Developing Intercultural Competence

BrunsmeierOne of the themes of my personal and professional life is: random connections. Be it ending up roommates with the best friend of the wife of the son of the gallery owner, who used to exhibit my father’s art or inviting a speaker as keynote when you were the organizer of a graduate student conference, who then at a conference at her institution tells you about a job opening, to which you then apply, and end up getting hired. Some of these random connections were funny, many have positively and greatly influenced my personal and professional life and some have done both at the same time.

One of these random connections that keeps coming up is Sonja Brunsmeier. Years ago through chance she was our nanny. We stayed in touch over the years mainly for personal reasons, but as it turned out our research interests were very closely aligned as well. When we took our neighbor, a Montessori school director to Germany, we visited Sonja’s classroom in an elementary Montessori school. When I was the Resident Director for the Academic Year in Freiburg, I gave a guest lecture in her course and she eventually became a workshop leader on intercultural competence for our program. Last semester her students and my students engaged in a telecollaborative project discussing the mutual topics in our seminars. Now we are working on analyzing data collected during the project. Her expertise in telecollaboration and in intercultural competence development are once again a great asset.

Her dissertation on intercultural competence development in English as a Foreign Language classes in the elementary school just got published. I look forward to reading it soon and am certain that portions will be very relevant for the “Theory and Practice of Teaching Culture” course I teach for the German program.


Excellence in FL Instruction Using Technology


I have been teaching languages for 2 decades: 2 decades of professional development, research studies, and teaching experience (2 countries, 3 US states, 2 languages, 6 different institutions, study abroad, immersion, foreign language, second language, online, blended, face-to-face, etc.). When I started teaching at Portland State University, I was vehemently opposed to technology in the language classroom (I preferred books) and I was not convinced that a focus on communication rather than explicit grammar was the way to go (after all, I had studied Latin in Gymnasium). Obviously my experiences, my training, my students, my research, and my wonderful mentors and peers have changed my perspective and have helped me develop into a scholar, who investigates the impact of technology-mediated language learning and teaching and includes technology (mostly computer-mediated communication tools) in all of her courses.

Last year some of the wonderful students, I have had the pleasure of teaching and learning with, nominated me for the ACTFL/Cengage Learning Faculty Development Programs Awards for Excellence in Foreign Language Instruction Using Technology with IALLT (Postsecondary), which I received in November. What made this award so special is that it was the people, who I hope to positively impact through my use of technology, who took time out of their busy schedules to nominate me for the award. Thank you so very much to all of you for nominating me. I was very touched.

I was extremely honored to be selected for this award. The award is recognizing the work I have completed in curricular innovation, teaching, research, and service to the profession. Looking at the list of previous recipients, I was humbled, as the list includes the people whose work has informed and shaped me, for whom I have the utmost respect (Anne Green, Lara Lomicka, Sue Otto, and Donna VanHandle as prime examples). Thank you for all of your work, previous recipients, and thank you to the committee.

Naturally all of my work has only been possible because of

  • the excellent training I received both at Portland State University in the MA TESOL program and the University of Arizona in the SLAT doctoral program;
  • mentors who have nudged me and believed in me such as Bill Fischer, Kim Brown, Marge Terdal, and most importantly Mary Wildner-Bassett;
  • my peers, from whom I have learned so much and who are always a wonderful sounding board, most notably my SLAT-buddy Claudia Kost and also Karen Barto, Cindy Ducar, Kim Helmer, Kay Huxford;
  • the CALICO family, which has become my scholarly home and support system, most notably Nike Arnold, Lara Ducate, Bob Fischer, Gillian Lord, Scott Payne, Julie Sykes, and Steve Thorne;
  • the support of my institutions, who provided an infrastructure that made CALL practice and research possible: in particular the COhLab at the University of Arizona (especially Hale Thomas and Justin LeBreck), CLEAR (especially Dennie Hoppingarner and Joy Cambell), and CeLTA;
  • my colleagues in German at PSU, UA and MSU and Lisa Jurkowitz at PCC, who have given me the space to experiment;
  • my colleagues in SLS, who support each other to strive higher and higher;
  • my wonderful co-authors Estela Ene, Kara McBride, Theresa Schenker, Paula Winke and most importantly Angelika Kraemer;
  • the wonderful teachers with whom I have had the opportunity to work with over the years, who showed me new tricks of the trade, inspired me, and always enthusiastically stood behind new ideas (especially Natalie Eppelsheimer, Zera Otus, Tina Badstübner, Angelika Kraemer and the 201-202 instructional team at MSU (first and foremost Adam Gacs and Katie McEwen));
  •  the engaged and curious graduate and undergraduate students, who have patiently let me experiment – much of what I have learned from/with/through them has influenced my pedagogical and empirical work (especially my wonderful Doktorkinder Susan Hojnacki, Betsy Lavolette, Carly Lesoksi, Jeff Maloney, and Theresa Schenker).

Thank you to all of these amazing people, who have shaped, who I have become as a learner, mentor, researcher, teacher, and member of the profession.


Risks worth taking: changing graduate education

A few years ago we (the German program at MSU) decided to revise our Ph.D. program to be more suited for today’s world. There are so many wonderful German graduate programs in the country, that we decided that we needed to distinguish ourselves with a special focus, namely: German Studies in the Digital Age, which combines Digital Humanities, with Film Studies, with CALL, and corpus linguistics among other fields.

At the same time we also wanted to design a curriculum that is maximally flexible, which allows for a BA to Ph.D. timeline of four years. This meant moving some learning outside of course-work and expecting students to use summers to further their education with activities such as online teaching, study abroad job shadowing, research projects abroad and at home, internships, seminars, etc.

The third piece with which we tried to express the concerns about doctoral degrees in the Humanities was a broadening of the career trajectories. Even before we redesigned our program, many of our graduates ended up working outside of traditional academic jobs.But since revising our program, we have made a conscious effort to encourage our students to explore a plethora of careers, connect our students with practitioners, and to include more transferable skills in our courses.

While we knew at the time, that changes were needed and we did feel confident that we were headed in the right direction, we still were nervous. Since revising our program, we have attracted a different kind of student and it has been exciting. Our first graduate student, a documentary film maker, is working on her dissertation, which is the first in an alternative format.You can learn more here: Anne in the Spotlight. Like Anne last year, this year our graduate student, Jenny Gohlke, was selected as one of two Humanities Without Walls Fellows from MSU ( Jenny’s career aspirations are to work in a Holocaust Museum after completing her Ph.D. We are very proud of both of them for daring to take German Studies in new directions and exploring career options that truly match their interests and expertise. It has been a pleasure teaching them in my graduate seminars and working with them as part of the Second-Year German teaching team.

We took a risk, when we redesigned our program, but it has been well worth it. The students, whom we have recruited into our program, are wonderful and are pushing the boundaries of German Studies and are pushing us to grow as scholars and teachers. I can’t wait to see, where their careers and lives will take them.

German Spotlight

The German Program has introduced a new feature on our website, the Spotlight. Here you can meet some of my wonderful new colleagues, our fabulous students, and our amazing alumni. This month’s Spotlight features my former Undergraduate Research Assistant, Marissa Perry. You can learn more here: German Spotlight. It is such an honor to learn with and from and to work with such wonderful, talented, and dedicated people.