Distance learning can provide a viable alternative to foreign language learning in a traditional classroom setting when on-site instruction is not available due to budgetary or staffing constraints.
Distance learning refers to instruction which relies on the use of telecommunications, rather than an on-site teacher, as the primary source of instruction.
Through distance learning, foreign language courses not currently available to students in a given district can be provided.
When opportunities for students who want to study a language or a particular level of a language do not exist within the program of studies of their system, distance learning classes can provide a greater flexibility of choice and access to all levels of language instruction.
Distance Learning in Foreign Languages, a position paper of the National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Languages, also endorsed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, recognizes the rapid growth and contributions of foreign language district learning programs and voices the following concerns:
- Distance learning classes should be used only when qualified teachers who are proficient in the target language(s) are not available within the school or district, or when the program does not currently exist in the system.
- The expertise of the foreign language teacher is needed when considering curriculum, methodology, policies, and mandates.
- Foreign language distance learning classes must emphasize meaningful language use and practice as well as authentic communication.
- It is essential that the technology be used as a vehicle for communication and not as an end in itself.
- The electronic technology in foreign language distance learning programs must allow for interactive instructional activities.
PREREQUISITES TO AN EFFECTIVE FOREIGN LANGUAGE DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM:
MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION:
The success of distance learning in developing students' langauge skills depends on the ability of the instructional program to provide language learning in a face-to-face setting; therefore, interactive technology is the preferred medium of instruction in a distance learning environment. The class should parallel the traditional classroom experience, including teacher to student and student to student personal contact.
- The technology must be sophisticated enough to provide excellent and immediate transmission and reception to ensure accurate sound discrimination.
- Continuous maintenance of equipment is necessary and both the language teacher and facilitator must be given instruction in its use.
A minimum of at least a two-year sequence must be guaranteed for students who register for the first course.
- The daily bell schedules and academic calendars of participating districts must be aligned to provide maximum instructional time.
- The maximum class size should be ten at the host (transmitting) site with a total of ten at all remote (receiving) sites. Optimal class size, including host and remote sites, should not exceed twenty students. If the number of students registered for a course at a remote site meets the criteria for regular classroom instruction, the course should not be offered through distance learning but as part of the academic offerings of the school.
- Each remote site should have a trained classroom facilitator to monitor the class and provide assistance with the transmission of data.
The distance learning teacher should be an experienced master teacher with proven proficiency in the language.
- All basic and supplementary materials need to be easily accessible to all students at all sites.
- The program offers a variety of activities which include listening, speaking, reading, writing skills, as well as social and cultural information.
- The teacher's schedule must provide flexibility for class preparation and the visitation to other sites to ensure interaction between the teacher and all the students enrolled in the class.
Students should demonstrate a genuine interest in language learning and responsibility for their own learning. Preference should be given to students who can complete a minimum two-year sequence.
Although not the ideal setting for foreign language learning, distance learning through interactive technology can provide additional opportunities for students who want access to a language or level of language not offered in their system.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Elizabeth K. Lapman
President, CT COLT
Lewis S. Mills High School
26 Lyon Road
Burlington, CT 06013