been given the thumbs up to explore the degree to which and the manner in which we will develop our hybrid and/or online courses. So what is new in my department in Spring 2009? Well, there will be some fully online courses (intro Italian I & II courses), the use of SL in another major elective course, and a hybrid course for FL teaching methods. There is one additional member of our department who will also be teaching a hybrid course for a further major elective course, but I am unsure of how she will approach it.

Given the array of courses and course designs, we must remember that as with all good teaching strategies, to understand teaching styles with respect to technological tools is just as important as appreciating different teaching styles and types of teachers; each one of us can all constructively contribute to the dialogue of this new direction for our college/university.

So I’d like to ask you about your experience with hybrid/online courses. Have you ever been a teacher or student of one? What would you rate positively? negatively? Any words of wisdom you’d be willing to share?

teaching with twitter…the epilogue

Update: as a prelude to this presentation, I was interviewed by lead instructional designer Peter Campbell of Montclair on Twitter. Here is the link to three podcasts recently made available on the University website. I hope you may find some value in my words and my academic use of twitter. It was a truly memorable experience. Thanks again to all my friends and colleagues who have been instrumental in the twittosphere and beyond…

today I presented a faculty forum on teaching with Twitter. I had a good turnout (small group but they were interested) and a cheering section. At the end of the presentation, I went live to my fellow Twitterers to say hello and I want to thank all those who replied. The response was instantaneous–and the audience impressed. 

some of the things that people who didn’t attend may have missed included: 1) my stunning Italian linen dress 😉 ; 2) some notes and observations on twitter in education; and 3) good questions about twitter. Below, I give you some of the key ideas on twitter & teaching and I hope they might encourage you to think about it as a tool in whatever line of work you do.

   

I want to thank a group of followers for graciously providing me with screenshots for my presentation, which really provided a grasp of the various ways to tweet: Francesco, Luke, Milos, and Sharon, and, of course Michael, for retweeting and saving me, yet again.

Anyone interested in developing twitter as a FL classroom tool, in more defined ways, please contact me as I think it’s truly valuable.

P.S. Thanks also to AJ, who was tweeting about my presentation during my presentation! Didn’t see this until today.

 

twitter & teaching/learning Italian

In early 2007, I joined Twitter, one of the many social networking and micro-blogging services. According to Wikipedia, Twitter

  • allows users to send “updates” (or “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service, instant messaging, or a third-party application
  • in italiano, anche da Wikipedia… Twitter è un network e un servizio di micro-blog che permette agli utenti di mandare aggiornamenti (messaggi di testo, lunghi non più di 140 caratteri) via SMS, messaggeria istantanea, email, il sito di Twitter, o un’applicazione come Twitterrific.

One of the things I have noticed is that many Italians use Twitter, which has been indirectly supported by Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere Report that rates Italian as the 4th most used language in posts.I’ve decided to experiment this semester with my students…will their use of Twitter in Italian help improve their communication in Italian? I believe if they have an actual environment that makes their use of Italian seem “real”, they will be more likely to voluntarily use the language outside of the classroom environment with their peers and possibly “real Italians” (and I hope to be able to plead with some of my Italian Twitter friends to join in on this experiment).For the time being, I have structured this experiment as follows:

  • We have class on Mondays & Wednesdays. They must Twitter in Italian on two other weekdays (their choice of Tuesdays, Thursdays or Fridays).
  • They must also, once a week, reply to a Tweet of one of their peers, so that a communication of sorts occurs. 

 

So they use Twitter 3x a week…maybe, they might get hooked and find they want to create Tweets more often (perhaps for extra-credit). Perhaps they will not be intimidated by writing in Italian because of the 140-character limitation imposed by Twitter. Maybe, just maybe, they will be inclined to find other Italian “twitteri” and follow them. Perhaps, they will understand that learning a language is more than just the words but also the rich culture which underlies it. Many maybes…let’s see what the semester brings.

new website

Much deliberation, hesitation and reconsideration has now ended. Late last night (or was it in the wee hours of the morning?) I posted what is my new professional website. My previous website was attractive enough but outdated. I started rethinking designs about a year ago, but since website design had to take a back seat to my professional responsibilities, it took me a while to actually focus and determine what I wanted my new site to say about me (moreover, my virtual reinvention was greatly fostered by the transformed and reinvented “real me”which occurred over the last year.)

I am an amateur in web design, that I have some good ideas, but having them materialize is sometimes difficult because I am not properly versed in code (still can’t figure out CSS to make it work properly for me, so I stick to simple HTML pages). What I would like to ask my handful of readers to this post is some feedback. Since the new trends in colour show that “grey” is the new neutral, I have adopted this colour scheme (I won’t change that).

But I do have some specific questions that I would like to ask about

  1. the rollover links (should the image link to the new window? or just the text part? Or just the “read me” part?);
  2. the new windows (big enough? should I make them resizable?);
  3. the charts within the new windows (are they easily legible?).

Other comments would be appreciated too.Grazie

italian festival @ montclair

festivale.jpgItaly’s malaise (see my previous post) may not be cured by the Italian Festival of the Arts and Humanities, but it will bring a series of stimulating, alluring, satisfying and entertaining events to the University in the Spring 2008 semester.

Maybe you may find something (everything is free, except for the production of Hey Girl, which is part of the $15 Peak Performance program) in which you are interested—food, film, fine art & architecture & more—and if there is something you may wish to know more about, leave me a comment and I’ll try to provide you with more info or people to contact about it.

P.S. Although the involvement of our actual department was quite minimal, for reasons unbeknownst  to me, there are some symposia that have been coordinated by our faculty.