Blog Post

An Introduction Among Many...

Hello fellow HASTAC scholars and the greater HASTAC community!

My name is Vivian Finch, and I'm a PhD candidate in German Literature at Vanderbilt University.  I've been reading everyone's blog introductions, which really energized me for the upcoming year and led me to write my own introduction here.  My interest in the digital humanities stems from a personal use of social media.  I have profiles on a few social media networks, but I find myself using Twitter most frequently (Instagram is a close second!).  I've been on Twitter since early 2009, but it was not until the spring semester of 2010 that I used Twitter in German language instruction for the first time.

Initially I found Twitter to be a productive platform for introductory foreign language students to practice consistent written language use at a low-stakes level.  Perhaps more importantly, Twitter afforded a certain level of authentic language experiences for my students that I would be hard-pressed to match inside the classroom.  As I move into teaching intermediate to advanced German language courses, I am exploring more complex and integrated methods of Twitter use inside and outside the classroom, especially those methods that encourage student-driven production.  Such investigations have led me to contemplate how Twitter might fit into a larger plan for a foreign language MOOC down the road and what a foreign language MOOC could look like in its many variations.

This interest in the digital humanities was further cultivated by my affiliation with the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt, with whom I have worked over the past year as a two time Teaching Affiliate (responsible for helping organize Vanderbilt's Teaching Assistant Orientation).  This year, the Center for Teaching is generously supporting my participation as a HASTAC scholar.  So while you can always read my blogs here on the HASTAC website, also look for them occasionally over at the Center for Teaching's website ( http://cft.vanderbilt.edu )!

Although my dissertation has no direct ties to the digital humanities (dealing with the publication and reception history of Brazilian literature in post-WWII Germany), my archival research has further confirmed the importance of the digital world in humanities scholarship, as I was able to access digital archives both in Brazil and Germany.  While conducting research in the Archive of German Literature in Marbach, Germany, earlier this year, I was able to attend a conference on the importance, potential dangers, and future of digital archives in relation to more traditional archives.  

While my interests in the digital humanities remain diverse, I am most focused on the impact of the digital world (more specifically social networking platforms) on the foreign language classroom and what that future might look like.  I look forward to meeting and interacting with many of you, so please feel free to reach me here or via email: vivian.m.finch@vanderbilt.edu or on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vivianfinch.

Here's to the upcoming year in HASTAC!

Best,

Vivian

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6 comments

All of your projects sound interesting, Vivian, but I am especially intrigued by your comments on foreign-language MOOCs. Such a platform would make it easy for students to develop reading, listening, and writing skills, but many teachers are skeptical about MOOCs and the development of speaking skills. What are some of the steps that MOOC designers have considered taking to allow for spontaneous, spoken interaction among thousands of users? Would it be something like a Skype language tandem on a massive scale?

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Thanks, Steven, for your questions on the FL MOOC structure!  I have many similar questions myself, especially when it comes to student speaking development.  Most of the FL MOOCs I have seen focus on writing, reading, and listening, but few incorporate a consistent speaking element.  When there are speaking elements, they are, indeed, generally structured around Google video-hangouts (with multiple native speakers on hand) or something similar.  One FL MOOC platform currently garnering a lot of attention is www.instreamia.com. (For a snippet of the CEO's perspective on his FL MOOC platform: http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=4652870&type=member&item=239... )

Of course, this limitation leads to two paths of inquiry: 1. how to create situations which foster student development of speaking skills and 2. towards whom should FL MOOCs be geared.  

As to the first question, I have often wondered how video-penpal structures (such as the www.livemocha.com language-learning platform) and other forms of authentic conversational interaction could be incorporated to address the question of speaking development.  

As far as the second question, I believe this also addresses many instructors' concerns regarding the FL MOOC, especially at the university level.  I am not yet convinced that the FL MOOC is a competetive model for in-person introductory and intermediate language learning.  For reasons we have already highlighted, I think there is a ways to go before that happens, but I think there is so much room for growth.  I also believe that the FL MOOC could already be incorporated at more advanced levels, where peer-to-peer/group conversational activities form the backbone of the further development of speaking skills.  However, these opinions are all based on my own observations and reading thus far, so if you happen across any more substantial studies/literature on the topic, please let me know!

