Using Team-Based Learning in German Courses

Sabine Wilke on July 26th, 2013    

I thank my teaching assistant, Seth Berk, for his help in successfully implementing this new pedagogy in my first TBL course and editing this paper for style and naïve fluency.

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My institution, a public R-1 flagship, periodically conducts surveys of its recent alumni in order to learn about where we do a great job and where we need to improve, specifically in terms of how well we prepare our students for life after college. On the plus side, our former students usually mention the fact that they were trained for a global world, to speak languages, to write well, and to think critically; they were exposed to other cultures, values, and ideas, and they returned from their study abroad experience as more mature human beings. The one thing, however, that they all missed in their education – looking back at their student days after a decade or so in the real world – was that they did not learn how to function in teams. While they all appreci-ated the opportunity to improve their writing and critical thinking skills, to acquire knowledge of history and various cultures, and to receive basic training in the sciences, they felt that the intensive experience of studying for their exams, taking notes in lecture classes, and discussing ideas with their teachers and fellow students in seminars did not adequately prepare them for performing an essential skill needed in many job environments: the ability to work in teams.

A few years ago I started experimenting with student teams on my own without any prior theoretical pedagogical background, because I wanted to address this need for team learning, yet I initially struggled with several issues: Firstly, I did not know how to form the teams. The result was either teams comprised solely of people who were already friends or, on the other end of the spectrum, teams of complete strangers that did not complement each other in terms of skills they brought to the table. Secondly, I did not know how to grade individual contributions to team assignments, as most of the projects were completed outside of class. When I came across the pedagogy of Team-Based Learning, I intuitively knew that I wanted to try this out in my next German Studies course (i.e., a course that is taught in English and that includes students from German, as well as students from other majors). I joined a series of webinar training sessions to prepare for this new teaching style; [1] I also did some background reading into the philosophy behind TBL.[2] I have since taught two larger German Studies courses conducted in English and one class in our German major that utilized the TBL format, and I plan to teach a revised version of one of my German Studies courses again next year. I believe, however, that this pedagogy is adaptable to a large variety of teaching formats and is not limited to those German Studies courses with larger class sizes and taught in English, or to the core courses in the German major; even introductory German language courses that take a task-based approach would profit tremendously from the emphasis on creativity, team learning, and presentation skills that the TBL pedagogy represents.

What attracted me right away to TBL is its modularized approach to the course material. For a ten-week German Studies course on “Literature, Culture, and the Environment,” which met three times a week for fifty minutes, I chose five topics: mountains, polar environments, plants and animals, tropical environments, and postcolonial settings. In a modularized approach, instructors can test what works best for them and their students and what does not, and they can then switch out individual modules or change them around, if the material becomes tiresome or requires more coherency. For instance, for future articulations of the same course, I plan to develop additional modules on food, waste, impacted landscapes, climate change, pollution, etc. Each of these modules then follows the same instructional activity sequencing:

readings are done outside of class before the modules begin

a test on the readings as part of the Readiness Assurance process on the first day of the module (RAT) – half a class period

instructor-led discussion of topic (analysis) – one and half class periods

team discussion of topic – one class period (this can be handled flexibly, some classes need more instructor-led analysis than others)

project-based team-work (application) – two class periods

project presentations (showtime) – one class period

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SPRICH: Student Provided enRICHment: Building a language community

Daniel R. Walter (1) & Angelika Kraemer (2) on July 26th, 2013    

(1) Carnegie Mellon University        (2) Michigan State University

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One major issue in higher education today is the struggle to develop new language learning opportunities while continuing to provide superior language instruction in the face of current fiscal hardships. A March 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that, “States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education, nationwide, in the current 2013 fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit” (Oliff et al.). These spending cuts have been especially detrimental to funding for higher education language teaching, which often takes a back seat to more profitable departments, such as the sciences (Skorton and Altschuler; Zehr).

With the almost certain knowledge that no additional funding will be provided to develop new opportunities and programs for students learning foreign languages, we, as language educators, must become more creative in our use of available resources. This paper outlines one way in which we can live by the well-known adage we, as educators at all levels, have come to know all too well, “Do more with less.”

