Spanish class brings Texas-Mexico border closer to students

Coastal Bend College introduces a new learning opportunity for Spanish language students at the college. Beeville Independent School District dual credit students planning to enroll in Spanish III/SPAN 2311 will also be able to register for the class as part of the local 21st Century Program, also known as Texas After School Centers on Education (ACE).

Representatives from three higher education institutions come together in Beeville to discuss an innovative Spanish program. Left to right are Director of the Center of American Studies Dr. Gabriela de La Paz of Monterrey Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico; Coastal Bend College Dean of Instructional Services Dr. Bruce Exstrom; CBC President Dr. Thomas Baynum; Director of Latin American Studies Dr. Luis Duno-Gottberg of Rice University in Houston; CBC Social and Behavioral Sciences Division Chair Ed Massey; and CBC Spanish Instructor Dr. Emmanuel Alvarado.

Representatives from three higher education institutions come together in Beeville to discuss an innovative Spanish program. Left to right are Director of the Center of American Studies Dr. Gabriela de La Paz of Monterrey Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico; Coastal Bend College Dean of Instructional Services Dr. Bruce Exstrom; CBC President Dr. Thomas Baynum; Director of Latin American Studies Dr. Luis Duno-Gottberg of Rice University in Houston; CBC Social and Behavioral Sciences Division Chair Ed Massey; and CBC Spanish Instructor Dr. Emmanuel Alvarado.

CBC has partnered with Rice University in Houston and Instituto Technológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterry (ITESM), or Monterrey Institute of Technology, in Monterrey, Mexico to offer intensive Spanish language studies through distance learning.

The goal of the program is to collaborate with institutions across the border and to use the humanities to help students learn more about border issues. Because of the proximity and impact of the border on its adjacent communities and the likelihood that students in the program will go on to have jobs that deal with border affairs like commerce, health and government affairs, the exponential value of this program can not be measured. Each interaction between students is designed to foster a deeper appreciation of cultural understanding.

The three institutions will share a virtual learning environment where students will be able to communicate with their peers across the U.S.-Mexico border. Participating A.C. Jones High School dual credit students and Coastal Bend College students will enroll in SPAN 2311/Spanish III, an intermediate-level class. Rice University students will come from a junior-level Latin American history and culture course and ITESM students will be college sophomores and juniors enrolled in an Introduction to American Studies course.

The groups will meet in two or three video conferences and spend several weeks in an online discussion forum, conversing in both Spanish and English.

“We are doing this as a test run this fall,” said Dr. Emmanuel Alvarado, who teaches Spanish at CBC. “We will officially launch the program in Spring 2012.” Students interested in enrolling in the course, including high school students, must have completed beginning Spanish or tested at an equivalent level before registration.

Alvarado is working with Director of the Center of American Studies Dr. Gabriela de La Paz from Monterrey and the Director of Latin American Studies Dr. Luis Duno-Gottberg from Rice University.

“This initiative will provide a unique opportunity to generate a dynamic dialog across Texas, and also between the U.S. and Mexico. The platform we are developing will allow a conversation about borders while, at the same time, bridging national borders,” Dr. Duno-Gottberg said. “Most importantly, it will allow the convergence of diverse voices with diverse experiences. There is tremendous value in this interaction.”

Dr. Alvarado explained the scope of the project. The faculty will select short stories to be read by all three classes. “We will read them and debate questions during video conferences. From there, discussions will carry over to the internet,” he said. 

The Crystal Frontier by Carlos Fuentes is central to the program. “This is the most prominent piece of literature on the subject of what happens on the border,” Alvarado said. The book, a collection of nine short stories, emphasizes issues involving trade liberalization and globalization, and the social and economic implications of border interactions between the two nations.

“Interestingly, many ITESM students are from border towns and have travelled to Monterrey to study,” Alvarado said. He hopes that the commonality of regional backgrounds will help students communicate with each other. He said that normally when Mexican students interact with American university students, they do so in English. This puts the Mexican students at a disadvantage since they may not feel comfortable debating in a non-native language. This program emphasizes dual-language exchanges so that all students end the semester with enriching experiences.

Duno-Gottberg and de La Paz visited the Coastal Bend Campus in Beeville recently and were impressed with the college’s distance learning setup. Alvarado was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge that CBC is on the forefront of technology in distance learning. While the other institutions have distance learning setups, they lacked the relay speed, ability to switch cameras and the split screens that CBC uses.

“This is a new teaching mechanism for them,” Alvarado said of his two partner institutions. He hopes that the success of this program will hep in obtaining grants to fund distance learning rooms at ITESM and Rice.

The test run is set for Nov. 17.  

Coastal Bend College is a comprehensive, public community college serving a diverse South Texas area. It is a student-centered institution committed to the highest integrity and to the development of an educational culture that supports creativity, encourages professional development, and promotes excellence in all areas. The college is located in Alice, Kingsville and Pleasanton with its main campus in Beeville, Texas. For more information about the college, go to www.coastalbend.edu.

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