A team of three UO faculty members and one undergraduate student are creating an innovative new curriculum for first-year Arabic at UO.
The “flipped classroom” model invites students to complete educational modules at home, where they will first learn vocabulary and grammar. In-person class time will then build on the information students have studied and provide time to practice language skills. The new program will begin next year, with the current 2021-22 academic year serving as a transition period.
With a recent Open Oregon Resource Grant of $36,700, co-principal investigators David Hollenberg, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, and Hanan Elsherif, senior Arabic instructor, will lead the transition to the new program. The rest of the team includes Abdulrahman Eissa, an Arabic teacher, and Benjamin Loy, a current double major in linguistics and religious studies at OU who has achieved advanced fluency in Arabic and Chinese and is also self-taught. in Turkish and Biblical Hebrew.
“I noticed that highly motivated Arab students were losing interest because classes weren’t going as fast as they would have liked and, at the same time, we were losing students who just couldn’t keep up with the pace of the course,” said Hollenberg. “This new model will really allow for flexibility in each student’s ability to learn.”
The material for the new courses is being developed by Hollenberg, Elsherif and the team and will consist of a minimum number of modules that each student must complete. Hollenberg said the new approach establishes a baseline for students and allows different levels of motivated students to continue at their own pace.
Then, in class, students will be divided into groups based on their current skill level, allowing them to practice what they have learned on their own. Students will be able to move freely from group to group as their skill level improves or reaches a plateau.
“Our goal is to provide a space for students who just don’t know how far they want to go in studying Arabic and allow them to give it a try,” Hollenberg said. “At the same time, students who are highly motivated to study the language will be challenged and their language skills will improve.”
Arabic culture will be a major focus of the first year course, and the curriculum will also lean towards dialect, or spoken Arabic, in the first year. Arabic is diglossic, meaning there is a standard written language and a spoken language that varies from region to region.
Hollenberg said they plan to focus on Egyptian Arabic, the language of the most populous Arab country and also a cultural center. Students will also receive a foundation in Standard Arabic which will serve them in more advanced levels after the first year.
The Arabic program works in conjunction with the new School of Global Studies and Languages to be launched this fall, and its fresh approach to language learning is a core value of the school. Global Studies, Journalism and Linguistics students are the top three streams that tend to study Arabic, with language program alumni continuing to work in the foreign service, international governments, non-profit organizations and business or to attend law school. Hollenberg said the program has placed many students in professions involving Arabic over the past decade.
“We really rely on student motivation to learn,” Hollenberg said. “The instructor becomes more of a coach than a disciplinarian. Instructors meet students where they are, working with them to take them to the next level. Students are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning, knowing that each learns at a different pace. I really want to see how far highly motivated students can go in this new system.
—By Victoria Sanchez, College of Arts and Sciences