A whole new way to connect

Dr. Melissa Gjellstad, Assistant Professor of Languages in Norwegian at the University of North Dakota, launched an online Norwegian course, the first of its kind in North America. Photo: Jackie Lorentz / University of North Dakota

Dr. Melissa Gjellstad, Assistant Professor of Languages in Norwegian at the University of North Dakota, launched an online Norwegian course, the first of its kind in North America. Photo: Jackie Lorentz / University of North Dakota

Dr. Melissa Gjellstad shares her thoughts about UND’s online Norwegian course

By Dr. Melissa Gjellstad

The University of North Dakota launched the inaugural semester of an online first year Norwegian course in January 2011. The two semester series of NORW 101 and 102 has been offered in various constellations during spring, summer, and autumn semesters since the launch, and the courses have attracted a diverse students from the local campus and tri-state region as well as learners from across the U.S. and Canada. On average, 60 percent of those enrolled are distance students. Our online student population has included high school students, traditional and non-traditional college students, professionals, and retired individuals that stem geographically from a radius that sweeps from North Dakota to Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont, as well as Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

Our philosophy for developing beginning Norwegian online has been to give distance students the quality language training we provide our students at UND by creating the best possible interaction in all language skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing) in an asynchronous setting. All course work is submitted via an online course management system during the 16-week semester (12 weeks for summer sessions). We intentionally focus students’ daily work in all skill areas, a course charted by the study guide included in each chapter to help students work through the materials independently. Students use Skype or other course management communication tools to speak with the instructor and with one another as they build a community of learners across traditional classroom boundaries.

We use the book series “Sett i gang” by Nancy Aarsvold and Kari Lie, which is geared to North American learners. The pedagogy of this series is very focused on helping students communicate in all ways in the target language, and there is a great deal of information about Norwegian culture, everyday life, history, art, and travel included in the lessons. The textbook, homework, and assessments coalesce to build students’ translingual and transcultural competence, goals of foreign language acquisition identified by the Modern Language Association in 2007 as the nexus of linguistic and cultural knowledge.

UND has recently received national recognition for our online education. The first ever “Top Online Education Program” rankings by U.S. News and World Report placed UND as third in nation for student services and technology for online bachelor’s degrees.

Growth of the UND Norwegian program is also visible on campus with increasing enrollments across the board in language, literature, and culture courses, numbers of Norwegian majors and minors, and students who choose to study abroad in Norway. The community of language learners is keen to interact with degree-seeking students from Norway who have come to Grand Forks via our partnerships with the American College of Norway and UND’s Norwegian (AVINOR) ICAO Air Traffic Control Training Program, to highlight just two of the collaborations between UND and educational institutions in Norway today.

In sum, relevance of Norway as a 21st century global partner continue to thrive in our classrooms and beyond the UND campus as we continue to cultivate Norwegian and American initiatives, built on the rich Norwegian-American heritage of these ties in the Red River Valley.

Melissa Gjellstad is an Assistant Professor  in the Department of Modern & Classical Languages & Literatures at the University of North Dakota.  Gjellstad, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Washington, teaches Norwegian language, literature, and culture courses at UND. She researches contemporary Nordic literature and has published on authors Anne Oterholm, Linn Ullmann, Kyrre Andreassen and Tore Renberg.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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