Advancing Online Language Instruction: A Support and Onboarding Model

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

This presentation will discuss a grant-funded project in which historically under-enrolled and under-supported Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) online courses are developed, taught, and distributed collaboratively through the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) using a course sharing model. The onboarding and professional development of instructors will be discussed as one way to advance online LCTL courses.


Emily Heidrich Uebel (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin‐Madison) is a Project Manager and Academic Specialist at the Center for Language Teaching Advancement at Michigan State University. Her research interests include foreign language proficiency, educational technology, curriculum design, LCTL education, and education abroad topics.
Luca Giupponi is the Technology Director for the Mellon-funded LCTL Partnership at the Center for Language Teaching Advancement, as well as the Educational Technology Director at the English Language Center at Michigan State University. He is a doctoral student in the Instructional Systems Technology program at Indiana University, and he is interested in investigating issues of online faculty development and quality in online instruction.

Extended Abstract

In response to demands from universities to find innovative ways to share language instruction across institutions, the Big Ten Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) Partnership (2016- 2019) is developing online asynchronous LCTL courses to be offered to students across multiple institutions through the already established CourseShare infrastructure. At its inception, CourseShare dealt only with live, video-conference courses distributed via PolyCom technology. Students across the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) could enroll in any CourseShare course offered at any of the partnering institutions and receive credit at their home institution.


The proposal to offer fully online courses via CourseShare is an attempt to capitalize on the strength of the CourseShare infrastructure while improving two key aspects: flexibility and pedagogy. That the absence of a regularly scheduled, synchronous meeting time allows for more flexibility is obvious, but in this context, the benefit is multiplied by the fact that potential students span multiple time zones and varying academic calendars. Pedagogically, transitioning to an online platform allows instructors to “see” all students in the same way and to take advantage of modern communication and content creation tools to better engage with students.


While online education has been around for decades and continues to grow in popularity, there remains a belief amongst many language educators that online education is best suited for “content courses” and that online language education is too difficult or less effective. Transitioning LCTL courses online, then, presents many logistical challenges, especially considering that most LCTL instructors have never participated in any kind of online learning experience - let alone taught online. When we set out to plan for the development and distribution of online courses, we also discovered there were no structured learning paths at our instructors’ institutions for them to acquire this expertise in a short amount of time. While some resources are available, they are either expensive, decontextualized (i.e. no specific training for language instructors), or too time intensive. In response to this, the working team of the LCTL Partnership developed an 8 week online course entitled, “Intro to Online Language Teaching” (Intro to OLT).


Instructors enrolled in Intro to OLT develop competencies such as establishing and maintaining teaching, social, and cognitive presence; adhering to research-supported standards of quality and accessibility criteria; identifying effective and sustainable learning tools and tasks; and applying curriculum development strategies and time and workload management methods. Far from simply being a set of resources, this onboarding course relies heavily on participant interaction and employs a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities meant to provide hands-on experience with the wide range of possibilities that are available in online pedagogy.


In addition to onboarding and training, LCTL instructors receive pedagogical and curriculum development support from the working group in the form of structured workflows and frequent feedback at various stages of development. Once the courses are developed, they are piloted by one or more of the instructors who created them.