Interesting Move at UNC

Inside Higher Ed:

After several years of experimenting with “hybrid” Spanish courses that mix online and classroom instruction, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has decided to begin conducting its introductory Spanish course exclusively on the Web.

Spanish 101, which had featured online lessons combined with one classroom session per week, will drop its face-to-face component in an effort to save on teaching costs and campus space in light of rising demand for Spanish instruction and a shrinking departmental budget.

Nor surprisingly, some are protesting the move, but UNC is holding firm:

[D]epartment officials said they don’t expect the online-only format to hamper learning. Hosun Kim, director of the college’s Foreign Language Resource Center, said survey data gathered by the department revealed that while students in traditional courses said they thought they mastered the material better than their peers in hybrid courses, a comparative assessment of learning outcomes showed no difference between the two.

It’s a bit counter-intuitive given the premium we place on small classes and face-to-face interaction, but it may be the case that learning the very basic building blocks of a language is most cost-effectively done online. Let’s hope for the sake of UNC’s Spanish neophytes that this is the case, since Spanish is only going to become a more important language to learn as the United States’ large-scale demographic shifts continue.

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Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.