RIT Adds $400,000 Foreign Language Technology Center to College of Liberal Arts

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Emphasis on foreign language studies grows at RIT

Foreign language studies and technology make for a natural fit at Rochester Institute of Technology, where students can get the training they need to compete in an increasingly international marketplace.

With this growing trend in mind, RIT’s College of Liberal Arts (COLA) recently unveiled its new $400,000 Foreign Language Technology Center (FLTC) equipped with the latest technology for language teaching and learning. The facility consists of a faculty workshop, foreign language lounge, two tutorial rooms, student practice and recording room, and a 24-station multi-media computer lab designed to promote group work.

“RIT has made a very large and forward-looking investment in foreign language instruction,” says Jack Burston, center director.

As an extension of the foreign language program in the language and literature department, the FLTC gives more visibility to language learning at RIT. In response to student demand, the foreign language program has grown in the past few years from two full-time faculty members to six with 16 adjuncts. With the recent addition of Portuguese, the program now offers 10 languages. This year, 917 students study a language to fulfill their concentration requirements and another 97 as part of their minor.

“Foreign language competence and the contribution it makes to understanding other cultures greatly enriches our students’ educational experience,” says Andrew Moore, dean of COLA.

“Interest in foreign languages has been rising,” adds Wilma Wierenga, director of the foreign language program. “I think students are getting the message that we are not an isolated continent, that we are a global society. And that it isn’t just a dream to work for an international firm, but it is more and more a reality and that learning a foreign language will make them attractive job candidates in the international marketplace.”

Notes Burston: “There is an increasing interest in foreign language learning at RIT because the university and students see it as a professional and personal asset. The future of foreign language education at RIT is related to career objectives and the acquisition of practical language skills.”

That’s where the FLTC is expected to shine.

“The range of facilities offered by the FLTC surpasses those of any language center in the state and rivals those of the best equipped centers in the nation,” says Burston. “One of the main things that distinguishes a computer lab from a language resource center is the professional development it provides faculty to allow them to produce their own materials.”

The faculty workshop in the center is equipped with the latest multi-media equipment and editing software that can read 150 different languages. With minimal training, faculty can develop their own instructional materials combining audio, video, graphics and the Internet. Or they can modify existing language-training sources. Soon, a closed-circuit satellite television network will deliver programs from all over the world to the center.

In response to the needs of distance learning, the recent Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, or TEACH Act, has relaxed restrictive copyright usage for educational purposes. Now, for instance, a professor can more freely extract segments from foreign new programs or popular dramas to use in class. Or the professor might delete the audio and ask students to work together to create and present their own scenarios and soundtracks. The FLCT encourages this type of task-based learning that requires students to use language to solve problems and present results.

The need for the FLTC will deepen as COLA continues to grow. Already, the foreign language program has added a third-year sequence to many of its language offerings to accommodate the BS degree in international studies, recently approved by COLA. This program, and others like it, will rely heavily on the center.

The facility could also be valuable to community members seeking professional development. Burston foresees the FLTC someday offering a foreign language technology certificate program to language teachers in the community.

More immediately, the center will host a two-day hands-on workshop, Teaching with Technology, in May. The workshop will be jointly sponsored by the International Association for Language Learning Technology, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and Houghton-Mifflin publishers.

Internationally recognized as a leader in computing, imaging, technology, fine and applied arts, and education of the deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology enrolls 15,500 students in more than 340 undergraduate and graduate programs. Its cooperative education program is one of the oldest and largest in the nation.

For the past decade, U.S. News and World Report has ranked RIT as one of the nation’s leading comprehensive universities. RIT is also included in The Fiske Guide to Colleges, as well as Barron’s Best Buys in Education.