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Innovative classroom technology is broadening Lafayette students’ understanding of German playwright Friedrich Schiller’s 18th century play The Robbers.

In a course led by Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger, associate professor and head of foreign languages and literatures, students are using videoconferencing and Internet chat rooms to discuss Schiller with peers at Vassar College and Colgate University, both in New York, and Wheaton College in Illinois. They also have direct contact with a Schiller expert and German actors who will perform the play in Freiburg, Germany next month.

The course is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE). As part of NITLE’s Center for Educational Technology, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Lafayette and 36 colleges and universities from the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions have gained access to technology-driven learning programs.

Lamb-Faffelberger and her colleagues at Vassar, Wheaton, and Colgate discussed the necessity and benefits of bringing German-language learners from different schools together. She is pleased with what her 11 students and the 30 others from partner institutions are learning with the help of these technological tools.

“On a very basic level, the course is demonstrating to students that they are not isolated,” she says. “Throughout the country, there are many students in small colleges sitting in small classes, and we can bring them together through videoconferencing and create this vibrant German-learning community.”

(Next week, Lamb-Faffelberger will discuss the work of Elfriede Jelinek, recipient of the 2004-05 Nobel Prize in Literature, for three consecutive evenings at the Austrian Embassy. She also will give a presentation Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Teachers of German in Baltimore. Citing her as “one of the world’s experts on contemporary Austrian literature and film,” the University of Calgary hostedher in March as she delivered its 2005 Humanities Nobel Lecture. She is the author of five books, several of them anthologies dealing with contemporary Austrian literature and film. She regularly includes students in her research and guides them in their own independent research projects. She played an instrumental role in securing a grant for Lafayette’s Max Kade Center for German Studies.)

Schiller is a particularly significant focal point since this year marks the 200th anniversary of his death, and throughout Germany, the theater community is celebrating Schiller and his works. A German class of teachers-in-training joined the virtual group in October, adding new viewpoints to the mix.

“If we can enlarge our community by working together in this way, we can create wonderfully rich programs and take our students, even if we never [physically] move beyond our campus, to other places by sharing our resources,” Lamb-Faffelberger says. “Every one of the schools brings something to the course that otherwise only one school would have access to. Lafayette’s contributions are providing a theater workshop and sponsoring a trip for the students to a production in New York City. Because there are four faculty pooling their resources, the course is enormously rich and would be impossible if we were alone.”

Mathematics-economics major Dimitar Marmarov ’07 (Plovdiv, Bulgaria) says learning in a virtual community with students from other schools is advancing his language skills more rapidly than classroom learning alone.

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to communicate with other students and hear their perspectives about what we’re learning,” says Marmarov, whose minor is in German. “It’s a completely different learning experience for me. I’m used to being in the classroom and listening to professors, but having the chance to learn from other students is valuable.

“When I’m learning German with a professor, I am more confined to learning from books, where the language is more formally used,” he continues. “Communicating with students gives me a better understanding of the language and how to apply it in everyday use. It’s bettered my speaking skills because even though you speak a lot in the classroom, it’s different when you speak with your peers and when you speak with professors.”

Students can participate in several optional out-of-classroom workshops as part of the course. Lamb-Faffelberger notes that her students were enthusiastic during an all-day event at Vassar.

“The woman who ran the program was from Germany, and she felt more comfortable speaking German, so the entire day was German immersion,” she recalls. “What was remarkable is that all of them [the students] left the workshop speaking German to each other; they didn’t resort to speaking English.”

Lamb-Faffelberger adds that she never has to prod her students into speaking German.

“Even if they feel that they didn’t get it grammatically correct, they have torn down all of their barriers,” she says.

In addition to advancing their language skills, the course provides technology that is making Schiller’s play more accessible to contemporary students.

“We are trying to discuss all of the different perspectives about the play being set on stage,” Marmarov says. “Later in the semester, when we talk to the people in Germany about how they are actually doing the play, we will be able to share our perspectives on how the play should be presented in front of an audience. We will learn their perspectives and see where they overlap. It’s making me understand the connection between the audience and the actor.”

Marquis Scholar Laura Raibeck ’06 (Albrightsville, Pa.), a past recipient of the Language Studies Award who has previously studied Schiller’s works, believes the class on the playwright would be interesting with or without advanced technology. However, she adds that she is gaining insights that would not have been possible without videoconferencing.

“Speaking with students from other schools, the Schiller expert in Germany, and the people in the theater industry is giving us perspective on how the play is run and what theater politics are like,” says the mechanical engineering major. “It’s a real multi-college experience, and we get to see a little bit about how other classes are put together, giving us a broader perspective.”

Marmarov agrees that the course has heightened his understanding of the world around him.

“It’s bettered my communication skills and given me a wider perspective of the world,” he says. “I’m learning more about theater, how I should react when I’m at a performance, and how to experience this art form in a better way. There are lots of elements about the class that are making me a more well-rounded person.”

Categorized in: Academic News