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Designing and Running a Short-Term Study Abroad Program in Germany: Guidance for New Program Directors

Peter Ecke on March 27th, 2013    

Wernigerode Summer 2011
Image by P. Ecke

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This article is written for teachers and administrators at institutions of higher education who would like to create and run a short-term study abroad program for their students. It discusses practical issues that need to be addressed when designing, planning, and maintaining a program by illustrating part of the decision making process that was involved in the development of a summer study program in Germany offered by the author’s department at a large public university in the southwestern US.

North American Students and Short-Term Study Abroad

Only a small percentage of college students in the USA and Canada gain study abroad (SA) experience. Just over a percent of US American students at any academic level study abroad during a given academic year (IIE). Less than three percent of Canadian students study abroad at some point during their degree program (Bond). About 14% of US students who pursue a bachelor’s degree study abroad at some point during their undergraduate program (IIE). Unlike the Canadian figures, however, the latter percentage includes students who participate in short-term SA programs of eight weeks or less, the largest and fastest growing program type in the US. Over 56% of students who study abroad do so in short-term SA programs (IIE).

In spite of the low rate of students who manage to pursue a part of their studies in another country, SA appears to be valued by teachers, administrators as well as the general public. Ninety percent of Canadians believe that SA is valuable and should be made available to a larger part of the student population (Bond). SA can be an eye-opening experience with a profound transformative effect on students’ lives and careers. For students of foreign languages, SA represents a means to potentially improve language proficiency and intercultural competence. Successful SA early in a student’s degree program may result in the students’ selection of a (second) language/culture major, participation in a longer SA program and/or choice of a career that requires a substantial amount of language and intercultural competence (Ingram).

In this article I would like to share our experiences in developing and maintaining a short-term SA program with educators and administrators who plan to build their own program. I will point to organizational issues that need to be addressed and provide examples of decisions that we have taken over the last ten years developing our summer program. The decisions that we have taken may or may not be the best option for other programs, but they should provide the reader with a good idea of what organizational issues they will have to resolve.

Program Participants

Creating and running a short-term SA program is a rewarding, but challenging and time consuming task that requires year-round planning and organization. The program planning process will normally start with determining the type of student participants for whom the program will be designed. That is, what kinds of students are expected to enroll in the program? For example, are they students in different degree programs or are they exclusively majors and minors in the target language and culture? Important aspects that need to be considered are minimum requirements for students who apply for the program. These may include a language proficiency level or minimal amount of prior language study, a minimal age requirement, and academic performance requirements. Program organizers will also have to decide whether their participants will come solely from the home institution or whether students from peer institutions will be eligible to apply as well.

Students of any field of study are eligible to apply for acceptance into our program. However, there is a minimum language requirement of two semesters of college German or equivalent. This limits the pool of applicants, but has the advantage that participants will already be minimally functional in the target environment compared to total beginners.  Our program also has a motivational function for students in the basic language program and for majors and minors of German. Going to Germany in one of the next summers can be a long-term goal that some students will be preparing for in their German language and culture courses on campus. While enforcing a minimal language requirement, we encourage students to participate in SA early during their degree programs (see also Chieffo and Zipser). In their first and second year of study, students’ career paths are still quite open and flexible, and an early successful SA experience might result in the selection of and commitment to a language major or minor or an academic year abroad (King and Young). Academic standing (reflected in GPA and a one-page recommendation form to be filled in by an instructor) are additional application requirements. Enrollment has been kept to a maximum of thirty students. More than that would make it difficult to organize student housing, classrooms, and excursions (including accommodation, guided city tours etc.). While the program welcomes and accepts applications from students of other colleges, the large majority of participating students has been from our university.

