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SLLC faculty discusses the role of distance learning in higher education.


On April 12, Dr. Pete Smith, professor of Russian Language and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, visited St. Mary’s Hall to lecture on the implementation and advancement of distance learning.


Distance learning is a pertinent and developing form of teaching and communication outside of the classroom. Over recent years, online classes have become rooted in many university curricula.


The program which Dr. Smith helped develop provides distance learning curricula for eight languages, with specific emphasis on Russian and Chinese programs. Each program follows a strict schedule. Three days a week, participants use online tools like Skype and Adobe Connect to “meet” with language partners. Students devote an additional day to meeting with a primary faculty member on their American campus, and the last day concludes with a meeting with a a meeting with a faculty member at Drake University, a partner institution for the program, to gauge progress and participation.
“I don’t preach against lecture, but we should broaden our understanding of what is curriculum and education,” explains Smith. “Our technology has come far enough that we expect to see students twelve time zones away on our own computers.”


In Dr. Smith’s program, students still utilize textbooks as main references, but multimedia plays a crucial part in their learning. Smith recommends assigning themes which are popular, interesting, and informative. For instance, Russian students follow the life of Ilya Yashin, a young Russian political activist who maintains blogs and video diaries. This engages the Russian and American students and allows them to hone their language skills as they relate to real life events.

Although distance learning and online education warrant further scrutiny and study, programs such as Dr. Smith’s are becoming increasingly popular and effective.
Date of Publication: 
Tuesday, September 25, 2012