Tuesday, March 12, 2013

På gang

A number of students have been asking me what I'm up to this semester since they didn't see my name listed teaching classes this semester.

I am happy to report (albeit it old news that I'm just now having time to blog about) that I have received the St. Olaf College Faculty Time Release Grant for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Each year at St. Olaf, one faculty member is awarded a semester to work on a research project that they propose.  This year it is me!  So I taught full time this fall and during interim and then have the spring to work on my project.  It isn't a full-on sabbatical; I'm still attending many meetings a week for various committees, attending dept. and faculty meetings, advising students, advising students for study abroad, etc.  So, it is not a semester devoted entirely to this project, but it is still a much needed break from my regular schedule.  I'd never finish this project without the significant chunks of time to concentrate that I was awarded.

Here is some information on my project, taken mostly from the proposal I wrote.

My project is called På gang, An Online Intermediate Norwegian Language Curriculum.  It furthers the novice level curriculum that I have co-authored with Nancy Aarsvold, Sett i gang.  I believe that there is an immediate, nationwide need to develop new intermediate Norwegian language curriculum that draws on the research of language acquisition to better meet the needs of our North American learners. This need has been identified and discussed at length at the departmental and national level. 

Our project is actually not new- the beginnings of this project actually began over 8 years ago together with Nancy; however, completion of the project has not been possible because of the time investment necessary.  Drawing on the research findings from my dissertation on student use of MOODLE and Nancy's new role as Assistant Director of Instructional Technology at St. Olaf, På gang is entirely online.  By developing a curriculum that is entirely digital, it will give students a multiscensory experience through videos, visuals, authentic and constructed texts and tasks. Through the texts and tasks students develop intercultural competence by reflecting on their own culture in conjunction with Norwegian society.  This also gives learners more opportunities to explore beyond the classroom walls.

One of the main tenets of På gang is that it uses a theme-based model of Content Based Instruction (CBI).

CBI is a model for curriculum writing used in many foreign language intermediate level courses where the target language is “the vehicle through which subject matter content is learned rather than as the immediate object of study" (Brinton et al., 1989, p. 5).  CBI emphasizes the negotiation of meaning (Lightbown & Spada, 1993) and incorporates a variety of thinking skills and learning strategies that lead to rich language development. (Curtain, 1995; Met, 1991).  Additionally, CBI offers the flexibility many faculty desire at the intermediate levels as there are more opportunities to adjust to the needs and interests of students.

Stoller (2002), a frequently cited expert in CBI, explains that the success of CBI “depends on the details of its implementation” (np.) and argues for a “dual commitment to our students’ language and content learning needs” (np.).  In order to achieve this, Stoller believes that a successful CBI framework considers these four points, which will guide the development of På gang: (1) sound teaching practices that lend themselves to natural integration of language and content, (2) methods of promoting the acquisition of content, (3) the techniques for incorporating levels of complexity into instruction and (4) the approaches for building curricular coherence.

På gang has three main components: a novel, themes chosen from the novels, and a grammar guide.  I'll write more about each of these and how these work together in my next post. 

The St. Olaf Norwegian Department has a long history of curriculum development, most notably in language instruction. Additionally, the department places high value on the development of pedagogical materials as evidence of significant professional activity. Receiving the Released-Time Grant while I am in the fifth year of my tenure track couldn't be better timing!  Having a semester to focus on this project allows me the time necessary to meet the expectations for professional activity before my dossier is submitted this fall.  In addition, there is great benefit of this project to the Norwegian department at St. Olaf College as well-developed pedagogical materials will greatly impact student learning, motivation and satisfaction.

The curriculum is currently in its first year of being piloted.  It will be revised and expanded before it is piloted once more during the 2013-2014 academic year.  Then, in 2014, it will be disseminatedThis is an important year as it also the bicentennial anniversary of Norway’s independence.  There will be large celebrations in Norway and in the Norwegian-Americans communities across the US.  Completion of this project in time for the celebratory events will be a part of how St. Olaf celebrates this important historical event and reaffirms its ties, strengthening the bonds with the past to keep our college’s cultural heritage vibrant.