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The Curious Case of the Turkish Drag Queen: Film and Social Justice Education in Advanced German

Kyle Frackman on August 31st, 2012    

Image from absolut MEDIEN

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In this essay, I will discuss my inclusion of Kutluğ Ataman’s film, Lola und Bilidikid (1999), in an advanced German conversation and composition or stylistics course on “Mysteries and Crime Stories” at a large, public university. Part of this will be an assessment of the pedagogical approaches used in class, the outside work related to this film, and the students’ reactions to this complicated cultural product. The topic of the course in which I featured this film changes each semester but maintains a focus on refinement of the students’ oral and written expression in German. The narrative of Ataman’s film treats the experience of Lola, a Turkish-German drag performer, whose surprisingly limited appearances—and eventual death—in the film’s action nonetheless structure the other characters’ behavior. Lola und Bilidikid offers a chance for students of German Studies to examine such contemporary issues as immigration, xenophobia, homophobia, prostitution, and the nation as well as categories of identity like gender, sexuality, race, class, and health. In what follows, I will briefly examine some feminist and queer pedagogical theories relevant to my course design and describe the course itself and my use of cultural products in it. I will argue that language instruction offers a prime opportunity to discuss otherness and identity, both in the target culture and in the students’ own experiences, and that Ataman’s film is a useful tool for reaching this goal.

In this iteration of the course, I chose to structure it around German-language crime stories in literature and film. I had three main thematic, linguistic, and pedagogical goals for this course: first, to unify a variety of cultural products around a particular theme or genre, especially one not often taught in German Studies and at our university; second, to supplement this “red thread” with a concentration on ideas of Otherness or externality; and third, to address the course’s generic objective of refining the students’ speaking and writing while providing interesting and relevant topics around which the students would engage their language abilities in reading, listening, speaking, writing. Before proceeding with more information on the course, it is important to summarize the film’s action so that the rest of the work below is clearer with respect to the material toward which I was moving in the course and also with which I wanted the students to contend.

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Störfall at 25: “Relevance” and the Teaching of Environmental Literature

Charlotte Melin on August 8th, 2011    

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By mid-semester, Christa Wolf’s Störfall: Nachrichten eines Tages (1987) seemed like a risky choice as the final assigned text in an upper division undergraduate 20th-century course designed for German majors. The previous year when I had decided to design a syllabus around the topic “German Literature about the Environment,” the book selection was logical. Now it was evident that despite the fact that all the enrolled students had spent time abroad and possessed relatively strong language skills that would place them at the intermediate high-advanced low threshold according to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, Störfall would be a difficult read. Then on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake hit Japan, triggering a tsunami and the nuclear accident at Fukushima and relevance trumped linguistic ability.

What follows is a reflective account of a pilot course in “green” German studies and recommendations for the development of similar courses. Given the fact that a significant number of undergraduate German majors and minors pursue double majors, especially in fields related to the sciences, global studies, and journalism, a compelling case can be made for creating courses and paths of study that combine German with a focus on environmental and sustainability studies. The long history of environmental awareness in German-speaking countries argues for expanded study of the wealth of materials that reflect this consciousness as well. With intentional curricular planning, a broad range of literary and journalistic texts, documentary information, and film can be made accessible to undergraduate students. Moreover, the growing body of ecocriticism (cf. Heise), expansion of study abroad opportunities related to environmental studies, and funding opportunities like the DAAD RISE programs suggest that at a time when vital new directions are being sought in German studies, “green” courses offer a way to revitalize the curriculum and foster interdisciplinary intellectual initiatives among faculty in the process.

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Beyond Sightseeing: The Learning Effects of Excursions within a Study Abroad Context

Devon Donohue-Bergeler on July 5th, 2011    

CC Photo by CAPL

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Supervised cultural excursions are often included in the offerings of study abroad immersion programs. Such excursions have the potential to achieve a depth beyond sightseeing. Under certain conditions, excursions can foster foreign language and intercultural learning as well as skill acquisition in a setting that has advantages not only over the traditional classroom, but also over daily unsupervised immersion.

I intuitively came to these conclusions during my experience as both a program participant and later, as an organizer and leader of such cultural excursions with the Boston University (BU) Dresden Programs in Germany. In academic literature on study abroad topics, excursions are generally viewed as being beneficial for students (Dahl; Fry; Hansen, Bohn, Smithers; Thies 86; Zeilinger 10, 16). However, to my knowledge, the above statements have never been supported by empirical evidence. Therefore, the questions which guided my research were:

What are the potential learning effects of immersion program excursions?

