Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why a One-Size-Fits-All Bio Might Not Be the Most Effective

Click on the picture to see the 9th edition of Dicho y Hecho; the latest edition isn't quite out yet. 
by Ann Abbott

Kim Potowski, a friend and colleague at the University of Illinois and all-around academic extraordinaire, shared on Facebook the bio that goes along with the newest edition of the textbook Dicho y hecho that she co-authored with another friend, colleague and amazing woman, Silvia Sobral.

I love the story that Kim's bio tells: her own story as a Spanish language learner, both in the classroom and abroad.

Kim's bio could have gone many different directions--her research, her teaching, her awards, her advocacy--but for an intro-level textbook she chose to tell a story that was closer to the project itself. And closer to the students who will use the book.

This made me think about how I would write future bios for myself.

For my two textbooks (Comunidades: Más allá del aula and Dia a día: de los personal a lo profesional), I could follow Kim's bio very tightly:

I was raised in a small village in Southern Illinois, where my interest in Spanish was sparked in my classes with Miss Eddings. While doing my B.A. in Spanish at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I fell in love with Spanish, both in the communicative classrooms that Bill VanPatten and Jim Lee had created and during my wonderful junior year in Barcelona, Spain. ... One day I'll have to finish this bio.

Here are some other bios I could write and how I would slant them:
  • Community service learning. I would name my community partners and explain their role in my courses and my students' learning.
  • Technology. I would highlight my personal learning network (PLN), name platforms that have been most important for me, tout the potential of virtual volunteering in CSL and mention my experiences with campus-level IT shared governance.
  • Teaching. I would zoom in on one student in particular and tell a story about the arc of their learning in my classes--and afterward.
  • Languages for Specific Purposes. I would compare the reading and analysis of a short stories and business cases. I would share examples of client-based projects my students have done.
  • Entrepreneurship. I would recognize my father and my husband as entrepreneurs and role models for me.

There are so many more examples of how I would write a bio that reflects a particular facet of my professional life. What examples do you have?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Simple but Important Tips about Making Videos for Social Media Marketing

by Ann Abbott

Every Friday is ¨Taller de asesoría,¨ or Consulting Workshop day in my SPAN 202 "Business Spanish" class.

So what did we do today?

We practiced making original videos for social media marketing.

Our client, La Línea, gave us ideas for posts they would like to have during the month of October which is Immigrant Justice Month, sponsored by CU Immigration Forum. Here is one item:

·        What does social justice/immigrant justice mean to you?
Interview a few community members and ask them to try to answer this question in one to three sentences. 

Of course you could approach this a number of ways:
  • Do an email interview and post it as text.
  • Do a telephone interview with the person, write up the interview notes, look up a picture of them online and post the write-up along with the picture.
  • Meet them face-to-face, film them answering and upload the video.
From my experience working with students, I have seen that they are very adept at searching online for information, pictures and videos. That is a good skill to have.

But they seem to be less practiced at creating their own on-line content.

So today I had them practice creating videos by filming each other as they answered the question, ¨What does social justice-immigrant justice mean to you?¨ 

You could tell they were nervous! They thought a long time about their answer. Then they thought even longer about how to say it in Spanish. And then they really got nervous when they had to say it into a camera!

I didn´t give them any instructions, just told them to use their phones or other devices to take the videos and upload them to our Facebook Page: UIUC Spanish Community Service Learning. I wanted to see how they approached it and what they results would be.

We analyzed them and noted the following things that are important for anyone who is making and posting quick, low-tech videos for social media marketing:
  • Problem. Our instinct is to take the videos vertically. However, after we upload them online, they show up skinny on the screen, with a lot of black on both sides.
  • Solution. Remember to hold the camera horizontally when you take a video. It's not easy! We're used to holding our phones vertically. But the outcome will be better if you hold it horizontally, especially if you upload to YouTube.
  • Problem. The sound in the video is very low. This is very, very annoying to the viewer. I would even say that it is better not to upload a video than to upload one with poor audio.
  • Solution. Get closer with the phone! It doesn't have an external microphone, so you need to get close. Closer! Closer still! Yes, you will probably end up seeing mostly the person's face in the video. Yes, you will feel a little uncomfortable getting that close. But you really have to in most cases.
  • Problem. There is too much background noise, and it interferes with being able to understand what the person on the video is saying.
  • Solution. Always, always find a quiet place to film. Even the wind can cause distracting background noise--I learned that the hard way!
  • Problem. The person speaking in the video talks too softly and/or doesn't look/speak into the camera.
  • Solution. This is tough. Some people are just naturally shy. You can try to film again, asking them to speak louder and into the camera. If that doesn't work, then maybe it is just best to take a picture of the person (if they allow it) and write up their answers. That's okay, too!
And here are just a few additional tips:
  • Length. How long should a video be? Well, go to your Facebook page right now and scroll through your feed. When you see a video that is 30 seconds long, what's you're reaction? When you see one that is 5 minutes long, what do you do? Then just make a mental note of which videos you click on during the next week, and which ones you don't. I say to do this because it's easy to say nobody watches anything longer than 2:00. Well, it depends! There are some 30-second videos that are 25-seconds too long. And there are some 3:00 minute videos that keep me entranced. Don't make them long, but do think about what you're trying to achieve with the video. Too short can feel like you missed something important.
  • Raw or edited? If you know how to edit video, then do it. Even just a little editing can take a video from good to great. Honestly, I don't know how to edit video. Rather, I haven't taken the time to practice it enough to actually do it when I need to. If your videos are informational, just focus on giving really great, clear information.
Students did a second round of filming and uploading. The videos were better. The students still weren't entirely comfortable filming and being filmed, but I think it broke the ice and made them think more about how they can create their own short videos for social media marketing purposes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Help at Parent-Teacher Conferences this Fall

