German Romanticism, Waterfalls, and Birch Trees

In my CSLS project, I have decided to focus on the Romantic novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann (commonly known as the author of The Sandman). I will be using Unity 3D to create a video game based on selected scenes that could function as one part of a course on German Classicism and Romanticism. I already have several ideas about how I would develop a syllabus around this, which I plan to discuss further in a future post.

Hoffmann’s novel takes place in a tiny (fictitious) town called Sieghartsweiler, which must be located somewhere in southern Bavaria. I assume this because the characters mention that they can see in the distance a (real) mountain called the “Geierstein,” which is located on the border with Austria in the Bavarian Alps.

The initial challenges mostly involve learning how to use the software. Shaping the landscape into hills gave me some limited familiarity with the toolbars and commands, but the real progress started when I had to build waterfalls. Lots of them. And why would I do that? Well, when you place water in Unity – in my case, so that I can have a stream running through Sieghartsweiler – it exists as a flat plane. So if you need to change elevation, which I most certainly do, since the stream flows downhill, you have to do something so that your two planes of “water” are connected. Otherwise, there will be edges of water planes poking out awkwardly in mid-air.

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Here, I’ve hidden a drop of about a meter and a half using a combination of rocks, grass, and a “water particle generator.” The latter isn’t readily visible in this image, but it shows up in gameplay mode.

The next major undertaking was to populate Sieghartsweiler with trees. The novel mentions birch trees by name, and photos from this region confirm that tall, straight, spindly trees are the norm here. Unfortunately, none of the free tree assets from the Unity store fits this description; on the other hand, this compelled me to learn how to use Unity’s built-in tree creator, as well as how to paint and import textures and materials for the bark and leaves. I made three different versions, so that there would be variety, and then used the nifty “mass place trees” tool to rapidly stick several thousand trees in my scene.

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Here’s the empty scene where I built my tree prefabs. The little red and yellow thing is a humanoid figure that I placed as a scale reference.

The only problem was that there were then trees growing in the water, so I had to go back and erase those. Although Hoffmann’s writings are full of bizarre and uncanny elements, there’s no mention of lake-trees.

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Lake. No trees.

The next step will be buildings, at which point the landscape will really start to look like it “belongs” to the novel. I’ll keep you posted!

¡Bienvenid@s!

¡Hola! My name is Tim Foster, third-year graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese here at Vanderbilt. As a scholar, I’m interested in Early Modern literature and culture of Spain and its Transatlantic colonies. I’m also becoming more involved with various Digital Humanities ventures, including TEI and digital mapmaking. As an instructor at Vandy, I have taught elementary Spanish language, and will be teaching advanced elementary Portuguese in the Spring. A side interest personally, academically, and pedagogically has been the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which I have done on my own, and as a course assistant on Vanderbilt’s Maymester trip last Spring through the class “The Way of Saint James: An Epic Trail to the Essence of Spain”. An exciting part about this course was the opportunity to introduce students to culture and improve language in an embedded real-world setting, where the rubber meets the proverbial (and literal) road. Seeing the confidence that a successful encounter with a native speaker can have on a language-learning student is one of the greatest joys for an instructor, and the greatest endorsement for the value of meaningful study abroad and other personal experiences with foreign language.

Bringing that same experience back to the classroom can be a challenge, but in the digital age as technological and interpersonal barriers fall, we have never been more poised to take advantage of real-world language learning opportunities. In a language classroom bounded by grammar, grades, and a finite semester, instructors can only do so much to introduce students to learning a language. I believe it’s my job as a language teacher to assist students in finding the resources they are most likely to continue to engage with beyond the confines of my classroom, whether it be foreign-language films, books, apps, podcasts, or video games, conversation partner chat sites, study abroad courses, or even just foreign-language Wikipedia pages (¿how many teachers get to encourage their students to use Wikipedia?). The more I can do in the classroom to get students interested in pursuing these media on their own time for their own life goals, the better I will have achieved my aim to teach them language not just for a semester, but help them find the tools they want/need to use to engage with language for a lifetime.

This is an exciting time to be a language student and teacher, and we at the CSLS are excited to share our year with you. ¡Bienvenid@s!

Welcome to our blog!

My name is Steven Wenz, and I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. This is my fourth year at the Center for Second Language Studies (CSLS). My primary research interests are 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century narrative in Argentina and Brazil, but I also publish on issues of translation, influence, and reception. I have taught a variety of beginning and intermediate courses at Vanderbilt, and this year I am teaching Spanish 201W, an intermediate writing course.

My main expectation for the classes that I teach is that they be dynamic. No academic enjoys sitting through a conference presentation delivered in a monotone, so it would be unreasonable to expect our undergraduate students to take interest in a lecture-dominated language classroom. My classes are task-based, and I introduce activities designed to improve different skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) and that require students to circulate and interact with their classmates. Taking a communicative approach to language learning, I encourage students to share information that is relevant to them within real-life contexts. Of course, especially in beginning courses, scaffolding is fundamental to my class design, with simpler and more direct activities providing the foundation for more complex and open-ended tasks. Although textbook materials form the basis for student work, I try to promote intercultural competency and global awareness by using authentic materials from the cultures that we study.