What are the actual learning effects of immersion program excursions?

I attempted to answer the first question with a literature review of immersion programs and excursions, and the second question with an empirical case study of the cultural excursions offered by the BU Dresden Liberal Arts Program. My findings will be described in condensed form below.[1]

The accompanying Appendix for this article can be downloaded here.

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Heavy Metal, Stravinsky, and the Second Language Learner: Approaching the ‘Third Space’ Through Music Documentary Film

Per Urlaub on June 17th, 2011    

(You can download the complete article as a pdf by clicking here. The appendix and worksheets are available here)

In 2007, the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages published a report recommending the recalibration of collegiate FL instruction. The curriculum proposed by the MLA puts a strong emphasis on the development of transcultural competence, a concept that is theoretically anchored in postcolonial studies, in particular Homi Bhabha’s concept of the third space, which Kramsch (Cultural Component) has further refined to describe identity formation in second-language learning environments.

Inspired by this report, recent contributions to curricular issues in collegiate foreign language education have been devoted to the goal of transcultural and translingual competence (Bernhardt; Eigler et al.; Geisler; Kramsch; Melin et al.). However, the impressive body of opinion pieces, position papers and theoretical contributions that emerged in response to the report has only been sporadically supplemented with concrete pedagogical approaches. This essay takes a practical focus and describes how intermediate and advanced learners of German can work with music documentary films to develop transcultural and translingual competence. After providing a working definition of these concepts, and suggesting that music documentary films may provide adequate content to develop transcultural competence through raising the learner’s critical language awareness, this article will present interpretations and didactizations of two music documentary films that take advantage of Bhabha’s theoretical framework: Full Metal Village by the German-Korean director Sung-Hyung Cho and Rhythm Is It by Thomas Grube and Enrique Sanchez-Lensch.

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Symbiosis, Discovery, Professionalization: Promoting Faculty-Undergraduate Collaborative Research in German

Arne Koch & James Violette on May 26th, 2011    

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Expansion of Knowledge and Other Intangibles
It is not particularly newsworthy that learning through research and collaboration can create many opportunities for both teachers and students. These two interconnected ideas are after all central to graduate education in just about every program, whether it be in the humanities, social or natural sciences. It may, however, still surprise some that learning through research collaboration appears to feature almost equally prominently in undergraduate education as well. Undergraduate and Student-Faculty Collaborative Research have in fact evolved during the last five years into almost universal catchphrases. Even the most basic internet searches for department and college vision statements underscore the extent of the prominence of undergraduate research.[i] In some places, the catchy notion of Undergraduate Research has even begun to replace once-dominating marketing phrases aimed at fundraising and student recruitment, including Internationalization, Globalization, Diversity, and even Greening the Campus. Since at least 2003, when the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) assertively encouraged a greater focus on faculty-student collaboration from over 800 institutions already subscribed to its vision, the benefits of undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research have been touted. One of the CUR’s White Papers, entitled “Faculty-Undergraduate Collaborative Research and Publishing,” provides an insightful overview of several of the key ideas that offer key arguments promoting collaboration culminating in the idealistic but essential goal of “the expansion of knowledge”:

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From the Margin to the Center: Integrating GLBT Topics in Upper-Level German Courses

James Jones on October 24th, 2010    

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I think if most non-native German instructors think back to their undergraduate instruction, they will strain to remember textbooks that included texts that directly dealt with issues of homosexuality. This silence also extends into the advanced level in the literary works and the lives of authors discussed in courses dealing with literature or cultural history. Stefan George’s poems to Maximin can be explained as merely the platonic aesthetics of the man who promulgated a new elite. Any eroticism in Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig can be declared to be not really about “that.” Aschenbach’s desire for Tadzio is not for the body, but for the spirit, aesthetically transformed through the power of literature.