by Ann Abbott

Whether you're a former student, a current student, or just a person from our community who speaks both Spanish and English, please consider helping at Central High School's parent-teacher conferences!

Here is the message I received yesterday.

Dear Dr. Abbott,

We are once again in need of volunteers to help with Spanish translating during our parent teacher conferences next month.  Last semester your students help was a godsend.

I am hoping you can help us again this semester?  Our conferences are Thursday, October 23rd from 5:00pm to 8:00pm and Friday, October 24th from 8:00am to 12:00pm.  If you know of anyone who might be interested in helping, please have them email me at  or call me at 217-351-3911. 

Thanks in advance for any assistance you can send my way!

Joanie Strater

Main Office Secretary
Champaign Central High School
(217) 351-3911
(217) 351-3919 Fax

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fresh Ways to Use Traditional Textbooks, A Series

What I carry to class.
by Ann Abbott

I'm not afraid to admit that I use a textbook in my Spanish for Business course (Éxito comercial). Sure, I wish it was less expensive, but I think that it offers students--and me--a lot of value: he information they have compiled and presented in coherent ways, the vocabulary they have distilled and defined, the audio exercises, video exercises, short case studies, maps, charts and so much more.

Although I know the students will probably sell the book at the end of the course, I wish they wouldn't.

I wish that they would keep it as a resource. That when they get jobs they will look up information about the countries where their company does business. That they'll reflect on the cultural information and strategies the book presents.

But in the meantime, all I know for sure is that I have three 50-minute class sessions with them each week. I try to make those count.

Here's what I did today. It's all based on the textbook, and it's not the boring, "En la página 33, lean la sección X y contesten las preguntas al final. Ahora lean la página 34 y contesten las preguntas al final.¨


At home and before class, students have to read the section that is indicated in the course calendar, choose three of the "¿Qué sabe usted de...?" questions at the end of the reading and upload their answers to our online course management system.

Because they choose which three questions they answer, today I did this with them:
  • I told them to raise their hand if they answered question 1. Those who did, I put in pairs. 
  • Raise your hand if you answered question 2. Those who did, I put in pairs, and so on until everyone had a pair. 
  • Then I told them to summarize for their partner their answers and compare/contrast the information they included. 
  • Then they had to find a different partner to compare/contrast their answers with.
  • Then they had to find a another partner to compare information with.
What did this achieve? Well, first, it holds them accountable for their work. It isn't just something they upload; it is information they will be expected to use. Second, it keeps the class dynamic and changing. Third, they get to know their classmates better. And finally, they are speaking Spanish--and using the textbook as a support if they need it, as you can see in the picture above.

The reading

Before class, students had to read Chapter 3's "Lectura comercial: Requisitos y modelos administrativos estadounidenses e hispanos."

After the homework activity I described above, we dove into one specific part of the reading. I went over the information on page 63 about the skills that make a good manager. There are five "habilidades" listed in the textbook: técnicas, interpersonales, conceptuales, diagnósticas y analíticas.

I led a discussion about those five skills, clarifying their meaning and giving concrete examples. This lasted about five to seven minutes.

Then I assigned five students *one* of the habilidades. Those five students sat in a line facing the back wall. The other students sat in a line in facing those students. For five minutes, the students facing the back of the room had to interview the student facing them about that one particular managerial skill. For example, Christian had the first skill, "técnicas." He had to interview the student in front of him, Grant, about his technical skills and managerial experiences using that skill. 

This wasn't easy! Some students don't have a lot of experience to draw upon. Others have a lot. But they managed to keep the conversation flowing very well for four or five minutes.

