Technology transforms foreign language classes

Breanne George

Professor Richard Berrong uses a Web site in his French composition class Monday. The Web site has transformed foreign language classes making them more interactive and helpful to students.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Jim Bryant walks into a computer lab in Moulton Hall. But he won’t be checking his e-mail or instant messaging his friends.

Instead, Bryant sits at a conference table in the center of the room along with 14 other students. Broadcast on the screen in the front of the room is his French composition class Web site.

New technology available at Moulton Hall is making foreign language classes more interactive.

“Technology definitely enhances the learning experience,” Bryant said. “The Web site has everything you need and is easily accessible.”

French Professor Richard Berrong designed the Web site for the French composition course, which took him nearly a decade to develop.

“This class is my pride and joy,” Berrong said. “I had taught this class for years the old-fashioned way, but it’s not the same. Today’s generation is a visual generation, so I decided to adapt.”

All the notes are available on the Web site, complete with visuals to increase understanding. Visuals include illustrations of Monet paintings and photographs of villages in France taken by Berrong on his many trips to the country.

A link to a French radio station helps students hear the correct pronunciation of French dialogue and get a glimpse of French culture.

“The Web site made the class come alive,” said Kathy Siena, who took his class in spring 2004. “Berrong put so much time and effort into the Web site. It was apparent to me that he wanted us to not only learn the language, but also appreciate the culture.”

The Web site also saves students money. Since the novel required for class is on the Web site, students do not have to buy a textbook.

“French composition was one of the better classes I took here,” said Dennis Boyd, senior German and French major. “Most of the foreign language classes at Kent State do not integrate technology, so this was a nice change.”

Students in Berrong’s French composition class get the opportunity to communicate with high school students in France.

A computer program called Learnlinc, an online meeting application, allows students to speak with people around the world. Deborah Murphy, multimedia developer in Moulton Hall, said Learnlinc has allowed Kent State students to “visit” about 11 countries.

“Last semester, students met at 8 a.m. in the computer lab to talk to their pen pals due to the time difference,” said Murphy. “I watched the interaction and thought it was pretty cool.”

Murphy said new technology, such as Learnlinc, is easy to use and install. Learnlinc is free for Kent State employees and students, so it can be installed in residence halls or off campus.

Other language classes are also incorporating technology into the learning experience. Students in lecturer Theresa Minick’s intermediate Spanish classes communicate through chat rooms, message boards and e-mail to pen pals in Mexico. Minick uses a new computer program called Horizon that allows students to communicate via voice messaging.

A few times each semester, Minick uses video conferencing in Moulton Hall so students can interact with their pen pals.

Technology gives students a new way of learning because they are no longer tied to a classroom. A computer program called VTEL allows students from regional campuses to take distance learning classes.

Berrong’s French composition class has used VTEL technology in past semesters; however, no regional campus students have registered this semester.

“I had regional campus students in my class from the Tuscarawas and Salem campus,” Berrong said. “It was too long of a drive for them to come to Kent, so they had no other option. If distance learning was not available, these students would not have taken the class.”

VTEL is similar to video conferencing. Regional campus students sit in a special room where the lecture is broadcast on a screen. A camera in the room broadcasts the students to the class at the Kent campus.

A camera in the classroom follows the professor. Students sit at desks with a small device that acts as a microphone.

“The VTEL program can be difficult for shy students due to the camera,” Berrong said.

These new programs are making the learning experience more exciting and convenient for students and are becoming the wave of the future.

“It is vital that students get exposed to different cultures before they start their careers,” Minick said. “Technology creates real-life learning experiences, and students develop a global perspective.”

Contact academic technology reporter Breanne George at [email protected].