Elementary Spanish I & II

Problem: After waves of budget cuts eliminating both part-time and full-time teaching positions over a decade or so, there was a serious problem with the number of courses available for Spanish majors and minors. 3000- and 4000-level courses filled up with seniors immediately as soon as they opened each semester, leaving no Spanish courses for juniors or sophomores. This was problematic on many levels.

Students needed an additional year to graduate with the Spanish major. Students could get through basic courses (4 courses) and the required prerequisites for the minor and major (2 courses) reasonably quickly, but then had to wait to accrue enough credits to gain senior standing to enroll in more courses in Spanish. This meant that students who otherwise could have finished their degree in four years had to wait until they 1) had enough credit hours completed to have priority registration, and 2) were able to take the number of courses required to complete a major in Spanish. The major required students to take eight 3000- and 4000-level courses after the required prerequisites; however, because of the lack of instructional capacity, there were usually two or three upper-level courses offered per semester, meaning that even if a student were able to enroll in every single course offered each semester of the senior year, the student would still need to return for a fifth year to take two more courses.

The lack of instructional capacity penalized motivated students and students who entered with advanced proficiency in Spanish, In theory, a student enrolled in first-semester Spanish during the first semester at UNO could take Spanish 1110 in the fall, Spanish 1120 in the spring, Spanish 2110 and 2120 in the summer, and Spanish 3030 and 3040 (the gateway prerequisite courses for courses in the major and minor) in the following fall semester, and then be unable to register for any additional Spanish courses until they completed the second semester of their junior year. Or, as in the case of many heritage language speakers, students may enter with a high enough proficiency level to enroll in upper-level courses. However, because the upper-level courses filled immediately with seniors who needed the courses to graduate, these promising students were not able to enroll until they had accrued enough credit hours to gain priority registration. Ideally, instructional capacity would be sufficient to allow these promising students to take upper-level classes as sophomores, rather than needing to wait until their senior year, while potentially losing proficiency in the language as they're not enrolled in Spanish courses.

Other programs facing a lack of instructional capacity have increased capacity by putting part of a course online. This approach allows programs to maintain students' number of contact hours with the language, while reducing the number of instructor hours needed. Elementary Spanish I & II were ideal candidates for this approach because they are 5-credit courses. Reducing the number of instructor contact hours from five to three hours would free up two contact hours per semester per instructor, allowing the creation of a minimum of ten upper-level courses each academic year. The addition of ten extra classes per academic year would provide sufficient courses for all Spanish majors and minors to continue in their study of Spanish at a steady pace, and to graduate in four years.

Objectives: Use technology to put classes partially online to free up two instructor hours per course to address chronic shortages in course offerings in Spanish, without compromising on learner language proficiency.

Design: The design of new blended learning courses in Spanish coincided with the adoption of a new textbook and online workbook platform. In the initial iteration of the project, custom content was created in the publisher's online workbook platform in order to keep the number of sites that learners needed to access to a minimum. However, the publisher platform offered a very limited number of activity types and did not allow any kind of custom formatting or use of media, so in the second year of the project, the custom content was migrated to Blackboard to allow for the use of more diverse and engaging activity types. In addition to completing activities in the online workbook as regular homework, students completed six online activities per chapter to replace two instructional hours per week, for a total of 60 online activities in the first and second semesters of instruction (five chapters covered per semester).

In order to ensure that there were no losses in learner language proficiency due to the change, the project was piloted in one or two sections over four semesters, and students in both the blended and traditional courses took a proficiency exam, including a brief written component, at the end of each semester of instruction. Due to the nature of the program, it was impossible to require students to complete oral interviews to assess oral proficiency. However, volunteers were recruited from both class formats to complete an oral interview in order to get a general idea of students' oral proficiency. Results from the data from the first year of the project indicated no differences between groups on a proficiency exam, oral interview, and writing section, indicating that there were no losses in learner language proficiency by moving two instructional hours online.

Support: A course redesign grant for $3000 from UNO's Center for Faculty Development/University Committee for the Advancement of Teaching.