Then the students facing "the interviewers" all had to move down one seat and for the next four to five minutes they were interviewed about their experiences with the next "habilidad." For example, Grant now had to move down and sit across from Mónica who interviewed him about his ¨habilidades interpersonales

To give you an idea of how well this went, you can click on this very short video and listen to them talking to each other in Spanish.

Textbook activities

Because I knew that I would have more than ten students for the above activity, there would always be ¨extra¨ students waiting to be interviewed. 

I planned ahead for that.

I printed out four activities from the book and taped them up in different spots in the classroom. The ¨extra¨ students had to answer one of the question or do the exercise as much as they could in the four or five minutes that the other students were using for their interview ¨turn.¨

My favorite: the second page from the top on the photo above. On page 62 of the textbook the authors include the quote, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it" by Warren Buffet. I asked the student on the paper to give an example. He wrote about Donald Sterling. What a perfect example.


I often describe my experiences in grade school and high school as this: "Read the book and answer the questions." Honestly, that was basically it. Except for my junior high teachers Mr. Parrot and Mrs. Todd who did very creative things with us.

I want to be my students' Mr. Parrot and Mrs. Todd.  

But I don't always want to create a curriculum from scratch, either!

Using a textbook isn't always the right choice. But for me, for this course, it is.

If you'd like to see the other posts I've written so far about using the textbook in creative ways, click on the titles to read them:

Do you use a textbook? Do you have ideas for me? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Student Spotlight: Amanda White

Amanda White
by Ann Abbott

I have already featured Amanda White on this blog several times. However, the other day she sent an email about her Fulbright experience in Brazil that just blew me away. It touched on so many things that are important to me and many of you.
  • Her love of languages.
  • Her nostalgia for the countries in which she has lived and studied.
  • Her abilities and challenges as a student of the liberal arts.
  • Her ability to see how languages, countries and cultures all connect and influence each other.
I'll let her message speak for itself. 

Oi pessoal!!!

I've just caught up on rest after two weeks of traveling in Brazil and realized it's time for another update. This one will be a bit longer to share about my travels in São Paulo. To see photos from São Paulo click here. By next week (hopefully), I will send another email about my travels in Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Salvador.

The Fulbright midyear seminar in São Paulo last month was really great! I'm happy I got to visit São Paulo, the biggest city in the Americas with about 20 million people living in the metropolitan area and about 12 million in the city center. The city also boasts one of the largest immigrant communities in Brazil. I especially loved this and enjoyed the diversity particularly through food (Uberlândia lacks in this area, Brazilian/Mineiro cuisine 24/7 with the exception of one Mexican, one Thai restaurant, and lots of sushi).

For the first time in months, I enjoyed spicy Indian cuisine. My absolute favorite was finding a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. The name of such a fine establishment? Sancho Bar y Tapas (as in my literary heroes Sancho Panza and Don Quijote de la Mancha!!). By far, one of the best meals I have ever had. The decor was spot on. As we walked in, I saw the bar lined with pinxos (pronounced pinchos) just like in Northern Spain. Bottles of wine were stacked along the brick walls and legs of jamón hung from the ceiling with care. The restaurant layout was long, stretching into the back, and narrow just like many European buildings.

Spanish was everywhere. Quotes from Spanish poets and writers were written on the brick walls with chalk. The menu had dry red wine (not very easy to find in Brazil. Brazilians tend to love sweeter things, including their wine). Bullfighting posters hung on the walls along with pictures and paintings capturing well-known moments from Don Quijote de la Mancha (DQ and Sancho were everywhere in this place). I especially loved the Spanish and Brazilian flags hanging side by side on the wall. I was in my element. I had the best of both worlds in a single place. 

The food was delicious and the waiters even spoke Spanish. We had such a good time. At one point during dinner, I turned to my friend Amber (my orientation roommate in Brasilia and ETA in Rio Grande do Sul aka, gaucho land), we grasped each other by the arm and within seconds of the other we sighed, "I think I'm going to cry." Cry from pure joy of course! Great ambiance, great food, great company.

We also enjoyed a few of the museums in São Paulo. My favorite was the Portuguese Language Museum. A museum about a language? Yes! It was super cool and interactive. It was fun to see the linguistic influences of Brazil's indigenous languages, African languages (due to the slave trade), French, English, Spanish, and Arabic in shaping Portuguese over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed reading on a giant, wall-sized timeline about the influence of Arabic on Portuguese. It shares similar history to Spain, in which the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula for several centuries. I tend to forget about Portugal as part of the Iberian Peninsula (oopsies). Then of course, the Americas were "discovered" and Arabic influenced Portuguese arrived to the new world. I find it so fascinating how languages are malleable and ever changing.  

