The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News February 24, 2006

Language Class Rejects Paper for New Computer Technology

When the semester started at the beginning of this month, some Oberlin students shopping for back-to-school materials were in for a pleasant surprise: their Spanish 305 class required no textbooks, written exercises, dictionaries or answer keys. They did not even need to buy ink, pens, pencils or paper. And flash cards? For the birds!

In a newly designed class, “Spanish for Oral Communication,” Professor Barbara Sawhill has replaced the traditional with the technological. Homework assignments range from podcasting and blogging to conversing via Skype, a computer program that allows students to have live conversations with people all over the world.

Sawhill, who first thought of the class in August while attending an international conference on language learning and technology, is confident that the broad resources offered will help students pursue their different educational ambitions.

“Our class is made up of 18 individuals, each with individual goals for the language and for themselves in that language,” Sawhill said. “These technologies, I believe, can help students achieve personal goals as well as collective ones.”

Sure enough, there are as many reasons for liking the course as there are students enrolled.

“It’s a great way to keep a constant flow of Spanish communication that might not otherwise exist on a daily basis here at school,” said Evelyn Levine, a sophomore in the class.

Other students like the musical perks.

“An iPod full of Spanish music is never a bad thing,” said first-year Elizabeth Leach.

Although students enjoy the equipment when it works, sometimes there are operational difficulties.

“It [is frustrating] not being able to do the right work for class because [my] iPod wasn’t charged up enough, or because some link through the blog system wasn’t working,” said sophomore Leslie Ruster.

Others blame their own inexperience with such high-tech equipment.

“I am a complete dunce at technology,” sophomore Anna VanderHorst said. “Nothing is user friendly for me.”

But whatever technical difficulties students encounter, they are unanimously pleased with this unprecedented use of technology in the classroom. On a similar note, some students — either for explorative or exploitative reasons — seem to appreciate the lack of conventional structure.

“It sure as hell beats books and papers,” said VanderHorst.


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