Master's Class Commences
While sitting on the banks of the Turtle River Lake at Concordia Language Villages near Bemidji, Minn., villagers will often spy bald eagles gliding majestically over the water. Donna Clementi knows the awe of watching something beautiful take flight. The Master of Education in world language instruction that Clementi, the director
of education and research for Concordia Language Villages, and Dr. Marilyn Guy, Concordia professor of education, designed graduated its first students in May.
The 18-month program geared toward language instructors mixes in-person learning during the summer at Concordia Language Villages with online coursework during the academic year. It is based on the cohort model in which a small group of students begin the program at the same time and take all the same classes together until they finish the degree. Teachers say it is the combination of learning experiences, along with the degree that is offered, that makes it an intriguing program.
"As I was looking for a program, I found I could do a Spanish master's or an education master's, but I couldn't do both. I could through Concordia," says Brooke Carlson '01, a Mahtomedi (Minn.) Middle School Spanish teacher who just completed her first year in the program.
Clementi says this was a common theme among language teachers. For 20 years, Clementi taught a graduate course in second language methodology for language teachers at Concordia Language Villages and teachers kept asking for more.
"They didn't want a generalist degree, but one specific to world language instruction," Clementi says. "That was really the inspiration – teachers asking if we would ever consider an advanced program or master's program and that led to the start of this."
The new master's program began in July 2007 with the first group of students meeting at Concordia Language Villages. The month together is intended for students to see language immersion in action and begin their coursework, but perhaps of equal importance is face time for students beginning the program.
"It was really important to have the time in Bemidji," says Bridget Hirsch, a former Skogfjorden villager who recently graduated from the master's program and works as an Arabic research assistant at the University of Maryland. "It helped to build camaraderie with the cohort and made us more accountable to each other."
Spanish professor Dr. Viann Pederson de Castañeda, who along with French professor Dr. Gay Rawson teaches the online part of the master's courses, says bringing the class together at the start makes launching the online portion of the curriculum much easier.
"One of the biggest challenges is building community in online courses," Pederson says. "Since the cohort meets at the Villages first and gets to know each other, when they come to the online classes, they arrive as colleagues who are anxious to learn together."
Another program asset, Pederson de Castañeda says, is the online courses are truly interactive classes in which students use a technologically advanced online course system to engage with each other. The "ripple effect" these teachers cause by bringing the Concordia College and Concordia Language Villages styles of learning to their classrooms across the country is the most heartening
"When you start with good teachers who are doing good things already," Clementi says, "and then you give them insight and strategy to make what is already good, great – it's a wonderful opportunity."
Story: Amy E. Kelly / Photos: Sheldon Green /Crystal Mohr