Another really cool museum was the Soccer Museum, located in the same stadium where Pelé scored over 200 goals. Charles Miller, born to a Scottish father and Brazilian mother with English descent in the state of São Paulo, is credited as the father of soccer for Brazil. When he was young, his parents sent him to school in England where he was introduced to soccer. He later brought two soccer balls, cleats, and a rulebook back to Brazil. The rest is history. Inside the museum they also share World Cup history, information on Brazil's most influential footballers, and more. I have never missed playing soccer so much until living in Brazil.

The conference was very well done just like our orientation. It was really fun to see everyone again and swap stories. Many of us shared the same feelings about our overall experience despite our very different locations. It was comforting and validating, even encouraging. Besides lectures, we participated in group activities and attended workshops lead by fellow ETAs. We enjoyed company from the Argentina and Uruguay ETAs (their programs are much, much smaller than ours. I also mistakenly said Paraguay in the last email). It was interesting to hear about their experience as well. 

One of my favorite speakers was Tom Healy, the Chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (le gasp!). He, his 11 fellow board members, and thousands of petitioners successfully fought hard to protect the Fulbright program from major federal budget cuts (I sent an email about this earlier in the year). For now, the program stays as is. I encourage you to read the history of the Fulbright Program here. 

Stemming from that discussion, Mr. Healy shared why he thought intercultural programs are so important even in this age and how we show its importance and success since we live in a quantitative era desiring specific measurements. So, what are we quantifying and testing for in programs like the Fulbright? How is it measured? Well, it's hard to measure because.... 

...basically, we as Fulbrighters, and by extension study abroad students and other cultural exchange participants, are US ambassadors working on the ground with everyday people in their everyday lives. Fulbright also welcomes exchange students from other countries to the US. Through these interactions, we build friendships, trust, and mutual understanding between cultures. This is the main focus instead of metrics and data. It may not seem like a big deal, but it truly is. When we make friends, we lose enemies and gain allies. Sounds peaceful, right? 

Mr. Healy is a poet and Liberal Arts and Science (LAS) guy to the core. A fellow ETA asked Mr. Healy if his present self could give his 22-year-old-self advice, what would it be? Mr. Healy responded, "I would say to worry less about defining yourself. Ease up on yourself, you'll be just fine." 

This really resonated with me, and I think many other ETAs felt the same way. Mr. Healy believes that LAS students and alumni (like me) in particular experience a great deal of pressure to be, to find something, or have a title if they are not entering a specialized profession. I've struggled with this and spoken to some friends and family members about the subject. I found Mr. Healy's words encouraging and validating. My path is unconventional and that's more than okay. One way I can ease up on myself is to stop using conventional norms to guide my unconventional journey.  

These were some of the highlights in São Paulo. Others included sharing specialized coffee at Coffee Lab in the bohemian neighborhood Vila Madalena, seeing amazing street art in Beco de Batman, walking in Ibirapuera Park, and visiting the Afro-Brazilian Museum within the park. It was fun to experience the local culture and enjoy the enormous city after our daily conference activities. 

I have about 9 more weeks in Brazil, which will be over in the blink of an eye. We ETAs spent months anticipating the midyear seminar in São Paulo. Once it was over, it was hard to say goodbye. Luckily, I will see some of my ETA friends in the States when we visit each other and keep in touch. It's amazing how despite not knowing each other very personally, we become very close when together. 

I think this is because we share a unique experience, which few outside of such an experience could fully understand and relate to like culture shock, language barriers, and expat lifestyles unless they've had similar circumstances elsewhere. I don't consider this bad. It's just a different way I relate with others in different relationships. I enjoyed witnessing this bring us together and feeling a sense of family when so far away from my own. I'm very grateful for it. 

Thank you for reading through this e-mail (as well as each one I've sent!). I know it was a bit lengthy, especially because I doubt I will write a blog post anytime soon. I'm doing my best to be present in each moment while away from the computer, and not to cut those enjoyable moments short. 

Stay tuned for Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Salvador. Hope everyone back home is well!

Um abração,


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Info City CU: A Model of Public Engagement and Technology

Click on the picture to go tot he web site.
by Ann Abbott

Yesterday I attended a meeting with our campus' new CIO, Mark Henderson, and a group of people from an initiative called Info City CU.

It was a positive, exciting meeting with like-minded people. One of those meetings in which you leave feeling really energized and happy that you work in this organization with really good people.

You can find out more about Info City CU at their website, but here are a couple of things that stood out for me.

