Wendy Westphal, Ph.D., director of study abroad and associate professor of German, likes to create learning experiences in which students can directly apply skills gained in the classroom.
“It is important for students to see the relevance of what they are learning,” Westphal said.
In past years, these learning experiences have included class trips to the German neighborhoods of Chicago and Cincinnati, excursions to the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, as well as local community-engaged learning experiences like teaching German lessons to children in College Mentors for Kids or the Burmese Girl Scout troops working on their “culture” badge.
Westphal knew that COVID-19 meant that these experiences would look different this year.
“New limits challenge our creativity as teachers, but technology has opened some doors that COVID-19 has closed,” Westphal said.
Despite the transition to learning during a pandemic, German students were able to put their German language and culture skills to use in innovative ways throughout the year.
All three German classes took part in “Dialog Days” in which they met over Webex with native speakers of German. The GER101 and GER200 classes had Dialog Days with peer tutors, Kim Schwensen ’23 and Grace Wyness ’23. The upper-level German students made connections with native speakers on the other side of the Atlantic. They were partnered with a class of students in Gänserndorf, a town near Vienna, Austria. Roman Wimmer, the class’s English teacher and Westphal matched the students according to interests and provided conversation topics.
During one lesson, first-year student Liz Stevenson ’24 showed off Marian’s campus with a walking tour as she connected to the meeting with her cell phone.
“I enjoyed the Dialog Days. It was a unique opportunity to talk with students whose first language is German and to learn from each other,” Stevenson said.
Nick Lindstrom ’22 also appreciated the Dialog Days.
“I found it invaluable. I was finally able to really start ‘living’ German. It took the language from the paper to real life, and I feel much more confident in both my comprehension and verbal composition of the language,” Lindstrom said. “Particularly helpful was the fact that I had someone who was in the same boat as me, just from the Austrian perspective.”
Technology also helped the German students connect with recent graduates who are currently living, studying, and working abroad. Students used Webex to speak with Emily Neice ’19 about her Fulbright year in Germany and her master’s program in history in England. In addition, students chatted with Andréa Stanley ’20, who is currently teaching English in Austria as Marian’s first Fulbright-USTA grantee, and Mary Mullaney ’20, who is Marian’s first graduate to study a master’s degree in Germany.
During another lesson, students used the Mother Theresa Hackelmeir Memorial Library’s new virtual reality headsets to “visit” Marian’s partner cities of Erfurt, Germany, and Salzburg, Austria.
“I love using the VR headsets. It is a wonderful way for me to feel like I am in the cities we explored in Germany and Austria even though I couldn't be there,” Kathryn Frye ’24 said.