The MAFLT is a well-established distance-based program that educates in-service and aspiring teachers of over a dozen 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 foreign language teaching field.
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This program was established 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) or are located in schools of education. Its position in the College of Arts and Letters as opposed to the College of Education means that the MAFLT does not certify teachers, but it is closely associated with language educators and scholars as well as scholars of second language acquisition.
Our core faculty in the MAFLT has always been small, 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 this year I am shepherding a major transition as our public website moves to WordPress.
Connecting with the MAFLT Community
Furthermore, we have taken 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 consistent structure and format in order to reduce the learning curve for students as they proceed from course to course, to maintain a fairly consistent level of difficulty, and to facilitate my own development process. 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
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 the discussions 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), group projects or peer review pairings at least once in each course, and a shared folder in Google Drive. Each course provides optional General Course Discussion threads that offer the students spaces to ask questions and share relevant news or materials that they find during the semester. Course pages in D2L follow a similar structure in each course, which always includes a box in the top right corner offering my name, my email, phone numbers where they can reach me at any time, a link for my ScheduleOnce site, and a link to my “personal meeting room” in Zoom, the video conferencing platform that I use for office hours and virtual meetings.