One of the attendees likened an Info City to the older model of an Industrial City, in which the city was built up around corporations and organized according to their needs. In contrast, an Info City allows us to learn from the mistakes of the Industrial Cities and create a more just Info City. That was very helpful to me.

I also learned some new things and new terms. I had never heard before about:

  • One Web Day 
  • Webliographies, as opposed to bibliographies. Here is an example of a webliography.
  • Digirati, as opposed to the literati. Thinking about the digital divide, describing it and trying to eradicate it are very, very important projects.

Course about Social Innovation with a Trip to Ecuador

by Ann Abbott

Course envy.

That's what I am feeling right now. This looks like such a wonderful course! It's something that I would love to teach.

In fact, it is what I teach! But in English. With a trip to Ecuador.

But my course envy is students' opportunity to do something wonderful. I hope they will sign up for this course and do great things!

Click here to see the course website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Articles of Interest in The Journal of Languages for Specific Purposes

Click on the photo to go to the journal.

by Ann Abbott

Thanks to the NOBLE newsletter that Mary Risner sends (email here if you´d like to receive it, too: by, I learned about the Journal of Languages for Specific Purposes.

When I began scrolling through the first issue´s table of contents, it seemed to me that the journal was focused on quantitative, very specific linguistic-type research. That doesn't speak to me.

Then I scrolled some more and read abstracts for these articles that do, indeed, interest me. Click on the links to read the full articles.





Monday, September 15, 2014

Learning about Countries in a Business Spanish Class

It's important to note that while students were doing this activity (described below), I was not in the circle. They were talking to and listening to each other. If I could change something about it, I would have had them complete the first sentence with a few examples; that way they could have been called on by their classmates more than once.
by Ann Abbott

In this post I return to the question:

How can you use a textbook in a course in a way that does not become dry and repetitive?

I hear many people complain about textbooks today. They're too expensive. They're boring. Faculty don't actually use them in the classroom. They're heavy. Who reads? Faculty can put together their own teaching materials that are better--and free!

Those are all legitimate observations.

But they don't have to be.

Textbooks don't design your lesson plans. You do. And if you design your lessons using what we know about good teaching practices--and in our case, how students learn a second language--the textbook can be your foundation. 

I love to write curricular materials. But why would I put together materials that are already in Exito comericial? I couldn't even do it if I tried because the book is encyclopedic almost and has been built by three highly-qualified authors over many years. It's on its sixth edition, for crying out loud!

What I can do, and I what I actually enjoy doing, is taking the information and activities in Exito comercial and having students work with the book in fun, active, meaningful ways.

Here's what I did in my Business Spanish class today.


Students had to read "Una vista panorámica de España¨ and ¨Una vista panorámica de Guinea Ecuatorial¨ from chapter two of Éxito comercial.


First I wrote on the board, ¨No sabía que...¨ I told students they had three minutes to complete the sentence with information that they had read about Spain for today. I wanted them to complete the sentence with information that they found interesting, surprising, shocking, whatever. Just something that they didn´t know before they read that section before class today. 

I gave them a model. ¨Yo no sabía que el tamaño de España era dos veces el tamaño de Oregón.¨ 

(Did students actually read before coming to class? I don´t know. I do know that after today´s class they will realize that they better read!)

Then I told them to put their chairs in a circle and gave them these instructions:
  • The first person (Person 1) says what they didn´t know about Spain.
  • Then they call one of their classmate´s name.
  • That person (Person 2) has to respond to the information the previous student presented by saying, ¨Yo ya sabía que [lo que dijo la otra persona], or, "Yo tampoco sabía que [lo que dijo la otra persona].¨ In other words, they had to listen to each other, not zone out until it was their turn...because they didn´t know when their turn would be.
  • Then Person 2 had to say the name of a different classmate (Person 3).
  • Person three had to reply to Person 2´s statement by saying either ¨Yo ya sabía X,¨ or ¨Yo tampoco sabía X.¨ (Some students had studied abroad in Spain and could honestly answer that ¨ya sabían la información.¨) Then they had to finish the first sentence with their own observation ("No sabía que...) and call a classmate's name.
  • Etc.
I then talked to the students about some things I consider important about contemporary Spain that aren't mentioned in the textbook: mileuristas, nimileuristas, the housing/mortgage/foreclosure crisis, the protests and shows of solidarity that called for a more just economic, banking and financial systems.

