ITS ALL ACADEMIC

Course-Related Information

Intensive Languages

April 11th, 2014 by spm856 in Student Posts · No Comments

Impact of Intensive

By: Student Worker #1

In my previous blog, I did a course spotlight on Adi Raz’s Intensive Hebrew class.  I learned all about the great success of her students and how the intensive model enhanced both the interest and skill level of Hebrew.  That peaked my interest, so in this blog I decided to focus on intensive classes as whole.  In addition to Dr. Raz, I met with Dr. Garza, director of Texas Language Center and Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor for Russian language and culture, and learned more about the intensive language model and its impact on languages at UT.  I learned that the benefits of intensive can exceed simply learning a language but can also open doors to future opportunities and careers than a traditional sequence.

Dr. Garza’s story of how he found Russian was “complete serendipity”.  He was born and raised in South Texas and had no experience with Russian Language until graduate school.  When he went to Bryn Mawr University he was required to take two language courses.  He tested out of Spanish and thought about taking Chinese. Lo and behold, the Chinese classes were full so he chose Russian instead because it was the only other language open.  He says that after taking Russian “he never looked back”.

What can we learn from Dr. Garza’s story? First, students should not get angry when they cannot get in to a class because the second choice might change their lives.  Second, students can be surprised by what classes they end up loving and making a career out of.

The intensive program started at UT with the Arabic program in the fall of 2010.  The goal of the intensive class was to simulate an immersion program and also save departments’ money.  Soon, many other languages followed Arabic and adopted the intensive model.  So, what is different about an intensive course? The quick answer is it’s harder, but that’s not necessarily the correct answer.  The intensive language model is designed to have the class time focused on discussion and speaking skills.  Students are required to do all the “busy work” like memorizing vocabulary words, study grammar, and practice writing skills at home.  By doing this, students come into class knowing enough material to participate in discussion.

Dr. Garza mentions that the retention rates for all intensive languages have increased across the board compared to regular language classes.  Both Dr. Raz and Dr. Garza have said they hardly ever lose students during the semester and most of them register for the next section.  Not only that, the proficiency level for students in intensive are better.  Drs. Raz and Garza have both said the majority of their students reach the intermediate-mid level after two semesters and some students even move on to advanced proficiency.

When students develop the confidence to learn a language, they are more likely to go to study or travel abroad. Dr. Garza mentions that the first time he taught intensive Russian, half of his students signed up for a five-week study abroad program in Moscow.  Moreover, one of my good friends took intensive Italian for two semesters. He too enjoyed learning the language and felt very confident about his level of proficiency. However, he told me that his biggest regret in college was not being able to study abroad in Italy after finishing Italian II.  My friend never considered going to Italy until he learned Italian.  This shows that taking intensive actually does stir an interest in going abroad.

There is still a large stigma with intensive language classes amongst students—they are really hard.  However, I do believe there are worth it because students can finish language requirements in half the time. Dr. Garza says that when students finish in one year rather than two they have more opportunities for study abroad, internships, and career paths.  I can support Dr. Garza’s claim because that is exactly what happened to me.

I have survived two semesters of intensive Russian.  Not only did I move on to Third-Year Russian, but I will be studying in Moscow this summer.  Over the past year I have developed a passion for the language when originally I took intensive Russian because I needed the credits.  Through the ten-week immersion program this summer I will finish with an advanced level of proficiency and be able to use my Russian skills in a future career. I also believe that all the hard work done in my intensive classes has helped me become a better student and develop better time management skills.  I feel very grateful that I found the Russian language and that I had time to really apply my Russian skills to my college career and, hopefully, beyond.

I believe that learning a new language is like training for a marathon.  It takes daily commitment and hard work.  I do not believe that anyone who has finished a marathon looks back and regrets their accomplishment and I do not think a student will look back and regret finishing college knowing a new language.  The hard work will pay off so students should bite the bullet and go intensive if they have the opportunity to do so.

