Outsourcing, Learning Virtually and Fear

As I mentioned in previous posts, when the economy goes sour, that is often a time when language educators and language technologists are at their most vulnerable…not because of anything they have or have not done, but because of how easily our role(s) in the Academy are misunderstood, or worse, dismissed.

The economy continues to go south and many colleges ad universities are in the process of another round of hefty cuts. It doesn’t help when sites such as Inside Higher Ed post articles such as this. The use of the word “outsource” could lead the reader (and the nervous bean counter) to think that languages should/could be taught exclusively online with no face-to-face. Of course if you learn more about the Drake and DULAP model (and listen to the podcast we created many moons ago when they created their new language teaching model), you will see that this is not about outsourcing as a replacement to face to face teaching.

The choice of the word outsourcing, I feel, is inappropriate. In fact, in the comments to this IHE article, Marc Cadd, the Director of World Languages and Cultures at Drake, mentions that it is not a word that they would use to self-identify their program.

Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics, but I don’t believe anyone at Drake would use it. We feel our model simply allows us to offer our students an opportunity to learn languages they would otherwise not have an opportunity to learn. And sharing resources for language learning was one of the reasons the Keck Foundation and the CIC helped us develop a consortium through NELL. [Network for Effective Language Learning]

Indeed. It’s really not outsourcing when you have personal connections with the people at the other end, and those people have been trained in your pedagogy. It is not as if Drake is asking random people to teach their courses, which some of the commenters seem to assume. DULAP is not asking random strangers to take charge of the curriculum. Quite the contrary: this is a carefully constructed method to enrich what happens in the face to face, as well as the learning that can happen when schools dare to be innovative and use this hybrid/blended/using-technology-when-it-makes-sense-for-learning model. The DULAP model requires extraordinary effort both from the student and the teacher: creating and mapping and following through on language learning goals is not only hard work, but intensely rewarding as well.

Want to see for yourself how dismissive some people can be of language learning? Read this comment that was posted to the article.

When I took French as an undergraduate, the primary orientation of the class was French literature and composition in the original language. That is, it was NOT primarily about basic learning of a language. I fail to see how learning a second language is a legitimate university credit, given many such courses are offered at the high school level, which is where I acquired my basic understanding of French not in university. Moreover, immersion students learn the second language in elementary school. And of course, native speakers learn their language prior to school. How can something acquired by others in preschool, elementary school, and high school merit university credit?

This is not to deny the value of learning a second language, just wondering why it deserves university credit.Want to see how fearful members of our esteemed academic community are of innovation and doing things differently in language learning?

I daresay that those who are the most threatened by innovation are the ones who promote/cling to a way of teaching that is being challenged through this new model. And by the way, it’s not about the teaching…it’s about our students LEARNING. A very threatening thought indeed.

It’s really sad to see innovation in language education belittled in such a public forum. But instead of being disheartened, I suggest we keep trying, as best as we can, to explain and to clearly articulate what we do, how we do it, and how it is helping students learn.

I do not believe that face to face teaching will ever truly disappear from language pedagogy. But I am also the first to say that it is not the ONLY way to teach languages. I believe there is a happy-blended-medium in there, and it takes gumption and tenacity and fearlessness to find it in your own teaching practice. And yet it is hard to muster that gumption time and time again when the world seems to place a very low value on innovative practices, all the while not understanding what it is you do or why you do it.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!


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