During the fall of 2015, I taught for the first time in the state-of-the-art digitally equipped Berkeley Language Center classroom, Dwinelle B-3. I was amazed at how effectively it facilitated active learning and long distance communication, thus potentiating the innovative features of Spanish 102C (Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing).
In this course, students volunteer locally at Oakland International High School tutoring unaccompanied minors from Central America, and at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant translating documents and interpreting in the Spanish-English conversations between graduate students from Berkeley’s School of Law and immigrants seeking political asylum. Throughout the semester students from this new course also prepare themselves to volunteer internationally by researching NGOs in various Latin American countries with which they might want to volunteer.
Thanks to the special layout and capabilities of B-3, students were able to discuss in groups at their respective workgroup “pods” and then present to the class as individuals and teams about the NGOs that they were finding and selecting, explaining the criteria used in their selection and what possibilities the NGOs offered to foreign volunteers.
Students wrote to the organizations to set up interviews, and then in teams and as a whole class, they interviewed representatives from those NGOs via video calls using Skype and FaceTime. Based on their research, students created web pages on the Latin American NGOs each team had selected in the countries chosen. During in-class presentations in B-3, each individual and team presented web pages about the NGOs to faculty and staff from Berkeley programs, such as the Education Abroad Program, the Global Poverty and Minor program, the BLC, and the Spanish Department. Those presentations completed the circle of help, in which students had first received assistance from the Latin American NGOs that granted long-distance interviews and responded openly to the students’ questions. The NGOS, in turn, were helped by the students who, in a cycle of mutual empowerment, presented the work of those NGOs to Berkeley faculty and staff who seek to extend the network of reputable organizations where Berkeley students can find opportunities to apprentice and volunteer abroad. (Classes were in Spanish, but because not all our guests were fluent in Spanish and we wanted to reach a broader audience, these presentations were in English.)
The B-3 set up was also perfect for other active learning activities of this new course. For example, the five workgroups in the room enabled students to work in teams to create the Constitution for the class. Each team was responding to one of these four questions:
1. What are you rights and responsibilities as a volunteer while working with local groups?
2. What rules would best facilitate working in teams? Why?
3. What is the best way to prepare for classroom discussion through online activities? What should those activities be?
4. Who is going to do the grading? How and why?
Students were able to work simultaneously on different questions at each workgroup “pod” in B-3. They connected their laptops via a hub at each table, and after composing and annotating the text they were creating, they displayed it locally on the two monitors of their pod. They were able to view and comment as a team on what another team had been working on when they presented from the instructor lectern using the instructor or presentational mode. If you would like to see the Constitution that was created from this teamwork, please click here.
In the weekly Friday sessions, to reflect on and hone our volunteer work at Oakland International High School and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, students grouped themselves at the various pods, according to where they were volunteering, to share experiences, and discuss how to respond to real and hypothetical situations that might arise at the volunteering site. They shared resources and, under the guidance of a representative from the volunteering site, or a more experienced student supervisor, they considered new perspectives and responses for those new and sometimes challenging situations. Towards the end of these sessions, we all turned our chairs towards the center, and as a whole class shared one or two stories based on our experiences while volunteering that week.
B-3 was also great when we moved on to writing blogs, an experience that was totally new for most of us. Students brought in examples of blogs they found on the Internet. We projected the blogs to both monitors of the pods and discussed, first in teams and then as a whole class, criteria for creating good blogs, analyzing in detail specific models of what each student thought constituted a good or a bad example of an academic blog.
Once they wrote their own blogs, students shared examples of their writing, giving and receiving feedback from their classmates, editing each other simultaneously as they had done when they were composing together the various sections of the constitution. This generated a lot of reflection and friendly collaboration, removing competition from the course and replacing it with desire to excel as a group, and to assist others in excelling too. Students were enthusiastic about writing and presenting in Spanish, using their knowledge of the language to write letters, emails, and blogs that were directed to a real audience, both local and overseas, and receiving immediate responses and feedback. This way of working inspired students to do their best research and writing.
As the semester advanced, students felt freer to take greater risks in their creations and presentations; the climate of friendship and mutual inspiration was palpable. It culminated in the presentation of their e-portfolios.
In previous courses, I used to collect portfolios of the students’ printed work and their reflections on the process of learning. In Spanish 102C (Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing), given the nature of the course and the awesome digital capabilities of B-3, I decided to try something totally new. As a culmination of the course, students were to create digital portfolios in which they would showcase the work they had done during the semester. They were also to reflect on the skills and knowledge they had gained, and how that connected to their goals and other life experiences from other courses, or volunteering, traveling, or working, with their career path. They were invited to create this digital portfolio as kind of a multimodal CV that they could present when looking for a job or applying for further studies.
To prepare themselves to create e-portfolios, students discussed in teams in their workgroups, and then as a whole class, what was effective in the e-portfolios examples they had searched for on the Internet, and that were being projected on the different screens. From these discussions, ideas were generated on various ways for the students to present themselves and the active learning they experienced throughout the course, in the classroom and beyond, while volunteering locally and preparing themselves to volunteer internationally.
Students went on to create amazing e-portfolios, where they showcased their reflections while volunteering locally, the letters they had send to set up the interviews, and as a follow up on researching the NGOs, the pages they created for their NGOs, their blogs, the final letter of presenting themselves for a volunteering position overseas.
You can see the students’ presentations and e-portfolios, the Latin American NGOs’ pages, and our Constitution, as well as some of the special dynamics that B-3 afforded us, gathered in two websites (one in English and one in Spanish) that a Work-Study student and I created about this course. They are housed at the Spanish Department website. Click here to see them.
The reason for creating Spanish 102C (Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing) was to move students to learn about Latino culture, locally and abroad, and to use their oral and written Spanish beyond the classroom, on their feet, in semi-professional environments, for real world needs. Thanks to B-3 we not only were able to accomplish these goals, but at the same time we experienced multimodal ways of active learning and of becoming a reflective and creative community. The course would not have been the same without B-3. Our special thanks to the BLC for designing this beautiful room and letting us use it as well as for assisting us with technological aspects of filming the presentations.