→ No Comments

Course Spotlight: Intensive Hebrew II

March 28th, 2014 by spm856 in Student Posts · No Comments

By: Student Worker #1

At UT students can venture out and explore any of the 35 different languages the university has to offer. Not only does UT offer numerous foreign languages, there is also skilled faculty dedicated to getting students fluent in foreign languages.  One of the best examples of this at UT is the Hebrew language. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Adi Raz and discussing her class, HEB 611C “Intensive Hebrew II”. Much like my last course spotlight blog about history, a foreign language class at UT is far more interactive and effective than a traditional foreign language course that can be taken elsewhere like in high school or a community college.  I learned about the great success of students taking Dr. Raz’s class along with the benefits of learning Hebrew.  I also learned that it is very important for students to go out on a limb and try something new during their college career.

A native of Israel, Dr. Raz has a doctorate in second language acquisition and learning disabilities from the Jewish Theological Seminary at Columbia University.  She is literally the only person in the nation that specializes in teaching a foreign language to students who have learning disabilities. Not only that there are only three other people in the world that also specialize in foreign language learning and disabilities.  So, when I say Adi Raz is one of a kind I am not exaggerating.

Despite UT’s nationally recognized foreign languages programs and world-renowned faculty, there is a stigma associated with foreign language classes at UT.  Older students tell young students that language classes at UT are very hard and take up a lot of time.  That may be why many students decide to take their language classes elsewhere and transfer the credits. I believe that students should not have this attitude because it can close off all kinds of opportunities for careers, traveling, and unique experiences.  In my two semesters in an intensive sequence I found myself loving Russian and did not mind the time spent studying for the class.

So, why pick Hebrew? Hebrew is spoken in the Middle East, which is a very diverse and geopolitically interesting region. It is also a critical region for foreign policy so there is a demand for people that speak and understand the language. Dr. Raz also says that students are often interested in the religious aspects of Hebrew.  Another great selling point of this class is Dr. Raz herself.  As mentioned before, she is one of four people in the world that specialize in foreign language learning and disabilities. The Hebrew program is a fantastic way for these students and others with trouble learning a language to learn one because they will receive expert assistance that is not offered anywhere else.

The intensive Hebrew class is not a stereotypical classroom where she says a word in Hebrew and everyone repeats it.  Just like how Dr. Brands finds it effective to initiate discussion and debate in his class, Dr. Raz also finds it effective to have the students participate in regular discussion in Hebrew.  She says she is not a lecturer, but a facilitator. In fact, she says that in an hour-long class, 45 minutes is dedicated to speaking Hebrew.  Dr. Raz also incorporates songs, videos, stories, and even scavenger hunts that engage students with the Israeli culture.  Therefore, students are never bored in class as they are always talking and doing activities that get them excited about the Hebrew language and culture.

Another great trait about Dr. Raz is the care she has for her students.  Dr. Raz recognizes that her students have a lot of work to do during the week, but she makes herself available to answer questions as much as possible.  The progress of her students is extremely important. Dr. Raz tells her students “your success is my success”.  The success in the class is clearly shown.  The Hebrew proficiency level by students taking intensive Hebrew is much higher than in other schools across the nation.   After taking intensive Hebrew I and II, Dr. Raz says that students will have an “intermediate mid level” proficiency in Hebrew. This means that students would able to travel to Israel and get around easily, and perform day-to-day activities such as buy movie tickets, have a conversation at a coffee shop, rent an apartment, ask for directions, and understand what is being said on the TV and radio.  This is impressive considering that the students have only been learning Hebrew for two semesters.

Even with all this great progress, the fact that the class is intensive can still be overwhelming and intimidating to students.  However, Dr. Raz says that students should not be afraid of intensive. “It is a lot easier to take an intensive course than a regular course because you finish your language requirements within two semesters and results are so much better in intensive”. Although it is hard work, Dr. Raz says that her students do not suffer.   They come together and support each other throughout the class, which may not happen if it were a traditional language class.  Because of this support, the students keep coming to class and do not drop the course.  Although the class is not easy, the students develop a passion for the language and continue to work hard.  This is what an intensive language class can do. When it comes to registering for intensive classes, Dr. Raz suggests that students should not take other classes that require a lot of time outside of class, such as calculus.

Based on what I learned from Dr. Raz, this course requires extra effort but it is effective for learning a language and beneficial for fulfilling requirements. I believe students will come out of these classes with not only greater knowledge of a different language but also a new interest for a different culture and region. College is open to so many opportunities to learn and explore new things. Students should not sell themselves short on what classes they can become passionate about.  If a student is debating what language he or she should take, I highly recommend giving Hebrew a try.

