Dr. Christina Agostinelli-Fucile
Assistant Teaching Professor
World Languages Center
College of Social Sciences and Humanities
Can you describe your role at Northeastern?
I am an Assistant Teaching Professor in the World Languages Center. I teach intermediate and advanced Spanish courses. I’m also the Spanish minor advisor and the Coordinator for Spanish. We view our center as one of the places where students can expand their cultural knowledge. Cultural agility is part of our outcomes for students, and we see ourselves as being a crucial center that can help students develop both linguistic and cultural agility.
What classes are you teaching?
I regularly teach Advanced II, which is a course I revamped to have online modules as part of a face-to-face course. All the materials we use are authentic materials and that course is completely textbook-free. During Summer 1, I taught a new online course called Authentic Spanish Grammar, which presented advanced grammar through the study of cultural topics from around the Spanish-speaking world. I used authentic materials to create all of the grammatical analysis activities the students worked on before applying the grammar in their own ePortfolio projects.
I have another course called Exploring Spoken Spanish (which I mentioned in my presentation at TEXPO). A goal of this course was to help students improve their pronunciation and listening comprehension, and also to become familiar with the various dialects of Spanish. Students often become very familiar with their own professors’ accent or the accent from wherever they studied abroad, but they might struggle to understand speakers from other places with very different accents. There’s no textbook that covers these topics. How do I teach students to listen, hear the differences, and learn to pronounce Spanish just using a textbook? It’s like asking them to use their imagination. This is why it is sometimes necessary to create your own materials from scratch. They bring the course material to life in a way that black-and-white text never could.
What do authentic materials mean to you?
In second-language pedagogy an authentic material is something that was actually created within a culture by and for native speakers. It’s not something that I wrote as an example to show my students. Instead I use examples that come directly from the culture. Authentic materials can be things like YouTube videos, documentaries, news articles, infographics, reports published by organizations, pictures, art, music, etc.
In this last module of the Authentic Spanish Grammar course, the communicative objective was to be able to talk about future possibilities and predictions. We were studying climate change in Central America, so the students learned about the farmers’ situation, their opinions, and what their concerns were for the future. I included a video of farmers noting how their soil has changed over the past several years and how it’s getting harder and harder to grow their crops. So, the students received cultural information, but I also provided an analysis of all of the grammatical structures they had been studying in that module that would help someone talk about the future. They saw these grammatical structures in action in a real interview. A newer way of thinking about language teaching is not separating language and culture but teaching language through culture. In sociolinguistics, we see them as being inseparable.
Can you describe the video conferencing you use in your course?
I use a platform called Boomalang. I like it because students can have 15- to 30-minute conversations with native speakers. Students are normally very nervous or scared for the first one, until they really realize a few things. First, they are getting credit for it so it is okay to make mistakes. Second, these speakers are really nice and often have been language students themselves. Most importantly, these conversations give the students a real sense of accomplishment and boost their confidence in their own speaking abilities.
For my Advanced II class the theme is Hispanic identity, so in each module they complete a conversation about a different aspect of identity. For example, in module one we talk about gender in the Spanish-speaking world. In module two we talk about race, ethnicity, and religion, focusing especially on the history of Spain and Latin America, which has contributed to a rich diversity of identities across the Spanish-speaking world. These, and others, are all topics of conversation and in every module they choose a speaker from a different country. It gives them the opportunity to practice their grammar and vocabulary and find out cultural information from a variety of speakers. This course uses flipped classroom, so anything they do at home they bring in as part of the class activities. Students compare and contrast their conversations in class so they can also learn from their classmates.
In the Exploring Spoken Spanish course, the students interview speakers from three different dialects and do a project to compare not only their accents, but also other characteristics like the differences in vocabulary and sentence structure that might set those dialects apart.
Do you have any advice for others looking to start using open educational resources?
I use Rise through Articulate 360. It’s an online platform where you can build learning modules, embed content from all over the internet. It’s very interactive and easy to use. If you’re going to go textbook-free I wouldn’t necessarily do it at the same time that you’re teaching the course. Start off by compiling some activities or some lessons before you try to make the whole course textbook-free.
Be sure to think about making it organized and predictable. For example, this summer my modules all have three pages; one is preparation, one is analysis, and one is application. So in every module students see the same types of activities and they know what to expect.
Part of using your own materials is getting your students buy-in and explaining why you are not using more traditional materials. I have my students do a reflection at the end of the semester and ask them what was the benefit of using authentic materials versus a textbook. After using the authentic materials on Rise all semester and reflecting on how it differed from a regular textbook, they really get it.
My other recommendation would be to get to know the people in Academic Technology Services (ATS) because they will be your best friend. Lindsey Sudbury has been especially helpful. She’s the one who told me about Rise and who has helped me with my online and hybrid courses. The staff at ATS know a whole range of tools and if you have ideas about activities that you want to develop, they might know what platform you can put it on.
What does it mean to you to be both an educator and a learner?
I have never stopped seeing myself as a learner. I go to teaching conferences regularly, not only to present what I’m doing (both in my research and teaching) but to learn from other people. I go to a lot of professional development and I try to take advantage of trainings that have been offered at Northeastern. I’m also open to learning from my students. I try to leave space in my class for students to bring in their own experience and information.
I think that there are always things that I can learn, always things that I can improve, and I’m just excited to create a classroom where my students feel the same way about learning as I do.