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CD-ROM Broadens Student Experience in Yoruba Class

April 7, 1997

Amid the clacking of keys in the microcomputer lab on the 4th floor of Van Hise Hall, Professor Antonia Schleicher leans over the shoulder of a student and offers a timely word of instruction.

But the student, Liz Laufenberg, isn’t typing. She instead listens to Schleicher, follows the directions on the computer screen and speaks into a microphone.

Students in Antonia Schleicher's Yoruba class say her instructional CD-ROM allows them to learn a complicated language at their own pace.

While the 40 other students in the lab labor to finish papers and other assignments for their classes, Laufenberg and four of her classmates practice Yoruba – an African language spoken in Nigeria, Benin and Togo – using a CD-ROM developed by Schleicher with help from her students.

“The CD-ROM gives my students the opportunity to listen to a variety of native speakers, test their listening comprehension and record their voices on the computer,” says Schleicher, an assistant professor of African languages and literature and member of the Teaching Academy, a UW–Madison group that promotes good teaching.

Schleicher’s innovative use of compact disks with read-only memory to teach Yoruba has garnered international attention and is the subject of a workshop she will present next month at a technology symposium for faculty.

A Nigerian native, Schleicher says her CD-ROM is the first in the United States to be used to help teach an African language. She has received many international inquiries about her CD-ROM, most recently from a Canadian professor who wants to use the CD-ROM as a model to prepare a CD-ROM for Macedonian.

The textbook she wrote on Yoruba, published by Yale University Press, is sold internationally, and Yale is also interested in marketing her CD-ROM, Schleicher says.

Instructors in all language studies at numerous universities are using Schleicher’s CD-ROM as a model, including professors of Hindi (an Indian language) at the University of Pennsylvania and Thai at the University of Maryland. Schleicher also co-wrote a collaborative grant for using CD-ROMs to teach Dutch with a professor from the University of Minnesota.

“These professors say they’ve never seen anything like my CD-ROM before,” she says.

Throughout her CD-ROM, Schleicher has interspersed video clips with various people speaking Yoruba, vocabulary lessons, practice words and phrases, and facts about Yoruba and Africa.

Her students use the compact disk once a week in the microcomputer lab to strengthen their knowledge of Yoruba.

“It’s really adaptable to how someone learns,” says Laufenberg, a junior majoring in communication arts, after class in the microcomputer lab last month. “If you know the particular word or phrase, you can move onto something else.

“It’s nice because if you are having trouble, you can come in and practice,” she adds. “And the CD-ROM literally gives students a voice in their learning.”

Empowering students is why Schleicher got involved in the Teaching Academy, established in 1993 by the Faculty Senate as a place for faculty to share ideas about improving teaching and to highlight excellent teaching at UW–Madison.

Schleicher says while teaching at Yale, where she first taught Yoruba, she discovered that her teaching style mirrored how she learned languages as a student. And she noticed that some students learned languages much differently than she does.

“It aroused my curiosity,” she says.

There are two processes at work while learning languages, Schleicher explains: learning facts and learning skills, which makes it unique compared to learning, for example, economics or psychology.

Schleicher first came to campus in 1989 as a visiting professor and was hired as an assistant professor in 1991. She will be considered for tenure this year. Her research into how adults learn languages drew her to the Teaching Academy and led to her being inducted as a Teaching Academy fellow in April 1996.

“With the Teaching Academy, you meet with colleagues to discuss teaching and research on teaching,” Schleicher says. “It breaks down the notion that just because you have a Ph.D., you can teach. That’s not true.”

This academic year, the Teaching Academy has taped Schleicher teaching in class and in the microcomputer lab, says Alan Knox, chair of the academy’s Celebrating Good Teaching task force. The videotapes, along with tapes made of five other faculty members in the Teaching Academy, are made to available to faculty as examples of exemplary teaching, Knox says.

Sit in on one of Schleicher’s classes, as many visitors do to observe her teaching, and it’s quickly apparent that she is a top-notch instructor – and motivator. During her lecture class, she chats with her students in English before the class begins, but once it starts, she speaks entirely in Yoruba.

She utilizes several tactics during the lecture period – blackboard illustrations, role playing, singing a song with her students – while infecting her students with her effervescent personality and contagious smile.

Elizabeth Gleeson, a third-year transfer student, is taking her second Yoruba class with Schleicher. As a Spanish major, she is required to take a non-Western language.

“I had never heard of Yoruba and didn’t know the university even offered it,” says Gleeson after the lecture class last month. Through taking Yoruba, Gleeson says she has encountered in Schleicher one of her best language teachers to date.

“I think she’s wonderful,” Gleeson says. “Her personality is so vibrant and she is so patient.”

Tags: learning