TELETANDEM & QUEST

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Teletandem inherently encompasses many of the QUEST core values. Teletandem is innovative.  It fosters discovery by providing students with meaningful opportunities to explore the target language and culture through direct engagement with their peers who study English at foreign schools. Students use their creativity to develop their skills and they can gauge their progress as the Teletandem conversation evolves and becomes deeper in context and meaning over time. Teletandem is about collaboration, but not just in terms of sharing language and ideas—Teletandem strives to build relationships with teachers and students of foreign universities with similar goals and interests. In almost all cases, Teletandem students have used social media on their own to remain connected outside of the class-to-class sessions. Teletandem provides students the opportunity to make connections through the study of language at VCU. Teletandem is about achievement. It empowers students to master the target language in a meaningful context beyond classroom walls. Teletandem is about diversity. Students and teachers learn how their peers in foreign countries view the world and how they  view Americans. In the process, VCU teachers and students gain new perspectives about the world and about themselves. Teletandem immerses students in the target language, because it is concerned with students’ ability to succeed in mastering the language by putting the language into practice.  Teletandem enhances the language learning experience and clearly produces an engaged, learner-centered environment that fosters inquiry, discovery, and innovation in a global setting, and it achieves these goals effectively and efficiently in the World Studies Media Center (WSMC) at VCU.
The processes involved with setting up class-to-class Teletandem projects are challenging and unpredictable, but results from previous exchanges clearly show that Teletandem implementation can become routine in higher education settings, particularly when managed by a technology resource center such as the WSMC.
 
VCU has an opportunity to be a pioneer in developing the Teletandem method. Teletandem will bring distinction to the VCU foreign language curriculum by transforming an antiquated model of language learning and enhancing traditional language instruction, not replacing it. In addition, Teletandem may open new opportunities to cooperate with partner schools in creative ways that could potentially supplement learning in other subject areas such as international studies, anthropology, religion, homeland security, health and medicine, and engineering and science.
The WSMC staff is prepared to explore Teletandem and find new ways of routinizing collaborative peer-to-peer learning in higher education through the use of innovative telecommunication technologies in higher education. 
The project’s aim is to empower the School of World Studies' (SWS) faculty to deliver excellence in foreign language instruction at VCU through technology, innovation, and international cooperation. The initiative will have a significant and sustained impact toward preparing students to master less commonly taught languages at VCU such as Portuguese and Chinese.  By bringing Teletandem partnerships into VCU classrooms through teleconferencing and social video sharing, SWS will be poised to deliver world-class learning experiences that foster discovery and innovation in a global setting. The project is in alignment with the QUEST themes and goals and with the teaching mission of SWS. Innovative learning activities like Teletandem create new opportunities for meaningful student and teacher online exchanges with foreign schools. Teletandem is a high-impact learning activity that prompts learners to experience emotions, pleasure, and humor in the exchange of experiences. It can also produce feelings of tension, competition, and frustration. These are innately human feelings implicated in the language acquisition process.  The interactive nature of Teletandem, at the very least, gives students a rich learning experience, and enables them to achieve the goals outlined in the National Foreign Language Proficiency Standards established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 
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Teletandem provides an ideal setting and conditions for deep exploration of two languages in which both the language studied and the native language are constantly spoken and contrasted. Teletandem enables students to observe their partner’s appearance, body language, gestures, and facial expressions. Teletandem gives students an opportunity to experience the subtle nuances of the target culture without the need for travel, and Teletandem empowers students to discover patterns and analyze similarities and differences across the two languages and cultures. By exploring Teletandem, VCU will be positioned to emerge as a pioneer in this highly innovative and effective language learning method, used to build fluency skills in a foreign language. By investing in the Teletandem project, VCU could make a significant contribution in the area of foreign language research, scholarship, creative expression, and instructional practice. Teletandem offers a scenario in which VCU has much to gain and very little to lose. Finally, Teletandem will significantly enhance the quality of VCU students' lives by empowering them to master the foreign languages they study at VCU and better preparing them to be sophisticated and cultured global citizens.
 Teletandem is precisely the kind of instructional project that reflects Clayton Christensen’s key concepts of disruptive innovation.  Teletandem is a creative way to use online conferencing programs and social media to supplement traditional language instruction. Teletandem offers real opportunities for our students to have access to authentic immersion in VCU classrooms. Language educators have always accepted the fact that traditional classroom instruction alone does not build fluency skills. Linguistic proficiency in a foreign language can only be realized through authentic immersion and practice. This is a problem that language educators have always had to work around. Language labs were introduced in the 1960s to provide simulated immersion in the target language. In the 1980s and 90s, language resource centers introduced computer-based self-study programs like Rosetta Stone to supplement language learning in higher education. Teletandem replaces the antiquated language lab model with real human interaction experiences. Teletandem offers the kind of authentic immersion that was previously attainable only through extended stays abroad. 
 
The traditional model of foreign language instruction is ready for new and innovative pedagogical practices. The unprecedented power, speed, and reach of today’s Internet make conditions favorable for introducing what has long been considered by linguists and language teachers as the ideal scenario for developing fluency skills in a foreign language—extended, meaningful, face-to-face interactions with a native speaker of the target language. In an increasingly globalized world that faces complex economic and geopolitical challenges, it is more critical than ever to prepare American students to speak foreign languages, embrace diversity, and become better global citizens. Bringing domestic and foreign students together in academic settings to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate is a viable means of achieving these goals.
The Teletandem project at VCU promotes resource efficiency by harnessing the available technologies in the WSMC and by leveraging free online tools to facilitate complex international collaborations in VCU classrooms. By focusing on the cooperation and negotiation components of Teletandem, the chance for success in coordinating and delivering distance language exchanges is significantly enhanced.
This proposal presents a new way of looking at an age-old problem in higher education—teaching foreign languages without authentic immersion opportunities to supplement classroom instruction. Teletandem provides real opportunities for authentic immersion and could potentially transform the way students learn and master languages in higher education. This proposal seeks to make VCU a leader on the national stage in promoting the Teletandem method and in developing a practicable model of "best practices" in foreign language education that could be standardized and eventually adopted by other institutions.
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