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The College Magazine - Spring 2000 : Russell Hanson, acting dean
From the Dean: Language labs support the College's mission
Russell Hanson, acting dean
Russell Hanson, acting dean
The College has long been known for its range and innovation in language instruction. We regularly teach three dozen languages, from Arabic to Zulu, and a number of our faculty and unique programs are known worldwide. The variety and quality of our offerings are vital to our area studies programs, and to students whose work (academic and otherwise) takes them to the far corners of the globe. Our language programs also draw researchers and educators from around the world to Bloomington, seeking first-rate instruction in reading, writing, and speaking other tongues.

This commitment is a legacy of Herman B Wells, who pursued the vision of a university with an international outlook, whose students, whether they came from tiny towns or big cities, would be at home in the world. To help realize that vision, the university invested heavily in a language laboratory that in its time offered instructors and students state-of-the-art technology. But advances in technology have rendered these facilities obsolete. Audiotape players are being supplanted by digital machines that provide voice, images, and music in elaborate multimedia resource packages. It's time for the College to upgrade its facilities, providing instructional technologies that match the caliber of our talented language instructors.

The language labs will be remodeled and upgraded this summer. The College has received special grants for the half-million dollar renovation from President Myles Brand, Chancellor Gros Louis, and Vice Presidents George Walker, Michael McRobbie and Terry Clapacs. When the renovation is complete, the labs will once again be state-of-the-art; they will resemble the marvelous digital library in the IU School of Music, which pioneered the technology for providing high quality audio to hundreds of students needing virtually simultaneous access to instructional recordings.

The renovated labs will improve the already fine language instruction in the College. For example, Professor James Lee of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese is developing interactive software that will replace many of the standard drills that occupy class time. The software monitors the performance of every student in a way no single teacher can. Moreover, it analyzes performance and records the results for instructors to review. Common errors are identified for each student and class, allowing instructors to devote more class time to areas that need attention. In this way, the computer becomes an extension of the instructor.

The new language labs will also be production sites for instructional materials. Our faculty include several talented individuals who are developing multimedia software for teaching Spanish, French, German and some of the more exotic languages we offer, such as Haitian Creole. These materials can be distributed to other campuses in the IU system via the Web or on CD ROMs, sharing knowledge and resources in Bloomington with teachers and students on seven other campuses around the state.

The new language labs will be a site for research as well. Faculty and graduate students may study the process by which students learn new languages. Digital technologies will allow researchers to investigate important issues in second language acquisition and related areas of linguistics. In turn, these investigations may lead to new conclusions about the best ways to teach language, and the most helpful kinds of instructional materials. Thus, the new labs will encourage real synergy between research and teaching.

Finally, the labs will allow the College and its language departments to participate in distance education. In addition to connecting with IU's other campuses, our labs will be electronically accessible to high school teachers around Indiana, providing them with up-to-the-minute recommendations on teaching strategies and materials. We may even become a major supplier of language instruction to other schools in the Big 10, which are forming a "common market" of language instruction that will make each member responsible for offering specific languages, avoiding duplication and taking advantage of unique institutional resources and expertise. Given the wealth of languages we offer on this campus, the College could share some of its rarest gems with students throughout the Midwest.

Technology will never replace human skill and passion in teaching or learning, but it can make pedagogy richer and more effective. The result will be a more vibrant learning environment, and a renewed appreciation for the diversity of languages and cultures that can now be, quite literally, at our fingertips.



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Last Updated: December 15, 2000
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