Two technology-driven projects at Princeton are improving teaching and learning in beginning German. Jamie Rankin, coordinator of language teaching and pedagogy and a senior lecturer in the department since 1991, introduced both approaches at a November 19 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar.
The first project is a database that provides teaching resources for graduate student instructors. The database links the syllabus with day-by-day teaching ideas and digitized materials. As a result, even first year instructors with limited teaching experience can develop a feel for the rhythm and pulse of a class, while making pedagogical choices based on their individual classroom experience. Students gain access to these materials as well as past tests for practice.
For each chapter, there is a survey of the vocabulary and detailed explanations for each of the activities of the day and week. Many of the exercises actively encourage students to use the new material in oral discourse.
Teaching assistants use the resource database to draw on their own experiences of German culture and share these with their students by way of digitized text, audio files, and links to YouTube, along with a comprehensive glossary. As a result, the instructors have ready access to pedagogically sound materials and can easily coordinate a structured sequence of multiple interactive tasks, conversing with the students, watching films and short clips, with clear instructions and useful web links and other ancillary materials for each task. Some graduates students take pictures and movie clips, for example, and insert them into their PowerPoint slides to aid the day’s discussion.
Ben Johnston of the Humanities Resource Center explained that to create the site, staff used Drupal, a free software package that allows an individual or a community of users easily to publish, manage and organize a wide variety of content on the web.
The website project in particular shows how a simple metaphor of a café (Das Café) opens up a wide range of possibilities for teacher-student interaction. This public web site approaches teaching and learning from a somewhat different perspective. Here, instructions add potential lesson ideas to a single repository, a Blog, which they build together. All of the entries correspond to topics and activities that might be appropriate for a café. You might listen to music (Jukebox), discuss movies (Kino), or read a book (Lese-Ecke, or reading corner) or a newspaper (Schlagzellen or headlines).
The final category, Wortliste, is a glossary to aid beginning German students who want to look up the meaning of a new word. Rankin stressed that the efforts provided cultural content for the students and an opportunity for the instructors to work with technology in meaningful pegagical ways.
Here are several examples taken from the Das Café site. The first is a simple crossword puzzle that makes use of the required vocabulary.
The second is a YouTube video with simple German that students find compelling.
After completing a Ph.D. in German literature at Harvard University, Rankin went on to specialize in second language acquisition and pedagogy in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaii. His current research focuses on the dynamics of foreign language classrooms, with particular emphasis on classroom interaction and the role it plays in teaching and teacher training. Much of his research takes the form of collaborative classroom research with graduate student assistants instructors in the department, and several of these studies have been published–including two awarded the Unterrichtpraxis’ prize for Best Articles of the Year in 1999.
A podcast is available.