Spanish Language Course

Improving Product Quality Through Evidenced-based Education Data

Partnering with the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Middlebury Interactive Languages embarks on a two-year study to obtain data on the efficacy of evidence-based education

July 25, 2014

The Education Industry Association hosted their 24th annual EDVentures conference on July 16, 2014, in Newport Beach, California. For those unfamiliar with EDVentures, it is considered to be a conference at “the intersection of entrepreneurial leadership and technology”. EDVentures attendees range from the most respected thought leaders in the education industry to new education technology start-ups. 

EDVentures continues to grow in popularity every year largely in part due to the increased interest in education technology. In 2013, the educational technology industry saw investors pour over one billion dollars into educational companies as more school districts integrate technology into their classrooms. The result has been an influx of new product offerings in the education technology space, making the need for empirical and evidenced-based approaches to classroom education and technology integration even more critical.

This year at EDVentures, Dr. Jennifer Morrison, visiting assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Center for Technology in Education, and I presented our early findings on Middlebury Interactive Languages’ two-year research partnership with Johns Hopkins University School of Education on how to utilize evidenced-based education data to improve product quality and promotion.

In year one (2012-2013) of our joint partnership, our goal was to identify the best practices for using our digital world language courses in blended learning environments. The foundation for this goal started with asking the right questions, outlined below, in order to receive valid data inputs:

Year 1 Research Questions

  • Question 1: To what degree do teachers/schools define Middlebury Interactive’s program to be effective in supporting the world language proficiency-based instruction model both in terms of integration into teaching context and support of world language objectives of the course?
  • Question 2: What are students’ reactions to the Middlebury Interactive program with regard to interest, learning experiences, instructional materials and activities and effectiveness for learning?
  • Question 3: What is the overall student success in world languages with use of the Middlebury Interactive course design in terms of cultural awareness and appreciation, language proficiency and motivating experience to continue world language learning? 

Year 1 Outcomes

  • Shift of expectations: Improved integration of technology in the learning process of the students.
  • Deeper learning, including a deeper understanding of technology to support students’ learning path.
  • Growth of teachers as research practitioners (reflexive practitioners).
  • Growth of teachers as mentors and coaches for other teachers.
  • Students and teachers feel empowered, because their feedback was heard and integrated in the revision of the courses.
  • Immediate progress and accuracy in student pronunciation.

In year two (2013-2014), the approach is to garner additional insights by performing a longitudinal evaluation of Middlebury Interactive’s Vermont World Language Initiative that will serve to answer the following fundamental blended learning questions:

Year 2 Questions

  • To what degree do students demonstrate success in their learning of world languages?
  • To what degree do students demonstrate success in their learning of cultural values?
  • What are students’ reactions to the blended learning program with regard to interest, learning experiences, instructional materials and activities and effectiveness for learning?
  • What are teachers’ reactions to the blended learning program with regard to professional development, ease of implementation, pedagogy and student engagement and learning?
  • What are principals’ reactions to the blended learning program with regard to implementation processes, program quality and impacts on students?
  • To what degree is the program implemented with fidelity across schools?
  • What are the instructional practices most frequently demonstrated in association with the blended learning implementation?

In addition to the aforementioned Vermont World Language Initiative evaluation, we will be augmenting our findings by leveraging third-party assessment data and evaluation studies, external expert course reviews, pilot site evaluation studies and Middlebury Interactive Languages’ summer Academy proficiency assessments.

Now seven months into the second year of our study, one thing has become very clear: there is significant value in working with credible evaluators to design studies that are both cost-effective and well-adapted to Middlebury Interactive’s products and effective blended learning programs.

Dana Laursen
Dana Laursen
Dana has more than three decades of experience as a teacher, school administrator and curriculum developer. A Spanish major in college, she earned her M.A. in Journalism from Iowa State. She went on to earn another M.A. and her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University. For seven years, she was a teacher in Spanish, ELL and Journalism before moving to the administrative side, working in human resources and community relations in schools in California and Colorado. She was Assistant Superintendent of the Brighton Public Schools in Colorado before joining PLATO Learning. Dana and her husband enjoy international travel to explore language and culture and play a little golf. At Middlebury Interactive, Dana serves as the Vice President of Curriculum and Program Effectiveness.
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