Guinea Ecuatorial

Then we turned to the reading about Guinea Ecuatorial. I told them that I knew very little about this country (which is true), and that I wanted them to work in groups and prepare a two- to three-minute presentation to teach me the information that they thought was most important, relevant, interesting, or surprising in the reading. I gave them five minutes to prepare.
The times that are written on the board are notes to myself. When I tell students that they have five minutes (or whatever time) for an activity, I look at the clock and write down the time five minutes from now. I do this because it is very easy to forget when five minutes are up! And I do this so that they see that when I say five minutes, I really do mean five minutes. You can't chat for four minutes and scramble; you really do need to do five-minutes worth of work.
They did a great job! I sat down in the back, listened to their presentations, took notes, asked questions and noticed patterns in what they taught me. I learned a lot about the country, and they had an opportunity to really put the textbook's information to good use. I don't think that they will forget about Guinea Ecuatorial for a while!

After working with the textbook, I asked them to get out their devices, go to Google Images and search for images of Guinea Ecuatorial and the capital city. It's one thing to read about a country, and it's another thing to see what it looks like, see the beauty, see the colonial architecture, see the people, see the landscape. 
Teams getting ready for their 2- or 3-minute presentations on Guinea Ecuatorial.

I would say that most Spanish students are rarely if ever introduced to Guinea Ecuatorial as a Spanish-speaking country in Africa. My students did--because we used the textbook as the foundation for today's class but in an engaging, purposeful way. I asked students if they had learned something new today, and they all nodded yes and enthusiastically.

I hope this post helps you think about textbooks in a new way, too.

Do you think that textbooks are a waste of students' money? Do you use your textbooks in new, surprising ways? Do you, like me, depend on the textbook to do a lot of work for you...but not all the work? I'd love to hear your ideas, experiences, complaints and questions in the comments.

Business Spanish: Social Media Marketing with a Local Non-profit Focused on Helping Immigrants

by Ann Abbott

My Business Spanish students are working as social media marketing consultants for La Línea this semester. I will add more later about what we have learned so far from their work in the community, their questions and their feedback.

Here are some of the themes that emerged from what Muong and Lisa had to say about the work they do and the Spanish-speaking clients they serve in our local area, where we do not have a long tradition of receiving immigrants.

Rapid growth. The number of Spanish-speaking immigrants was fast-growing, yet recent. In the early 2000s the numbers increased rapidly.

Transportation. Getting a driver's license is difficult for anyone who is an undocumented immigrant. (It's not a walk in the park for immigrants with documentation, either!) Lisa spends a lot of time driving her service recipients to places, and this is especially problematic for Latinos who leave outside of Champaign-Urbana, which at least has a good bus system.

Language Issues/Obstacles. It's no surprise that this is a very big problem for many of our recent immigrants. They have trouble accessing the services that they need and that they have the right to access if language is a barrier.

Cooperation among agencies. Many of their service recipients' issues become more complicated and time-consuming than they need to because many agencies do not have clear relationships with other agencies. Things can fall through the cracks and take a lot of time to follow up on.

Domestic abuse, poverty. I certainly don't want to give the idea that domestic abuse is more of a problem for Latinos than anyone else. That's not it. It's that the life of a immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants is very stressful, and stress (and other factors) can lead to domestic violence. To complicate matters further, women in this situation are often afraid to denounce their husbands. What if he is deported? What if he is the one making money for the family?

Fear and distrust. Because La Linea works with a vulnerable population, they have to work very hard to build trust among their current and potential service recipients. This trust is often built through word of mouth.

Organizational issues. Because of the needs they have encountered in the community and Lisa's background as a social worker, La Linea is moving away from being a "help-line" and toward case management.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Consulting with Community Partners, Part 1

Working at my dining room table today.
by Ann Abbott

When you hear the word "consulting," you might think of business suits, first-class flights, briefcases and PowerPoint presentations.

But when you do community service learning, consulting with your community partners usually looks very different. It might be:

  • Chatting about a project when you run into each other picking up your kids from the same art class their kids go to.
  • Showing solidarity when you show up at the same march and march a couple of miles in a cold, hard rain together.
  • Liking and commenting on the information they share on Facebook. Even personal information. It has been heartwarming this year for me to witness one of my community partners fall in love via the pictures she has posted.
  • Hosting a bridal shower for a friend who is friends with one of your community partners and so you get to talk to her and celebrate the bride-to-be at the same time. 
  • Staying abreast of activities, problems and celebrations in the community through a Facebook group that one of the community partners formed.
This weekend, consulting with my community partners has looked like this:

Via private messages, one community partner asked me for information about who to contact at the university to inquire about a Dreamer's tuition. All of a sudden the university switched the student's status to an international student...with much higher tuition. I tried to think of the people on campus to contact, but I'll also try to move things myself if the community partner doesn't get very far her/himself.

In another private message, a different community partner asked me a few questions about a service recipient that she and others in town are working to help. I won't go into details on this public forum, but suffice it to say that it is a story of someone who is panicked, confused, desperate and totally reliant on the grace of strangers. And you know what? That could happen to any of us. (Although most people probably think it won't. Not really.) Some of the questions were about housing, employment and legal assistance. I only wish I could have done more.

