World Languages offers streaming courses to students

The FSU world languages department is responding to low enrollment by offering streaming classes in partnership with Fitchburg State University, according to Department Chair Mary-Ann Stadtler-Chester.

She said the streaming classes started two years ago.

Fitchburg State offers its Arabic and Italian classes to FSU students through streaming, while Framingham State offers Chinese to Fitchburg State students.

For both universities, Stadtler-Chester stressed that it was “not feasible” to hire full-time professors for the subjects, due to both a lack of funds and low enrollment at the respective campuses. Stadtler-Chester noted that the streaming mitigates part of this problem.

“Why duplicate things in both places? So, if we have something they need, and they have something that we need, the streaming works really well,” Stadtler-Chester said.

Professor Petri Flint, chair of the humanities department at Fitchburg State, said, “Mostly, it’s about broadening student choice and making use of faculty – since we now have the faculty to do this across campuses to make use of faculty expertise in more places than just the one campus.”

Flint said while the program was still in a “beta phase of testing,” he hoped it would grow along with possible integration of the enrollment systems.

“It’s hard to institutionalize some of these things when we have different schedules from Framingham and different registrars,” Flint said.

This semester, five Framingham State students are taking Italian and three are taking Arabic streaming classes from Fitchburg. There are three Fitchburg State students taking Chinese from Framingham.

“The numbers are low, but it does afford other opportunities for students to take language,” Stadtler-Chester said.

While the streaming classes have been successful with four semesters of shared courses, Stadtler-Chester said they are worried about low enrollment.

She noted there has been low enrollment in language courses at the University, as well as a general drop in enrollment in humanities courses over the last several years, with students “flocking to business and to STEM.”

The main issue is students’ ability to “place out” of Framingham State’s language requirement, something the University does not share with Fitchburg State. Students can place out if they have taken four years of high school languages, already speak a language other than English fluently, or pass the placement exam.

Stadtler-Chester expressed frustration with the exam’s scoring system.

“For those that do take the language placement test, they can place out if they get a 1 out of 5. If they get a 1, which is barely like they can count to three and say ‘hello,’ they place out of their language requirement,” Stadtler-Chester said.

Stadtler-Chester stressed the importance of taking a language as a means not only of communication, but also understanding the culture the language comes from, which is integral to fulfilling the University’s goal of cultivating global citizens.

Everton Vargas Da Costa, a new Portuguese and Spanish professor, is trying to do this in his classes.

He said, “My projects here are intended to connect students and this broad community in Framingham.”

Vargas Da Costa added, “Language is not something you learn as a requirement or something just to exhibit … you actually learn a language to interact with the world and to change the world.”

Vargas Da Costa said his class is creating children’s books in Portuguese for their final project. The books will be donated to public schools in Framingham and can help young students learn basic concepts, such as colors and shapes.

“This is community engagement 101. You don’t need to know a lot to start making a difference,” said Vargas Da Costa.

Vargas Da Costa has also set up a Spanish-speaking table in the Dining Commons that lets people practice their language skills and connect with other people in a safe area.

Stadtler-Chester said, “It’s learning about different worldviews and the culture, not just the language.”