HomeBy Alexandra Tilsley. Students at Yale University enrolled in elementary Bengali meet four days a week in a campus classroom, just like they would for any other course, but there is one big difference: their instructor is almost 300 miles away, in Ithaca, N.Y. Yale, Cornell University, and Columbia University, backed by a two-year, $1.2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, have launched a pilot program to conduct classes in uncommonly taught languages, including Indonesian, Yoruba, and Zulu, across the different campuses using videoconferencing technology. In doing so, they’re reviving not only language programs on the brink of extinction, but also a familiar concept in distance education. At a time when asynchronous instruction reaching hundreds of thousands of students is increasingly common, these universities are returning to a mode of distance learning geared toward small classes in which students all meet at the same time.
“It’s been a while since videoconferencing has been in education,” Dick Feldman, director of Cornell’s Language Resource Center. The project evolved after a round of federal budget cuts in 2011 essentially gutted foreign language programs across the country, taking 47 percent of the budget for National Resource Centers, hubs of foreign language and cultural study. The language directors at the three universities, who knew each other through other collaborations, realized as the cuts began to hit their campuses that they had an opportunity to join forces and preserve some of the rarely taught languages. Read more...