Students who enroll in NIU language department professor John Hartmann’s intensive Thai language class quickly overcome their inhibitions about learning an Asian language, even one that is tonal and written in a non-Roman alphabet.
There is no textbook to purchase. In its place is SEAsite, an online, media-rich, interactive resource for learning the language and testing proficiency at all levels.
By the end of each semester, his students take pride in the fact that they can read, write, speak and comprehend the Thai language well enough to serve basic needs. In other words, they are ready to “go global with two tongues.”
Hartmann will explain the learning community he creates when he presents his Presidential Teaching Professor seminar at noon Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Capitol Room of the Holmes Student Center. Refreshments will be served at 11:30 a.m.
The seminar is titled “Teaching Language and Culture: Going Global with Two Tongues.”
“I believe in the concept of moral imagination,” he said. “I feel that it is critical to know students’ problems, to reach out to them, to reduce the banality of their lives, and to closely monitor their progress with the use of Blackboard.”
He and his students meet for intensive instruction five days a week. He uses what is called “walking management,” which means he is up close and interactive as he moves from the front to the back of the classroom, making it impossible for students to doze off or daydream.
In addition to instruction inside the classroom and the media center, Hartmann schedules Asian cultural experiences outside of the classroom by using both campus and community resources.
Students are taken to the collections of the NIU Center for Burma Studies, the Anthropology Museum and the Art Museum of the College of Visual and Performing Arts when Southeast Asian artifacts are on display. The entire class is given on-site instruction in the use of the Southeast Asian collection on the fourth floor of Founders Memorial Library.
He invites students to his nearby home garden to identify Thai plants used in cooking. They gather in his backyard to prepare and eat a spicy salad as a prelude to a spring language and culture module centered on food, when, via Facebook, they share experiences in cooking at home and eating in Thai restaurants in DeKalb or in the greater Chicago area.
A Saturday field trip to the Buddhist temple in Burlington, Ill., opens their minds up to a world religion and to the community of Lao-Americans who fled the communist take-over of their country in 1975 to settle in corn country, he said.
“John has been a pioneer in the use of technology in the classroom,” NIU Vice Provost Anne L. Birberick said. “As a result, he has been able to bring Thailand, its culture and language, to his students in DeKalb.”
Hartmann became interested in Thailand and Southeast Asia when he served in the Peace Corps in Nakhorn Sawan, Thailand in 1964-1967.
Since then, he has forged strong ties and fruitful exchanges with Thai universities. He travels to the area at least once a year to give invited lectures and to supervise doctoral students in their research and writing for publication in English.
“Students take my class to satisfy a language requirement, to prepare for graduate studies, for study abroad,” he said, “or to prepare for NGO service, such as the Peace Corps.”
The Presidential Teaching Professorship designation was established in 1991 to recognize outstanding teachers who have demonstrated that:
- They instill and develop in students an intensity of interest in and an appreciation for the value of the subject.
- They apply rigorous standards to student performance, inspire students to become the best and stimulate student growth.
- They command respect and esteem as a teacher.
- They demonstrate extraordinary commitment to students and their welfare.
- They explore and develop effective instructional methods and technologies.
- They work actively with students, faculty, and administrators to improve undergraduate and/or graduate education at NIU.
Faculty members also must hold the position of full professor and have worked at NIU for at least six years.
“Community engagement is essential to John’s pedagogical approach,” Birberick said. “He has involved his students in outreach efforts to Southeast Asian populations in the Northern Illinois region, bringing home the idea of global citizenship.”
Call (815) 753-0595 or email [email protected] for more information about the Oct. 4 seminar.
by Gerard Dziuba