Teaching through Technology: Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger’s Means to an End

bridges, vol. 33, May 2012 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad
By Chiara Rudel

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In German classrooms at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, students Skype with their peers next door, hold video conferences with theater experts in Berlin, or improve their language skills through the writings of literature Nobel-prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek. What might seem unconventional at first glance, is Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger’s proven strategy to support her students’ learning. Originally from Austria, Lamb-Faffelberger has been eagerly exploring new means of language teaching at Lafayette for 20 years. She has created instructional uses for the technology her students use everyday, such as Skype, wikis, or movie- and voice-recording devices.

Margarete Lamb-FaffelbergerMargarete Lamb-FaffelbergerMargarete Lamb-Faffelberger first began incorporating digital learning aids into her teaching in 1994, when she was invited to join a Mellon Consortium. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which awards grants for innovative projects in humanities, education, technology, environment, and the arts, enabled her to develop a small computer program that assisted students with practicing the passive voice. At a time when, according to the US Census Bureau, fewer than a quarter of American households even had a computer, students enjoyed this new form of doing exercises and felt motivated to spend more time in the computer lab. A larger project called  “Self-paced German” ensued, enabling students to enroll in German language classes despite scheduling conflicts. For this, Lamb-Faffelberger devised “hypercard templates” – multimedia virtual index cards that contained information, exercises, or images and covered the four-semester language and culture curriculum. Although these hypercards may seem antiquated from a contemporary perspective, they represented distinct progress at a time when, in the minds of many students, language teaching technology evoked memories of drills in the language lab.  Students were enabled to interact with the computer, rather than just listen and repeat, and could work at their own pace, while Lamb-Faffelberger would hold monitoring and feedback sessions with them. “Self-paced German” was offered at Lafayette from 1998 to 2007, and the hypercards are still available to students today, as an additional learning resource.


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