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By Alicia Nemicolo MacLeay '97
Barbara Kuczun Nelson '68, assistant professor of Spanish, strives for "Ya caigo!" (Now I get it!) moments in her classroom. She'll act out heart attacks, have students diagnose medical ailments and will seize the opportunity to discuss a sneezing student, all to enhance the day's vocabulary lesson on medical terms. "She'll turn herself inside out to have you learn the subject," said Larry Nolin, a retired Waterville doctor and class auditor. "And she makes it fun."
Nelson's enthusiasm and good humor alone can sustain a class, but about four years ago she was frustrated by the traditional workbook exercises that didn't address different learning styles. "We didn't have enough stimuli," she said. So, with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Nelson began developing an interactive Spanish language Web site in 1997. The web site now includes interactive self-correcting grammar exercises complemented by cultural videos, songs, translations, online journals and more.
"Sometimes people use the Web and it doesn't increase the effectiveness of what you're learning," said Nathan Boland '01. "Hers does."
Nelson says she has seen an improvement in student progress since the site's introduction. "They take more responsibility for their own learning," she said.
She admits she wasn't "a technology person" when she applied for the Mellon grant and that her students would have claimed she couldn't even run the classroom VCR. But Nelson began teaching herself straight HTML code and attended workshops. "I just started using it and seeing different ways to use it," she said.
Her site has been rated one of the top three grammar sites on the Internet and gets an average of 1,000 visitors a day. Nelson now instructs other language professors in how they can use technological resources. Among the groups she allows to link to her site is the United Nations in Vienna, which requested use of the site for the International Atomic Energy Agency's intensive language training program.
"What Barbara's done in terms of the Web site and technology is incredible," said Betty Sasaki, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the department. But she says Nelson would define herself as a teacher first. "She has been the backbone of our language program for the last nineteen years."
Nelson hopes to get students more involved by producing video and audio clips in the future. "I never imagined I'd get this involved. Technology doesn't dominate" though, she said. "It's still me. I'll never let technology replace me."
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Alumni Reunion 2001
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