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College of Arts and Sciences

  • Patti Marinelli

UofSC online Spanish course wins Blackboard award

The university’s online Beginning Spanish II course recently won an Exemplary Course Award from Blackboard, the education technology company whose platform delivers thousands of online courses every year. The award recognizes courses that set the bar for online teaching, determined by ratings from other online instructors and experts in online education.

But long before the award, the course was an instant success when it was launched for nursing students in 2017. Professor Patti Marinelli, who taught Spanish in the College of Arts and Sciences for 39 years, designed two online Spanish courses in repsonse to the College of Nursing’s need for its online RN to BSN degree program. Student nurses around the country would be logging on to earn the degree, and they couldn’t come to Columbia just for Spanish classes. 

“For the nurses, this was truly amazing because this meant they could complete their degree without coming on campus,” Marinelli says. “There were students from New York and New Jersey and the west coast attending this course. They could stay where they were, continue working and supporting their families and still get their degree.”

To start, Marinelli reached out to UofSC’s Center for Teaching Excellence for assistance. Gloria Washington, an instructional designer at the center, provided guidance as Marinelli developed the courses. Impressed by the way the courses came together, Washington encouraged Marinelli to submit one for the Blackboard award.

According to Marinelli, the most challenging part of designing the courses was teaching students to speak Spanish without the one-on-one, instant interaction available in the traditional classroom. Marinelli found a solution by having students speak to each other – over the phone or in person – and record the conversations. She then graded those conversations and provided recorded critiques.

“The learning outcomes have to be the same [as an on-campus course],” Marinelli says. “Students must learn to understand, speak, read and write Spanish.”

Marinelli also built in other features, such as a “Getting Started” section that helps students dive in without drowning in information, and sections that proactively answer questions students are bound to come up with.

After the online courses proved successful for the nursing program, they were made available to other UofSC students. Marinelli later designed an online version of a more advanced course, Basic Proficiency in Spanish.

“The flexibility is just incredible,” Marinelli says. “A lot of our on-campus students are holding down jobs. This gives them the flexibility to complete their degree requirements and graduate on time.”

Nurses in California and soldiers in Afghanistan have taken, and passed, the award-winning course, proving that students can work together online to learn Spanish, even though they can’t sit down in the same room. 

One of Marinelli’s favorite parts of the experience was seeing students learn Spanish more than they thought they could in an online class. “I think they didn’t realize how much they were going to be able to do until after they finished the course,” she says.

She recalled one who wrote to her at the end of the semester and shared that he had just attended a wedding, and he had been able to have a conversation with a native Spanish speaker there.

“He was proud, and rightly so,” Marinelli says.

Posted on: March 24, 2020


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