Penn Launches German Language MOOC With ‘Auf Deutsch’

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Media Contact:Jacquie Posey | jposey@upenn.edu | 215-898-6460July 25, 2014

This fall, a new University of Pennsylvania open learning course will teach elementary German online. The free course will offer students a way to learn the language while widening their circle of German speaking friends and followers via social media.

Auf Deutsch: Communicating in German Across Cultures,” a six-week, non-credit course will launch Oct. 6. Offered though Penn’s Open Learning Initiative, it is one of the first open online foreign language course offerings on the Coursera platform.

The course was developed by Edward Dixon, the director of technology for the Penn Language Center and a lecturer for German language and culture in the School of Arts & SciencesCollege of Liberal and Professional Studies. In the summer of 2010, he developed and taught Penn’s first online distance learning foreign language course for LPS.

Through video-taped lectures, online exercises and short readings, students taking the new open learning course will acquire basic language skills to create personal Web profiles in German that describe who they are, what they like and dislike, where they live and some of their daily activities.

Class members too shy or apprehensive to share their personal identities on the Web will construct virtual online personas to use instead.

Dixon says that the personal and virtual profiles are an integral part of the language learning process for “Auf Deutsch.”

In addition to creating online profiles, students will engage with German society and with the societies of their fellow students.

The German language MOOC has a syllabus that consists of daily assignments on topics such as “Familien und Beziehungen,” families and relationships, “Hobbys und Interessen,” hobbies and interests, “Ernährung und Wellness,” nutrition and wellness, and “Reisen und Urlaub,” travel and vacation.

Dixon says the course won’t be the traditional language course.

“The course will be informative and entertaining. People will hopefully be learning something new about German culture,” he says. “Students will learn about the different lifestyles Germans have. That’s where the entertainment part will come in.”

“Auf Deutsch” video lectures will cover weekly themes, basic vocabulary and grammar structure with an embedded comprehension checklist and downloadable worksheet with vocabulary and sample answers to questions. Several online readings about German celebrities, cities and contemporary social issues will also accompany each unit.  

Students will get automated feedback as they complete online exercises, as well as feedback on their essays and VoiceThreads from Dixon and the teaching team. VoiceThreads are Web-based message threads of recorded video and audio files and typed comments between students and instructors.

As an undergrad, Dixon initially pursued an English major, but, because he “had such a fantastic German teacher,” he switched majors. He later earned his Ph.D. in German from Penn.

In 2011 Dixon was honored with a School of Arts & Sciences LPS Distinguished Teaching Award. One student described him as “the best language instructor I have ever had.”

Registration for Dixon’s “Auf Deutsch” class is at https://www.coursera.org/course/deutsch.

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