For three semesters, students at the University of Texas at Austin have been using a new program to learn German: Deutsch im Blick.
Deutsch im Blick, developed by Dr. Zsuzsanna Abrams, uses a combination of video and online resources to prepare students for real-life experiences such as the study abroad program in Germany. A complementary site, Grimm Grammar, conveys the language structure in a humorous manner, both to engage student attention and to lessen the intimidation of learning a complex grammar. Activities in Deutsch im Blick refer back to exercises in Grimm Grammar, and the skills developed are used to analyze real-life cultural situations.
The program is designed to be flexible have enough to allow for individual styles of classroom instruction. For example, the WebQuest exercises in Deutsch im Blick are being adapted to the web content best suited to the progress of each class. Dr. Abrams' goal was to choose resources that wouldn't be outdated too quickly and combine them with analytic questions that could be applied to other, similar materials. "The WebQuests break down an overwhelming web site," she says, into smaller, more comprehensible pieces.
Deutsch im Blick students are learning from examples of natural language, such as those found in a blog entry, web chat log, or greeting card. Nearly every exercise has some aspect of cultural analysis. The students are not only learning vocabulary and grammar, but also how to be aware of cultural situations. This enables Deutsch im Blick students to handle new situations and information with ease.
Dr. Abrams said that one of the most exciting features of Deutsch im Blick is collaborating with the assistant instructors who use the program. Dozens of AIs have been using the materials, and eight have become contributing authors. AIs pass through an initial training, but are then able to use the materials to adapt the course as needed. "Deutsch im Blick is a responsive system," Dr. Abrams said. By collaborating with instructors, using real examples of contemporary language use, and soon, providing print-on-demand textbooks, Deutsch im Blick is able to capitalize on a new language instruction environment made possible through instructional technology.