I spoke on the phone with another community partner. We talked about technology issues, information issues, and as usually happens, those issues are tied very tightly to organizational issues. In other words, when you start asking questions about, let's say, a website, you quickly find that the answers lead you to more questions, often unanswered, about an organization's mission, staff, turnover, resources, trust, and more. I am always sorry when I am asked a direct question and cannot give a direct answer! But sometimes it takes an outsider's eye to see that we're not ready to ask that final, definitive question yet. I'll write another post about this with more detail.

What do your relationships with your community partners look like? What do you talk about? Do you provide more to them than just students? Do you interact with them even when you're off duty? Or do you find it important to draw lines around your time? I'd love to hear from you.

Public Engagement and Campus Information Technology at Illinois

by Ann Abbott

For the past two years and now entering the third, I have participated in our campus-level information technology (IT) shared governance. I have learned a lot, met a lot of wonderful experts and felt the stretch and strain of shared governance in a huge, decentralized campus.

Good times.

Here's a simply listing of some of the things I participated in. Later I will give some thought to pulling together patterns, disjunctures and other kinds of insights from these experiences. 

1. I chaired the Extension & Outreach Committee. I wish our committee was called the Public Engagement committee. That said, I think we made some good initial strides toward framing and shaping the relationships between IT and public engagement on our campus. 

2. I served on the IT Executive Committee. All the chairs of the subcommittees and several other representatives for the Executive Committee. This is where the various interests come together and look at bigger-picture items that bind us together. At these meetings I not only learned about campus IT, I also got a peek into many of the offices, programs and structures that do great work on this campus but are not directly involved in teaching and research. In other words, I saw what a huge machine our university is. I saw why our univeristy can have thousands of employees but not enough people to teach certain classes.

3. I attended and presented at the CIC CIO Tech Forum. I heard many very good speakers and came away with ideas about iTunes U and iBooks. I also remember being inspired by something they had done at Northwestern's College of Education. They had received two or three very large flat-screen tvs or monitors as gifts. They turned them on their sides and hung them in the entrance area. They had an Instagram feed rotating constantly. They had determined a hashtag for the College, and students posted their own photos that were on public display. I like that idea!

4. I was a member of the search committee for the new CIO. This was a lot of work and intense at times, but I enjoyed getting to know everyone on the commitee and am very proud of the result: Mark Henderson is our new campus CIO.

Finally, I'd like to contrast my experience with shared governance and IT at Illinois with the picture painted in a recent article in AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, v. 5: Poritz, Jonathan A. "Open Access to Technology: Shared Governance of the Academy's Virtual Worlds." Although I certainly don't disagree with any of the points raised in Portiz's article, I am glad to see that shared governance about IT on the Illinois campus is three years old, involves faculty, APs, and Deans. I think we're on a good track.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant

Click on the picture to read the full description and order.
by Ann Abbott

My friend Prof. Carina Olaru shared on Facebook that she is bringing the author of Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant to her campus of Monmouth College.

I had never heard of this book before, even though its is from my university's press. I'm glad I know about it now, and I just ordered it. I'll write more about it when I read it.

I love the book's tagline: 
The valiant memoir of a man living the "good" life--illegally

With all the talk on my campus these days about "civility" and never "devaluing" anyone or anyone's viewpoints (what does that mean?), it is refreshing to see Carina tackle an issue that can be very emotional and divisive: undocumented immigrants in the US. Here is how Carina put it: 
Bringing a person to campus to talk about undocumented immigrants, I hope, will start a necessary dialogue between students, staff and faculty who have various views. My hope is that this person will be received well by my institution of higher learning and that we are willing to exchange ideas. 
I'll share more about the book after I receive it and read it.

Good luck with your event, Carina! I hope it is a wonderful and challenging experience for all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Service Learning at the University of South Florida

Click on the picture to read this newsletter from the University of South Florida.
by Ann Abbott

Yesterday I had a very exciting conversation with Dr. Lance Arney, Dr. Harold Keller and Dr. Soria Colomer from the University of South Florida. They had invited me to speak at their annual Service Learning Day in November, and in yesterday's conference call we explored various themes that I could address and how they might resonate with the interests and needs of the USF faculty.

We decided on the following.

In my keynote talk I will cover:
1. Transcultural competence. What are some issues and concrete examples of the need for transcultural competence in service learning?
2. Advocacy/Activism. How do we teach about advocacy and activism in a service learning course to better prepare students to go beyond volunteerism when they are students as well as afterward.

