Gladys Brooks Provides Funding for Language Lab Renovation
In February of 2016, St. Lawrence University received a $100,000 grant from a private foundation that will aid in the renovation of two language learning laboratories in an effort to modernize second-language learning and connect St. Lawrence to the global community.
With the assistance of the Gladys Brooks Foundation grant, St. Lawrence will physically renovate rooms 212 and 214 in Carnegie Hall and purchase video conferencing equipment that will enable the teaching of blended courses offered collaboratively as part of the New York Six (NY6) liberal arts consortium’s Language Learning Initiative, a project supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This is the first time the Gladys Brooks Foundation has funded a St. Lawrence University project.
René Thatcher, director of St. Lawrence's Information Technologies services and outreach, said that the grant will “essentially create two more useful spaces for Modern Languages” and directly benefit the Department and the students who are learning a second language at St. Lawrence as well as collaboratively through NY6 initiatives.
Carnegie 214 currently has 10 small cubicle desks, or listening pods, with a computer, headphone and microphone, where students are cut off from each other as they listen to recordings and practice speaking. That’s indicative of a reflective method of teaching that is now considered outdated, said Gisele El Khoury, director of St. Lawrence’s Language Resource Center.
“Today, learning a language is more about group work, where students speak directly with one another rather than into a microphone,” she said. “This will be a much more user friendly configuration that will allow Modern Languages to use space for both teaching and holding language labs.”
Both lab spaces will be slightly altered in size and shape, allowing for a slight expansion of the smaller Carnegie 214. The 20 computers sitting on desks in Carnegie 212 will be removed, and the space will incorporate six tables with seating for five or six students, encouraging greater group learning and participation.
Video conferencing technology that will be installed in the second lab will allow St. Lawrence to expand ongoing efforts among NY6 Liberal Arts Consortium member schools (Hobart and William Smith, Colgate, Skidmore, Union, and Hamilton) to promote collaborative language instruction between campuses. This project will help fulfill the NY6’s goal to facilitate collaboration among its member institutions, increase opportunities for faculty, staff, and students, and advance the colleges’ educational missions.
“The blended learning model allows the NY6 schools to work collaboratively in order to teach lesser-taught foreign language courses,” said Grant Currie, educational technologies manager. “When we work collaboratively, we reach a tipping point that allows us to deliver courses that might not otherwise be feasible.”
El Khoury, who is originally from Lebanon, teaches a course in Arabic that is delivered to both St. Lawrence and Hamilton College students. The new technology will allow for better video conferencing and the ability to connect to faculty and students anywhere in the world. El Khoury said the updates would allow St. Lawrence to connect to its students studying abroad as well as the ability to conference in external speakers.
“I show students movies in my classes and will ask the writers and directors to be guest speakers,” she said. “I can’t always get them to come to Canton, because of our location, but it’s no problem to video conference them into a class.”
The Gladys Brooks Foundation was created under the will of Gladys Brooks Thayer of New York. Its purpose is to provide for the intellectual, moral and physical welfare of the people of this country by establishing and supporting non-profit libraries, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics.
Learn more about language learning at St. Lawrence University’s by visiting the Department of Modern Languages.