 

→ No Comments

Catfish: Course Schedule Edition

March 10th, 2014 by spm856 in Student Posts · No Comments

By: Student Worker #1

The term “catfish” according to Urban Dictionary is “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” There is a TV show on MTV dedicated to this phenomenon. Brad Paisley also talks about “castfishing” in his song called “Online”.  I decided to have a little fun with the course schedule and see if there are any course titles that catfish you into thinking that a course is something other than what it is actually about.

The two most famous catfish courses are “Age of Dinosaurs” and “Human Sexuality”.

“Age of Dinosaurs”, GEO 302D

When you think of Age of Dinosaurs  you may think:

Alright Dinosaurs are awesome!

Or adorable!

However, this class is a catfish because it is focused mostly on the bone structure and evolutionary process of the dinosaurs rather than the dinosaurs themselves. Also this class has been known to be very difficult.

Its kind of heartbreaking

Human Sexuality PSY 341K

Your first reaction may be like:

Because the class is probably just like this:

But Human Sexuality is a good catfish! According to many students it is considered one of the most interesting and entertaining electives to take and an easy A.

Other lesser known catfishes

Bad Blood GRC 301

Since this class is in Germanic Studies you might think this class is about the Germanic Barbarians during the Roman Empire

Or possibly something about World War II

But unfortunately this is another Catfish! This class is about race and the development of Social Darwinism in the 19th Century, which might sound interesting but the title does not advertise that at all.

Poets and Punks E379R

When you first read this title you might think its a little of this:

Mixed with this:

At first this class sounds like students will be comparing the lyrics of popular punk bands like Green Day and The Clash with famous poets like Robert Frost and Edgar Allen Poe. But really this class is about the post war English culture and the punk subculture that occurred in the 1970s due to the decay of the working class. This class is still very interesting, but not necessarily what I expected.

Game of Thrones E314J

Of course the first thing that comes to mine is a class about the hit TV show called Game of Thrones

The class is about the BOOK Game of Thrones and the class is based on its broader context. In this class students will read Game of Thrones but will be analyzing the literary themes of the book and discuss its influence on society and other literature.  It will not be a class where students will simply watch Game of Thrones all day and geek out about the story and characters.

So this class is not a full catfish, but if students think this class is simply just watching Game of Thrones all day then they may be disappointed.

History of Rock Music MUS 307

You probably think the class will look something like this:

And the professor is someone that resembles this guy:

Who will also teach you great life lessons

And your homework is this:

However, many students take this class because it sounds like a blow off class. This is not the case. According to MyEdu students have said they enjoyed the class and the instructor, but it is far from a blow off class.

So if you plan on taking this class looking for an easy A, you may be disappointed.

 

At UT we have classes that can catfish you. Do not let that happen to you. Be sure to always research the courses you plan to take and check the course descriptions as well.

 

→ No Comments

Student Roundtable

March 5th, 2014 by spm856 in Student Posts · 3 Comments

The Other Student Perspective on the Course Schedule

By: Student Worker #1

When it comes to students using the course schedule I have generalized how all students register for classes based on my own personal experience.   Lisa tells me that I far too often use the “royal we” when I talk about student habits. Therefore, I decided to ask other students about their process for picking classes and their thoughts, if any, about the course schedule.  My round table discussion included six students: Ben, Derly, Sam, Hannah (she’s Sam’s girlfriend), Megan and Lauren, from five colleges: Liberal Arts, Business, Communications, Natural Sciences, and Education. These students provided great insight on students’ attitudes towards scheduling and registration.

I must admit, I found the results very surprising. I had an impression before the interview that most of the students were going to use MyEdu exclusively; however, that was a false assumption.  It turns out many students use both the course schedule and MyEdu in varying capacities.