In a later conversation:
Technology. How can we use online platforms and information to engage with communities.

Soria forwarded me the newsletter that Lance's office sent out yesterday evening, and I was impressed with both the stories and the resources they provided. This is a model newsletter that informs the campus of what has been done as well as what can be done with service learning.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Medical Spanish: Do You Know What M-Health Is?

by Ann Abbott

I don't teach medical Spanish, but many of my languages for specific purposes (LSP) colleagues do.

And many students are interested medical Spanish, even though our department does not currently offer a full course in it.

So when I was reading Mujeres de empresa today, her post on M-health caught my attention.

Do you know what m-health is? Watch the short video above and click here to read the report and find the 50 best medical apps in Spanish.

Día a día: My New Textbook Is Now Available

Día a día, the textbook I co-authored with Holly Nibert.
by Ann Abbott

Hurray! Huge news! A textbook project I have been working on is now available.

Request an exam copy of Día a día!

This is just a quick post to show you the cover, the title and the link. I'll write more about it in the upcoming weeks.

For now, I'm just sharing the good news. Hurray!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Fresh Way to Use a Traditional Textbook

by Ann Abbott

Using the textbook doesn't mean that your class has to be boring!

I use Éxito comercial in my Business Spanish class. It has a lot of very good information and activities in it, but I have to be honest and say that students (and sometimes instructors) take a look at page after page of text and feel a bit overwhelmed.

I love to read. I got a PhD in Hispanic literature and actually read every single book on the reading list. Every single book. I dislike magazines whose articles are too short. I lugged huge novels to high school with me and read them in study hall.

But even I know that it can be easy for people to disengage with textbooks.

So here's what I did to shake things up.

1. Before class I prepared two laptops and three file folders.
  • In one laptop I loaded the audio disc that comes with Exito comercial and put the photocopy of 1-3 Al telefono (p. 12) in the file folder. 
  • In the other laptop I loaded the video disc that comes with Exito comercial and put the photocopy of 1-7 Comprensión y comunicación (p. 20-21) in it. 
  • In the third file folder I placed photocopies of the geography information--Figuras 1-1 through 1-4 and the questions in 1-4 Actividades (p. 14).
I asked two students to set up the laptops for me in two separate corners of the room along with the file folders.  I asked another student to put the "geografía" file on a desk in the middle of the room. (At the end of the class I asked two different students to pop out the discs and pack up the laptops for me. Believe it or not, I think that giving students--even university students--these small tasks in the classroom has a positive effect. It makes us work together as a team.)
2. I divided students into three groups and sent each group to one of the "stations." Each group had to read the instructions on the front of the file folder, open it up to see the documents (photocopies of the activities from the textbook because I knew that several of my students wouldn't have bought the book yet), and get started.

Honestly, students seemed very confused and unsure of what to do. I think some of their thoughts included: What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to touch the computer? What didn't she give us more instructions? How are we supposed to do this? One student did ask me, "How do I get the dvd to play?"

This was exactly what I wanted! I wanted them to be resourceful, take the lead, deal with ambiguity, figure things out, help each other out along the way. JUST LIKE THE BUSINESS WORLD. It worked.

3. After twelve minutes, I asked each group for their first impression. They all said that it was hard. Some because the Spanish was hard to understand, others because the questions were difficult. Then they rotated to the next station.

After twelve minutes at the second station, I asked them which one was more difficult, the first station or the second. I also noted that one of the groups approached their station as two pairs instead of one team of four. I told them that there isn't one "right" way to tackle a project. Then they rotated for a third time. After those twelve minutes, I again asked them what the hardest station was. They all agreed that it was the audio exercise, where they had to listen to a telephone conversation and answer questions about it. Again, JUST LIKE THE REAL BUSINESS WORLD: PHONE CALLS ARE HARD. They make people nervous. People's palms sweat when they pick up the phone. Especially in a second language!

4. To conclude, I put up two words on the board: PRODUCT and PROCESS.

I told them that the product of their work projects were their answers, the pieces of papers they wrote on. And I quizzed them on the content, asking them geography questions from station #2.

Then I told them that their process was probably more important than the product. Without a good work process, team process, it's difficult to get a good product. I asked them to reflect on their team's process. What was their reaction to the work? What kind of role did they each take on? How did they help each other? How did they let others know they needed help? Or did they not ask for help? Did they establish trust in any way?

Frankly, the students didn't spend much time on this. I don't think they fully understood the importance of processes and our ability to step outside the details of the work itself and see the ways in which we are going to attack it. But we'll work on that this semester. 

That'll be part of our process.

How do you use your textbooks? Have you found ways to use the textbook as a resource while still creating a dynamic, engaging classroom environment? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments.