November 13, 2011

Article: Colleges Move to Online Language Classes


Foreign-Language Instruction, Digitally Speaking
By Marc Parry
November 6, 2011

Wylder Fondaw struggled with an online Latin class in high school. So when he arrived at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this year, he hesitated at studying a language online. But the freshman had no choice: At his skill level, if he wanted to take introductory Spanish, an online class was the only option.

Instead of showing up in class four times a week, Mr. Fondaw conjugates verbs on a computer program in his sparsely furnished dorm room. He attends a live class every Tuesday afternoon—but it, too, is virtual. The class convenes via Web-conferencing software. If students want to answer a question, they click an icon that depicts a raised hand.

Even as online education booms, fully digital language classes like Mr. Fondaw's remain uncommon. But North Carolina's experiment¬—driven by growing demand for Spanish instruction, limited classroom space, a shortage of qualified instructors, pedagogical innovations, and cost savings—is one of several efforts nationwide that are starting to map an online future for teaching languages.

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