Today, one may discuss same-sex desire more openly, but even for those interested in the subject, few materials exist in the standard texts. What was on the margin three decades ago has barely edged closer to the center in the textbooks and course materials available to use. The discrepancy between the scholarship on GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) cultural history, an abundant, respected and firmly established research field, and the integration of this research into published course materials is striking. Indeed, one reason for the lack of integration of GLBT content in courses for our German majors and minors is the general dearth of materials for any course beyond those that teach German language. As anyone involved in teaching upper-level German courses knows, there is simply no market for books like the readers and anthologies that populated undergraduate German classrooms in the 1970s and the early 1980s. If teachers wish to have actual “textbooks” (as opposed to readers compiled by the instructor), then they must turn to a handful of anthologies, few of which have appeared since the early 1990s to find ready-made materials for their courses.[1]

Unfortunately, the very few that do acknowledge, in small ways, the existence of GLBT people or literature that includes GLBT characters often do so in ways that further marginalize the experience which the authors are trying to validate. I take as an example two literary anthologies. Einander verstehen places two texts in a chapter that is titled Die Anderen and which follows a chapter titled Frauen und Männer. In the latter, heterosexual relationships are thematized, and by placing gay and lesbian relationships or characters in a separate unit, with this unfortunately chosen title, the book contradicts its professed aim of achieving mutual understanding. An excerpt from Andersch’s Die Rote includes a possibly gay male character and this text is followed by an excerpt from Johanna Moorsdorf’s Die Freundinnen in which the lesbian relationship is described by the editors but absent from the chosen text. The student activities largely direct attention away from what little GLBT content there is. Deutsche Literatur im Kontext, 1750-2000 includes one text, an excerpt from Martin Sperr’s 1966 drama Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern. This brief extract of a scene between a gay son and his mother is wrought with homophobia, which is Sperr’s theme here. The problem is that the homophobia within the text is unmitigated and decontextualized in the textbook’s representation, along with the activities presented for students to complete after reading. There is no mention in the Zeittafel (275) of the Stonewall riots, the long recognized turning point for the gay and lesbian community in terms of personal identity and political consciousness (and celebrated today in many German cities with “CSD” parades).

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Teaching East German History within an Interdisciplinary Study Abroad Program

Monika Hohbein-Deegen on July 24th, 2010    

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In recent years, many once traditional departments of German Languages and Literatures underwent a transformation to German Studies departments. These German Studies departments now include the teaching of German history, art, philosophy, gender studies, European Studies, and more in addition to language and literature instruction. The implications of this progressive expansion of German Studies need to be considered. Furthermore, budget restrictions oftentimes call for the merger of several departments, and interdisciplinary approaches are increasingly supported and demanded by the administration, also contributing to the need for a restructuring of German programs. The question remains how to ensure a steady enrollment in traditional German language and literature courses and to prepare students for a much changed job market in the field of German at the same time. It is therefore important to consider new ways of attracting students to German other than through language study and the exposure to German through literature.
Another major concern of higher education in the United States is the focus on international education. Compared to their international counterparts, American students in the past have had relatively limited exposure to global education including study abroad. The US government has increased its efforts to support study abroad experiences for American students at the secondary, but also at the post-secondary level. Generally, participation in study abroad programs has increased among undergraduates throughout the United States; however the trend seems to go towards short term study abroad programs rather than semester or year-long programs. As Cate Brubaker noted, there are numerous positive aspects of short-term study abroad programs such as minimal interruption of the students’ academic year at the home institution and the ability to take courses abroad that are compulsory at the home institution to fulfill general education requirements. Furthermore, as these programs are typically faculty-led, parents and students feel more secure.[1]
Although study abroad participation has increased significantly over the past decade among American undergraduates, college programs across the nation need to be proactive in their efforts to convince American students of the benefits of this aspect of a college education and attract them to such programs. In the following paper, I will describe a study abroad program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh that is aimed at internationalizing our students’ educational experience through an innovative approach. This program is not tied to a specific discipline, but is truly interdisciplinary, but nevertheless succeeds in attracting students to the German division through the inclusion of a topic course on modern German history and society. I will give a general overview of the history of this program and its components, and will then focus on the course on modern German history that I taught in Germany over the past few years.

[1] See: Brubaker, Cate. “Six Weeks in the EIFEL: A Case for Cultural Learning during the Short-Term Study Abroad.”

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