The MAFLT is a well-established distance-based program that educates in-service and aspiring teachers of nearly twenty foreign languages. The curriculum emphasizes SLA theory, proficiency-based approaches, innovative technology, and interculturality in foreign language pedagogy. The courses and requirements are designed to form a coherent and well-balanced sequence that prepares learners for their capstone project, the Experiential Module; their final portfolios; and their professional demands and goals in the field of world language teaching.
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This program began in 2012 as an experiment in online learning and designed on the template of the TESOL program at MSU. Today, the MAFLT program is uniquely positioned as one of the few language-general programs for foreign language teaching in the country, particularly at a major R1 university and with a fully-online format. Most graduate programs related to teaching additional languages focus heavily on the teaching of English or one language other than English (usually Spanish, French, or German), and most are located in schools of education. Because we are housed in the College of Arts and Letters as opposed to the College of Education and have students from all over the U.S. and the world, the MAFLT does not certify teachers. Our students tell us that we offer an important complement to the training they have received in undergraduate and other master’s programs in education and on the job. They value the focus on applied linguistics and second language acquisition as well as practical aspects of language pedagogy.
Administrative Roles and Responsibilities
Our core faculty in the MAFLT have always been a small team, which means that we have all had to play a role in administrative processes while also maintaining full 3-3 teaching loads. As the third director of the program, after Paula Winke and Dustin De Felice, I am now responsible for admissions, advising all of the students, marketing and recruitment, curriculum planning, administrative approvals, staffing logistics, budget management, instructor onboarding and supervision, mentoring and evaluating final portfolios, and maintaining the quality of our online instruction. I have mentored over 30 students through extensive 5-credit capstone projects (Experiential Modules) that have led to presenting with them at conferences including ACTFL and NCOLCTL. I have also done the graphic design for all our current marketing materials, and in 2020 I shepherded a major transition as our public website moved to WordPress.
Connecting with the MAFLT Community
Over time, we have taken a variety of steps to help the students view themselves as a community. When I started as an instructor, I created and populated the online community site in our learning management system (D2L), which I still manage as an important means of guiding the student experience throughout the program. We have continued to update it and add content including tutorials on distance learning, D2L, and the MSU Library and materials preparing students for their EM and portfolios. In addition to the Twitter account and private Facebook group that I set up for the program, the D2L Community allows us to send announcements, share news, and encourage the students to view themselves as a network of collaborating professionals rather than as isolated individuals. We host receptions and dinners when students come into town for professional seminars and graduation, and we publish a newsletter that goes out to all our students at least twice a year. We have made a habit of asking students and alumni to join us when we exhibit at national conferences, and this year we held our first Alumni Reception and Networking Event, which I hope will be an annual occurrence in conjunction with ACTFL.
Instructional Practices and Innovations
When I design FLT courses, I deliberately follow a predictable structure and format. This choice reduces the learning curve for students as they proceed from course to course, maintains a fairly consistent level of difficulty, and facilitates my own course development process. Course sites in D2L follow a similar structure in each course, and the schedule and demands of the course also follow a similar pattern.
Every course is made up of twelve modules of new content with due dates on the same day each week, followed by two or three weeks of review and work on the most extensive assignments. Modules consistently include an overview that explains the content and tasks of the module in text form, an instructor presentation in the form of a narrated slideshow, two or three readings from textbooks and scholarly journals, supplemental materials as needed, one or two discussion prompts, and links to the folders where they will submit assignments as needed.
I use different approaches in each course to hold students accountable for reading and watching the module materials, so some courses also include a weekly quiz and/or cumulative reviews. Typically my courses have three or five major assignments, and each of these has its own folder on the course page that provides students with detailed guidelines, a rubric, and often graphic organizers or examples to support planning.
Interaction and Instructor Presence
In any online course, an extensive array of options is available for conveying our own instructor presence and encouraging interaction among students. That starts with offering multiple ways to reach me, presented in multiple places including the syllabus and the course home page in our learning management system. I provide my name, email, phone numbers where they can reach me at any time, a link to my site for scheduling appointments, and the address of my “personal meeting room” in Zoom (which requires far less explanation than it once did).
The MAFLT faculty have consistently found that asynchronous approaches to online instruction are most beneficial for our students, but I often include at least one live virtual meeting in which learners can present their work to their classmates, discuss their intentions, and get feedback. Although live meetings are rarely feasible, I offer other means of sharing work with peers including discussion forum prompts with a requirement to respond to each other, presentations that they record using screen sharing and recording software (according to tips and tutorials provided in the courses), and group projects or peer review pairings at least once in each course.
Each course provides collaborative spaces where students can work together and seek support from each other. In the past, I relied more heavily on a series of optional General Course Discussion threads to offer ways to ask questions and share relevant news or materials that the students find during the semester. Usually sharing of documents and projects took place in Google Drive. In the past year, however, we have incorporated many tools and strategies based on Microsoft 365 apps including Teams, OneNote, and SharePoint, and we are still in something of an experimental phase as we use their affordances among the faculty and with students.
For more information, insights, and resources about my practices and about instructor presence and interaction in online courses more generally, you can refer to the Instructional Technology section of this site or find materials from presentations I have given on these topics on my other website:
Distance Learning Up Close | http://distancelearninglanguage.wordpress.com
I am looking for collaborators to contribute to that site, so if you are interested, you can contact me via email or (for MSU folks) preferably via Teams.