Languages and Literature
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT 84112 USA
v: (801) 581-4058
f: (801) 533-0279
Innovative or improved ways of doing things; Creation of new ideas, products, or services; Local commitment to network-based activities
“Topics in Italian Culture: Contemporary Issues”, was a fourth-year course taught at the University of Utah, Spring quarter of 1992, by Maurizio Oliva, firstname.lastname@example.org. It was the last in a series of three courses about the contemporary history, literature and society of Italy. Six students enrolled, all of whom had achieved advanced levels of proficiency in reading, writing and speaking Italian. The goals of the course were to increase students’ knowledge of Italian society and to engage them in producing authentic text for the purpose of communicating with native speakers about important issues. All aspects of the course were taught in Italian.
Students spent the first two weeks reading background material related to Italian society and culture, gathering the basic tools necessary to use the Network and choosing the topic which would be the focus of their study during the quarter. The teacher supplied a list of possible topics related to contemporary Italian society about which students could communicate with native speakers, via written text sent on NEWS, in the newsgroup called
soc.culture.italian”. Those who had an area of interest or expertise not included on the list were encouraged to pursue it. Among the topics chosen were Italian opera, the role of women in Italy and Italy’s place in the EEC. Since students were to be communicating with highly educated native speakers about contemporary issues, it was necessary that they have solid background knowledge about their topics and be familiar with basic information about the political and social structures of modern Italy. Toward this end the teacher assigned readings concerning Italy’s constitution and political parties, the structure of Italian government institutions, and demographic information (including population, education level, unemployment and migration patterns). Students also read newspaper and journal articles relevant to their individual topics of study.
During the first two weeks, the teacher discussed the assigned readings and helped students get ready to use the computers. They began by obtaining accounts on the Novell network from the University of Utah Computer Center, which enabled them to link up with worldwide news network.
The instructor then reviewed basic word processing skills on WordPerfect, and taught students how to use the Program Editor (PE) and how to access and use the newsreader, and e-mail. The PE program was chosen because it looks like WordPerfect but produces ASCII files which were necessary to post in NEWS. The instructor selected a DOS newsreader that was menu-driven and therefore user friendly. e-mail is a menu driven E-Mail manager for DOS, written by David Hoisve at the University of Utah, that is fast and allows students to communicate with each other as well as with other users of NEWS.
Beginning the third week students were required to send three postings per week to NEWS, soc.culture.italian. These were written at home so that class time could be spent sending text to the network, checking mail, and discussing other students’ postings. (Students read each others work either before or after in was sent to the network) Those who wished to receive comments from the teacher prior to posting their texts were able to do so. The teacher checked NEWS to make sure students were completing the required amount of writing as well as to monitor the overall quality of the texts. Since a good deal of the monitoring was done during class, the teacher spent a minimal amount of time outside class reading students’ work Moreover the teacher had the possibility to perform this part of the work at home by connecting to the campus network by modem.
Students received an average of three responses for each article they posted and were required to reply to everyone that posted a follow-up comment through Usenet. This was done either by writing an individual reply to each response, or by writing one text containing replies to various respondents. Students also received responses to their news texts through e-mail and were encouraged to reply to those as well. Since e- mail accounts are private, however, the teacher was only able to monitor the frequency with which the students replied to responses sent through Usenet.
At the end of the course, students submitted a summary and analysis of the materials they had posted and the reactions they had received. They also participated in an evaluation session in which they commented on various aspects of the course. All the students believed their writing had improved as a result of having communicated through the network One student stated specifically that she had overcome grammar problems, while the others reported feeling more at ease with writing in Italian. Students suggested that courses using NEWS also be taught in the third year, based on their belief that writers at a lower level of proficiency would also be able to effectively use the resources.