The purpose of the first “SPEAK” article (November 2008) was to develop awareness of UTD’s foreign language program and try to expand the student movement to solve its problems. Students have definitely been taking initiative to improve the language program: Japanese students have gained Intermediate and Advanced courses and a possible minor by petition; Student Government has pursued several initiatives, the most important of which guaranteed funding for under-enrolled language classes; and a student has written to advocate for a language lab. This time the main goal is to challenge the UTD administration to act: Now is the time for proactive and innovative administrative action to establish a strong base of foreign language-learning students and a university culture conducive to foreign language education.
For the past few years, according to Dr. Kratz, Dean of A&H, the major problem plaguing UTD’s foreign language program has been low enrollment. Since Dean Kratz finds that UTD students’ interest in language typically doesn’t extend past four semesters, he presented the issue in an interview as a challenge between immediate growth and 5-10 year growth: As UTD grows, demand for language study will increase, and it will become possible to expand the language program more aggressively. His vision is to form a new approach to language education in the meantime. By 2015, he would like to have a language program in which students pursue 2-6 credit hours a semester via self-paced study using immersive technology and a campus language lab with the help of professors as instructor-guides.
Although Dean Kratz’s vision is impressive and reveals that the university is not just being reactive, I remain unconvinced that under current conditions the increase in UTD student numbers over five or ten years will resolve UTD’s problem with low language-class enrollment. Comparing the ratio of language-course enrollment to the total student enrollment in Fall 2008 yields the rough estimate that for every 1000-student increase in total enrolment, UTD gains only 3.52 students for each language offered.
According to that model, even if the university raised total enrollment by 1000 every year, the bare-minimum numbers to justify adding a second section of each beginning language class wouldn’t be formed for three years. Since the model’s even distribution doesn’t reflect actual language enrollment, only one language, perhaps two, would be ready to add another class section, but the rest would remain unable to expand. It would also remain difficult to offer new languages and to offer the introductory courses every semester instead of just in the Fall. For an ultimate cure to enrollment problems, the university must take aggressive action to establish a sustained base of students who take language courses. Only that will develop the critical mass of language enrollment necessary for expansive growth. UTD should adopt the following proposals.
Providing Incentives to Take Language Classes
Expand the core curriculum rules so that upper-level language courses satisfy the Humanities core. Texas law specifically provides for those changes to the core curriculum, which would make it far easier for majors with strict course requirements to find room for language in their schedules.
Develop full minors for every language immediately, even creating course numbers for unoffered classes.UTD already has several nonexistent courses, but at least these would attract students to language courses by allowing them to use study abroad or independent studies to gain paper/resume qualifications in exchange for their dedication.
Removing Barriers to Foreign Language Education
Create conversation groups as an optional part of every language class. Such groups give students extra practice and allow those who aren’t able to take the class to maintain or improve their skills for future classes.
Find a way to increase the number and/or frequency of beginning language classes. Since only Spanish and Chinese offer introductory courses in the Spring, it’s too difficult in many degree plans to provide for extended language education — missing a course one semester means waiting a year to continue.
Use technology to bridge the gap caused by infrequent class offerings. CV currently acquires Rosetta Stone licenses for students. Creating a general university program (not necessarily for Rosetta Stone) would allow motivated students who couldn’t get into language courses one semester to keep up enough to register for the next level of class the next.
Implement and offer Second Life language classes within the next year. Second Life, an online, avatar-based social game, is being investigated for educational use by many universities, including UTD. Its Sims-esque flexibility and spatially accurate voice chat functionality would make class the more intuitive, more structured, and less invasive equivalent of video conferencing. A problem section or scheduled on-campus meeting for tests and quizzes combined with Skype for group office hours would allow far more courses too be offered under the same classroom-space restrictions. The technology needed in the language lab could provide sufficient resources for students who don’t have the proper type of computer.
Offer video recordings of class as course sections. While the logistics of Second Life are figured out, hosting videos of class on eLearning or in the Library’s electronic reserve would provide a low-cost way to increase availability of language courses and a degree of schedule flexibility that would allow far more students to find time for language learning. With conversation groups and the above testing/office-hour scheme, students in such classes would not be at a significant disadvantage to those in traditional classes.
Focused Advertising and Awareness Efforts
Add a week of foreign language presentations combined with study abroad presentations to Rhet 1101 curriculum. Freshmen presented with the advantages of and university incentives for studying another language are far more likely to plan it into their degrees. They could also be taught to petition for classes and arrange independent studies.
Place foreign language pamphlets in every advising office and train every advisor and internship office to ask all students about and encourage them to study foreign languages. Students, part of the onus for obtaining these changes is on us. Bring your concerns to Student Government and participate in its survey/petition campaign on Facebook.