No entendemos: Moving Spanish classes online the wrong move

When resources are too tight to provide enough classes to meet demand for a foreign language, the answer is not to transfer sections online.

But that is the fate to which the introductory Spanish class has been relegated.

This move indicates that the current model of teaching foreign language isn’t working, and the proposed solution is a misunderstanding of the University’s academic mission.

Roughly three years ago, the department recognized that it simply could not meet future demand for Spanish courses. Doing so would not only require more money, but also more space for classrooms and faculty offices that simply does not exist.

So the decision was made to move introductory classes online.

In today’s budget climate, this decision has had some unintended positive effects. No upper level courses were cut, and class sizes were minimally enlarged.

But face to face, verbal interaction with other Spanish speakers in a classroom setting is vital. So students — especially the minority taking Spanish for the first time — are at a clear disadvantage thanks to this move.

In fact, students taking online versions of the class have not performed as well as their classroom peers.

The University needs to reassess what the goal of teaching foreign languages is: to meet a requirement or to learn a language? Sadly, this move indicates a shift toward the former at the expense of the latter.

Larry King, chairman of the department of romance languages and literatures, summarized the problem concisely: “We can’t offer Spanish to everyone who wants to take it.”

But that is not acceptable at a top-tier university that calls itself a global institution.

King painted the move as an overall positive one. He stressed the fact that online Spanish materials are far superior to other online language programs due to the high market demand for them.

The romance languages department has done well to plan ahead to meet its lack of resources. But that does not conceal the fact that it is shameful that this is the best the department can do.

This is a university whose key goals are to serve the students of this state and to prepare them to be productive members of a global society. And, consistent with these goals, the study of foreign language is required for all students.

If the University wants these goals and requirements to have any integrity, then meeting the demand for its language classes should be a top priority.

Thanks for reading.

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