I started by asking my friends to describe their process for registering for classes. Derly and Hannah said they primarily use MyEdu because it is more interactive in that is has weekly schedule planners and professor ratings. Nonetheless, they do check the course schedule every now and then to make sure the information on MyEdu is accurate (because sometimes it is not).  Ben, on the other hand, uses both quite frequently. Ben uses MyEdu to plan his schedule but checks the course schedule in order to see which classes are open.  Lauren mentioned she primarily uses the course schedule to pick classes and only uses MyEdu towards the very end. She says that the course schedule helps her find classes that are cross-listed with other classes. She uses this to petition for courses to fit in her degree plan.

As I wrote previously and mentioned earlier, these results were not exactly what I expected.  Based on these students’ experience, the course schedule is actually utilized quite often. In fact, many students like Lauren believe that the course schedule is absolutely necessary for picking classes.

I decided to find out if some of my assumptions when beginning the Course Spotlight blogs, were also wrong. The next few questions had to do with why students pick certain classes.

Most of the group said they pick classes based on when they are scheduled and who is teaching the class.  For many of the students the timing of classes is very important.  Megan looks for classes that are back-to-back so she doesn’t have to have large gaps between classes. Derly looks for classes that are an hour and a half rather than fifty minutes because he gets more out of the lectures. Derly also registers for 15 hours and then drops one class at the beginning of each semester because he only needs to take 12 hours. Megan responded to that by saying “What’s it like being a spoiled brat?” Meanwhile, Hannah always checks to see if the course is offered online, whereas Derly tells us that he is an “old fashion feller” and gets more out of a traditional lecture.  Furthermore, Megan, Derly, and Ben all stated that they hate taking Friday classes and they avoid them at all costs.  However, the one exception to “no Friday classes” was that they do not mind taking classes at less desirable times if there is a good professor.

I began noticing a trend in all the answers. These students chose classes based on the class attributes (Lisa’s word); i.e., the professor rating, the time, the size, etc.) rather than the content of the class (i.e. how will it be graded, what will students be learning, what’s the reputation or research of the prof, etc.).  I decided to investigate this aspect a little more.

I asked if any of them had ever chosen a class for the sole reason of having an interesting course title and, if they had, whether it was a good or bad experience.  I asked this question to see if the group researches the classes that they sign up for. Sam was the only one who picked a class because it looked interesting and had a good experience. Sam is in a class called “Advanced Documentary and Production” and he says he enjoys it.  Ben, on the other hand, explained how he tried to pick an interesting UGS class his freshmen year but it ended up being a terrible experience and he had a rough time in that class.  Since then, he has never picked a class based on a catchy title.  Megan has taken two classes that sounded interesting based on the course title, but were not what she expected at all. She took “Time Matters”, which she thought was about time management, but was actually about the theory of time, which she was disappointed about. She also took a class called “Children’s Movement” which she did not enjoy either.

Pressing forward, I then asked the group if they regularly checked the course descriptions and only two of them said yes.  Sam checks the course descriptions of each class because they are provided on the RTF website. This does not surprise me since he was the only person who had a good experience taking a class because it looked interesting.   Hannah, Lauren and Megan said they never check the course descriptions and are not sure where to find them on the university website.  Ben informed the group that sophomore year someone told him that you can check the course descriptions, search for syllabi and course evaluations through a big database on the university website. Ever since he discovered this he has been using it.  After that Megan chimed in saying, “Why does no one tell me these things?” Great question!  I realized that students should be better informed not just about the course schedule but also about the course descriptions.

What I gathered from this round table is that students check the course schedule because they need to.  Most students do use MyEdu, but that does not mean that they completely ignore the course schedule.  Therefore, I was in fact using the “royal we” when I said, “we students do not use the course schedule enough”. The big discovery was that students do not look for course descriptions on the UT/departmental websites to see exactly what classes they are getting into.  As a result students end up like Megan, and Ben during his freshmen year, registered for classes that they cannot stand because they were misled by a course title.  The very last question to the group was “what are some ways we can make the course schedule and our class selections better?” Derly had the most compelling answer. He thought that the course descriptions should be better advertised to students. He also thought that there should be a link from the course schedule that will take you to the course descriptions. This actually exists! WE as students (not the royal we) need to be more aware of the course description database because that will allow us to better understand what classes we are signing up for.  I urge all students to check out the course descriptions before registering and research all the classes you need to take.

Helpful links:

Liberal Arts course descriptions: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/resources/syllabi/index.php.

