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February 27, 2014

Modern Languages to try new courses, time blocks

By John Cuturic

In the past year, almost every department in Cleveland State University has had to revise its curriculum from the ground up. In a series this semester, the Stater will look at some of the changes.

This issue, we talked with Professor Tama Engelking, the chair of the Department of Modern Languages. She also sits on the University Curriculum Committee, which is overseeing the university-wide change.

“When we reconfigured our majors, it was a good opportunity to add a couple things in and change a few things,” Engelking said.

Modern Languages had made changes to its two majors--French and Spanish--that will give students more knowledge about foreign cultures.

Engelking said that in the Spanish major has combined a Latin American literature and a Spanish literature class into one, and they have changed degree requirements so that students will take both SPN 345 on the society and culture of Spain, and SPN 346 on the society and culture of Latin America.

“[Students] used to have to just take one civ [cultural class]--either Latin American or Spanish civ,” Engelking said. “Now they take one of each, so there’s more emphasis on civ.”

Spanish has also added one credit of outside-the-classroom work near the end of the degree track in SPN 496--students can tutor, do service learning, or work on some personal project.

In the French major, Modern Languages has added an entirely new culture class--FRN 346, “Modern France from WWII to Today,” which will teach students about contemporary French culture.

Engelking said that the introductory, first and second-year courses in the Modern Languages department didn’t need to make the change to three credits, because the state standard is for these classes to be taught in four credits.

“Predominantly around Ohio, those courses are a mixture of five, four and three credits, with four being the dominant model,” Engelking said. “So all of our first and second-year courses are still four credits.”

Strangely, keeping these classes four-credits has caused problems for the Modern Languages department with Cleveland State’s new block scheduling. The department has had to request new blocks of time.

While at some big universities, the standard for language courses is for students to come five days a week, that model has never been in place at Cleveland State. The Modern Languages department will be trying classes in two, three, and four-days-a-week blocks.

“The new schedule is set up to accommodate three credits,” Engelking said. “It was hard to try to fit our classes into that new schedule.”

Engelking said that the department might also try to move some more work online in a “flipped classroom.”

“The idea is that you have the students do a lot more of what’s usually taught in class online,” Engelking said. “There are grammar explanations that they can listen to over and over until they get it, and then when they actually come to class, it’s more interactive, [and focused on] using the language.”

The other major challenge that the department faced was moving its capstones from four to three credits. But in each case, there is a study-abroad version of the capstone available. Engelking said that these classes will stay at 4 credits--because they’re not happening at Cleveland State, they are exempted from having to make the change.

If students take their capstone course at Cleveland State, in Spanish they’ll take a 1-credit capstone plus a 3-credit 400-level course. In French, they’ll take a 3-credit capstone course. But Engelking said that most French students choose to take their capstone abroad.

Engelking said that the Modern Languages department has worked on trying to get students to minor or double-major in a language, especially if they’ve done some of the necessary work in high school. She said that its very easy for students studying abroad to get a language minor.

“Too often,” she said, “I think advisers say, ‘Oh, you had 3 years of Spanish in high school?’ Check, you don’t have to take it anymore,’ rather than saying, ‘Oh, are you considering building on that, making it a minor or a double major?’”

Engelking said that she’s interested to see how the new courses are going to work out in the classroom next year. She said that in the future, the Department of Modern Languages is hoping to add Italian and Chinese minors.