Building Bridges not Walls

Last week I had the great pleasure to participate in a workshop on LCTL distance language education: Workshop on Sustainable Partnerships for Latin American LCTLs through Distance Learning. I was invited to speak to the group about pedagogical considerations for distance language education. Before attending the workshop I knew very little about the work of Centers for Latin American Studies, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, or Latin American LCTLs and I had never been to Nashville. Naturally I was excited to be offered the opportunity to meet people outside of my field, share my expertise, experience a new town, and learn from the workshop participants and presenters.

As I prepared for the workshop I was focused on the mutual interests and what I assumed to be mutual knowledge. As soon as the first few presenters started talking, I realized that our experiences were different, our jargon was different, our expertise was different, our contexts were different, our languages were different, our learners were different, etc. And yet we all have the same goal: bringing quality language education to as many people as possible and improving multilingual communicative competence. As I was listening I changed several of my slides to better fit the audience and explain what different words mean in the context in which I teach and in which I conduct my research. Hopefully the information helped the participants better position themselves for the tasks ahead. My colleagues Dave Malinowski (Yale) and Steve Welsh (Columbia) presented the technological possibilities to support the pedagogical goals and needs, which should help programs move instruction online or in a different distance learning format. The workshop website will soon include several of those resources.

For  1.5 days I learned about new languages, new constraints, new models of language education, new people, new cultures, and new solutions. What I appreciated most about being part of the workshop was the opportunity to communicate across disciplinary boundaries and to build bridges not walls; to not hide in my own discipline, but look to the neighbor, learn from them, and open the door for more collaboration. Thank you to Becky Horn and Avery Dickins de Giron for organizing such a wonderful workshop. Thank you to all participants for being so open to new ideas and sharing so willingly their own knowledge, experience, and concerns.

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