Most of the courses that I have taught feature presentations through the program Google Earth, in which students display a country or city on the screen and speak spontaneously about its weather, geography, and culture. Students enjoy this project because it gives them the impression of visiting countries that we have read about in the textbook. Of course, I also use familiar resources such as websites, YouTube videos, and Twitter to expose students as often as possible to the communities that we are studying. I especially enjoy encouraging students to make comparisons between these communities and their own. For example, I have asked students in my Spanish classes to think about the similarities and differences between Centennial Park in Nashville, TN and the Parque Centenario in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Finally, I feel that our primary function as language teachers is as cultural and linguistic ambassadors. For many of our students, their experiences with us and our colleagues in courses will be their only exposure to the cultures that we teach, and if we can motivate them to learn more, or at least counteract some stereotypes that they may have, we will have helped to produce more tolerant, globally aware citizens.

 

Bonjour!

Hello, everyone! My name is Raquelle Bostow, and this is my third year serving as a Graduate Student Affiliate in the Center for Second Language Studies. I am a graduate student in the Department of French and Italian, where I work on French feminism. While this is only my second year teaching, I have already fallen in love with the experience of generating relationships and conversation within the foreign language classroom. Currently, I teach introductory French courses, which cover everything from the present to subjunctive tenses and incredible amounts of vocabulary and culture.

 Inside my classroom, I like to create a relaxed and respectful atmosphere where all classroom participants speak almost uniquely in the target language. Everyday students are engaged in writing, listening, reading and speaking activities and are required to move around, converse with classmates as well as the teacher, and practice structures. This year, my department is implementing the “Flipped Classroom” method of teaching, which requires students to teach the material to themselves at home in order to come to class and practice vocabulary and structures. Thus, there is a huge emphasis on communication. I have already noticed an increase in the amount of verbal exchange in my classroom!

 Culture finds its way into my classroom in various ways. Each class starts out with a YouTube video of a francophone artist, allowing the students to jump right into the target language mindset. In order to discover more about French culture, I have students use Twitter, Google maps, and various French websites. In addition to these technologies, I love the Prezi platform as a way to put together cultural and linguistic presentations for my students. Overall, my largest goals for my students are that they become motivated, empowered and enthusiastic about their language acquisition experience, that they discover how using a foreign language is relevant to their own life, either through personal or professional interests, and that they understand and appreciate francophone sociocultural norms while acquiring cultural literacy in the target language.

 So, bonjour and bienvenue, and I look forward to the conversations that this CSLS blog engenders!

Welcome/Bienvenidos/Bem-vindos to our readers!

Welcome to our new CSLS blog! My name is Megan, and I am one of the Graduate Student Affiliates here at the Center for Second Language Studies. I can hardly believe this is my fourth year working in the Center. A little about me: I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Spanish and Portuguese Department working on a dissertation on the representation of Haiti and Haitians in Dominican and Dominican American literature. Although in the past I have taught Spanish courses here at Vanderbilt, this fall I am teaching Portuguese (PORT 102). Regardless of the language, I love teaching. I stress the communicative aspect of my language classrooms and my students are constantly moving around the room and speaking with different classmates. If you want to sit in the same chair every class and not get out of it until class ends, my class is probably going to be a wake-up-call for you (quite literally)! An important part of my language classroom is engaging the students with authentic material – you can expect to walk into my classroom and hear a video clip playing, a music video blaring, or a Skype conversation with a native speaker/classroom taking place. The incorporation of technology into the language classroom is also important to me. I am very interested in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). I have worked on projects using programs such as WeVideo, Google Earth, and Skype (a form of Oral Computer Mediated Communication or OCMC). This past summer I taught Spanish 101 and used Pinterest in the classroom for the first time to make virtual dictionaries and create a space for students to interact digitally with one another to practice different grammar concepts learned in class. My hope is that students walk away from my class with not only improved speaking, listening, and writing skills, but also an understanding of the culture(s) related to the language and a more in-depth sense of inter-cultural competence. Once again, bloggers, Welcome! Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! Thanks for reading!

Introducing Myself

I’m Rebecca Panter, a seventh-year in the German department and CSLS Graduate Student Affiliate for 2014–2015. My first experiences with teaching were as an English Teaching Assistant at a vocational school in Germany, where, among other things, I taught a conversation course to a group of high school students learning to be carpenters. In the years since this introduction to pedagogy, I have gone on to teach all of the beginner and intermediate German language courses at Vanderbilt, some of them multiple times.

A recurring feature in my classroom teaching is the use of games or game-like activities for language instruction. Uncertain outcomes, goal-orientedness, and a degree of competition bring elements of suspense and fun into the activities. One of my aims as a teacher is to facilitate an energetic atmosphere in class that encourages everyone to show their most talkative side.

As a language instructor, I see my role as more than just a conductor of exercises. I believe that students learn best when they can form an emotional connection to what they are learning, so I strive to create situations that involve, for example, curiosity, suspense, humor, or surprise. In the attempt to realize this goal, I am continually looking for ways to incorporate narrative into my classes – be it in the form of literature, film, other media, or student-generated narratives. In the past, I have also enjoyed experimenting with using social media such as YouTube and Twitter for class assignments. At the moment, I am hoping to combine three of my fascinations – narrative, games, and technology – by using the game engine Unity 3D to build a virtual world based on a literary text.

I look forward to blogging more on this topic as my project develops!

 

Welcome!

Welcome to the Center for Second Language Studies blog!  On a monthly basis, our Graduate Student Assistants (GSA’s) will report on a variety of topics related to classroom teaching, Second Language Studies and Digital Humanities.  Feel free to comment!  I will moderate comments, in order to keep out the spam, but I hope that we might develop an active online learning community!  If you teach language at Vanderbilt, and are interested in becoming a blog writer, let me know!

Todd