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Teaching Technique Makes OSU English Language Program a National Leader

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

As one of the first programs in the nation to develop part of its master's curriculum around a new teaching method called a “simulation,” Oklahoma State University’s Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program is considered a national leader in teaching English to second language learners.

Combining real world situations with the traditional classroom experience, simulations encourage students to practice their natural language skills by participating in situations that mimic real-life situations, such as a court room proceeding or town meeting.

According to Dr. Gene Halleck, associate professor in OSU's TESL program, simulations are ideal for language instruction because they offer the student a minimal amount of emotional risk. She says students are less nervous playing roles because they aren’t afraid to be embarrassed if they make a mistake.

A group of OSU graduate students recently got some first-hand experience with the technique when they traveled with Halleck to Tianjin, China and Takasaki, Japan. While there, they conducted simulation sessions with Chinese and Japanese university students who are second-year English majors.

Discussions about panda preservation, the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs during the Olympics and the ethics of whale hunting were featured during simulation sessions.

Emily Blackshear, a first year graduate student from Paragould, Arkansas, was one of the OSU students who went to China. Blackshear says the teaching method is very effective because students take the role playing so seriously.

“They are very committed to the technique, so they really got into their roles,” she said. “Some of them had a hard time getting out of the roles, and sometimes the discussions got a little heated.”

However, Blackshear says the passion for the role playing is a good thing because students feel more of a connection to a language if they are investing their emotions.

“I would say that 90 percent of our students in both countries were happy with their experience and would like simulations incorporated into their classroom experience,” she said.

“The best simulations are based on an issue the student has a direct interest in,” says Halleck. “Many English classes that are taught in other countries are teacher-centered, rather than student-centered.  By introducing simulations we are attempting to 'de-classroom' the instruction." 

Halleck says OSU has been leading the way in simulation research since the mid-90s when it was one of the first programs in the nation to design the curriculum of its international composition courses around simulations. A seminar in simulation and gaming is also offered through the graduate program which is rare for any department much less English ones, Halleck said. Dr. Carol Moder, head of OSU's English department, says the program is strong because of its progressive minded faculty and graduate students.

In fact, the program is so well regarded that only two of the six students who went to China were from Oklahoma. Similar to Blackshear, OSU-Tulsa student Jessica Hampton also traveled from out of state to attend OSU's TESL program. Hampton, a first-year graduate student from Connecticut, says she chose OSU for its strong TESL program.

"Working with faculty who are on the cutting edge of a hot new research field was one of the many reasons I chose OSU," said Hampton. "Along with the research, our program is proactive in taking its students overseas to teach in foreign classrooms. Having hands on experience especially in classrooms overseas makes me even more marketable as an OSU graduate."

Halleck says the program’s future is bright because English remains the dominant language of commerce in the world.

“English will continue to be important because it is used all over the world for business between persons who do not share a first language,” she says. “For example, a person who sells fish in Finland uses English to communicate with his customers in Germany or France, just as a businessman in Asia uses English to communicate with other businessmen in the region who do not share his first language. Our graduates who teach English to the world will continue to find great opportunities.”

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