Also in the course schedule you can click on a unique details page and then click on the department headnote you can find course descriptions there as well.

→ 3 Comments

Course Spotlight: HIS 315L

February 12th, 2014 by spm856 in Student Posts · No Comments

 Same History, Just Told Differently

By: Student Worker #1

My last two course spotlight blogs were on courses with catchy titles such as “The Rhetoric of South Park” and “Debating the Bible in the 21st Century”.  We learned that while these unique titles catch our attention when scrolling through the course schedule they also provide academic merit.  However, not all classes at UT have unique course titles that grab our attention.  Most classes have a general course title and description such as “Intro to Biology” or “Macroeconomic Theory”. Does this mean that all courses without flashy titles will be boring or generic? Certainly not. To demonstrate this I met with Dr. Brands, who is teaching HIS 315L, “The United States since 1865”. After sitting down with Dr. Brands it was clear that there is no such thing as a regular, everyday course here at UT.

Meeting Dr. Brands was a huge privilege for me because of his many achievements. He decided to pursue history through his interest in teaching. He taught history and math in high school. After receiving his Ph.D. at UT, he taught at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. In 2005 he returned to UT as a professor. He has appeared in three documentaries, written 22 books and is currently working on a biography of Ronald Reagan. If that doesn’t impress you enough, in June 2009 he was also invited to the White House to meet President Obama as one of the nine most distinguished historians and scholars in America. With accomplishments like these, it is hard to think that his class will be plain and boring.

If we know anything about college students it’s that they do not like the words “general ed requirement”. Students may fail to find anything unique or special about taking US history again. They may be cynical about coming to a big auditorium early in the morning to learn about something they think will not pertain to their future.  Students may also be arrogant thinking they know everything the professor will talk about since they have taken classes in US history since elementary school.  If this is the case, then these students are in for a big surprise. As Dr. Brands explains history is meaningful for two reasons: 1) “to be informed citizens. By the time students graduate UT they will be old enough to vote. And just as people have to take driver’s training to get their drivers license. People ought to know something about the United States and its history to be responsible citizens.” and 2) learning history allows for acquiring greater critical thinking skills, which as Dr. Brands states is “the primary function of college.” He believes that students before college “have not been encouraged all that much to think on their own and question the things they have been told.” Dr. Brands hopes to change that by promoting independent thinking.

Can this course really be that much different from what is taught in high school? Certainly. The history stays the same, but it is how the history is analyzed that differentiates history in college versus history in high school. Dr. Brands says, “As students mature intellectually they are allowed to deal with more complex issues”.  In high school students are just told the facts of US history. In college, since they understand the foundations of US history, they can look at the complexity of history and learn that US history is not just cut and dry. It actually has many aspects and many different viewpoints. An example Dr. Brands points out is that students can state two opposite views of Roosevelt’s New Deal and they can both be correct as long as they can accurately justify their views. He wants his students to understand that there is no right answer in history, but an effective way of thinking and reasoning about history. Not only will this class be beneficial, but it is also engaging. Dr. Brands restricts his students from using laptops and taking notes, by doing this he forces students to engage in discussion, form opinions and draw conclusions. For example, he asks his students, “What are the grounds for the US to go to war?” Then, after a discussion, he asks his students, “What grounds would you volunteer to go to war?” Along with promoting intellectual discussion these questions allow students to put themselves in perspective of past events in American history.

Personally, I feel like I got ripped off when it comes to my US history requirements. I, like many students, came into college with my US history classes already fulfilled through either community college or AP credit.  When I was 16 years old I took dual-credit US History I and II.  In one summer, I took care of my US history requirements for high school and college.  For a very long time I felt like I got a great deal and beat the system.  However, now that the majority of my college career is over, I feel I am at a disadvantage for having learned history the easy way rather than the most beneficial way.  I feel like I would be much more engaged in my college classes if I had taken US history in college rather than taking the AP or dual-credit route in high school.  After meeting Dr. Brands I understand that at a prestigious university such as UT there will always be something worth learning in each class, even if it is a simple required course.  Therefore, I argue that students should not strive to take classes that seem the easiest, but rather classes that will benefit them in the long run. Moreover, students should not think that an ordinary course title will result in a simple ordinary class.

→ No Comments