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Hi Vivian,

Congrats on being selected as the CFT's HASTAC Scholar! Derek and the CFT team are great, and hopefully we can meet at some point when I'm back in Nashville (I was the CFT scholar last year).  I'm currently studying Arabic and so am very interested in your research.  In regards to foreign language and twitter, I've noticed that especially young people in Arab countries use a variety of slang and spelling that differs greatly and can be quite confusing. I was wondering if you found this problem when using Twitter with your German students, and if the authenticity of the experience was almost too authentic, with slang and writing styles differing greatly from classroom German?  Also not sure if you've tried this already, but one thing I've enjoyed using with my students is twitter trending maps that show hashtags trending per country.  At the moment, the word truth is trending in Syria and Lebanon, and not only does this show how the language is used but dovetails nicely with current events. 

Looking forward to reading your posts and congrats again!

Cheers,

Zoe

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Vivian, I had heard of livemocha, but everything else that you mentioned was new to me. Thanks for bringing that to my attention! I have yet to explore the literature on the topic, but I will certainly let you know should I find anything especially interesting. Does the CFT have any plans for a MOOC working group? We have our hands full now at the CSLS, but I've been thinking that it would be neat to have a MOOC theory / design meetup, just to brainstorm how each of us might try to set up a massive online version of his or her area of expertise.

 

Zoe, that's a great question. The same problem occurs in Brazilian Portuguese, but our main challenge is teaching students the differences between written language and spoken language. In this sense, Portuguese is similar to English (where we say but don't write contractions in formal discourse, for example). Spanish, in contrast, doesn't have this problem, so it's much easier to jump in.

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Hi Zoe!  Thanks so much for the warm welcome.  I have no doubt that I am in good hands with Derek and the CFT.  I would love the chance to meet up once you're back in town!

As far as the use of slang and spelling in German on Twitter, I have actually found that it can create some really fantastic teaching moments.  While slang and standard German have their differences, they are not so far apart that students wouldn't be able to either figure them out after some consideration or ask questions that hone in on the specifics of those differences.  In the past, I have had in-class live tweeting which led to some of those very questions.  I actually welcome this kind of authentic language complexity, which is also something you encounter in a variety of cultural situations in the target language: contemporary music or literature, films, youtube videos, etc.  I think it's important to enter into those discussions in order to provide students with a more developed sense for the language and culture, and Twitter is a great way to step into that world.  Just the other day, my students and I discussed the fact that the hashtag #flashmob was trending in Germany.  It turns out that the word had officially been added to the Duden dictionary (the German version of the Oxford English Dictionary).  I think the most important thing is to always be clear about when and where certain words/spelling can/can't be used.  (Sidenote: As a native speaker of Brazilian Portuguese, I have to agree with Steven that Portuguese can potentially be more complicated in this respect, but I still think that it's part of the language learning process as a whole to experience these different sides!).

Steven: The whole FL MOOC structure is fascinating to me, so if I find anything of use, I'll be sure to pass it along, too!  As far as the CFT developing a MOOC working group, there are no plans as of yet, but I'll definitely run the idea by Derek and get back to you on it.  Maybe it could even seep into tomorrow's meeting...

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Vivian,  sorry about the delay in responding!  I have my settings for once-a-week notifications, so I might always have a bit of delay in responding.

I've taught online language classes for several years now.  They are not MOOCs, but rather courses with approximately 20-24 students per section.  The challanges are unbelievable.  The speaking skill can very easily be integrated into an online course, but at a massive level, I'm not too comfortable with that.  The writing skill presents an equal challenge.

For the most part, online students will always understand speaking assessments as "read from a script."  No matter how hard I've tried to get students away from the script, they always find a way to return to it.  So, the design of speaking activities will be difficult in the online/MOOC environment. 

The writing skill is also a challenge because of the general belief that google translator will provide you with an acceptable form of the language.

But, my major question is assessment.  How can you design assessments for a course with approximately 40,000 students that will provide them the opportunity to use all four skills?

Another consideration, which nobody seems to mention in the online/MOOC debate are the National Standards.

A few things to get your discussion going....

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