Second Installment of Online Italian Language Course Continues To Spark Student Interest

September 8, 2015
Basil leaves, pasta and tomatoes arranged to represent the Italian flag.

On August 23, ItalianOnline concluded its second summer as an online course offered via edX Edge. The non-credit course, which was developed by Daniela Bartalesi-Graf, lecturer in Italian studies, is offered to high school students, incoming and current Wellesley students, and alumnae. This summer, enrollment doubled to approximately 1190 students. Of these, 115 were incoming students, 80 were current students and over 800 were alumnae.

The course, according to David Ward, professor of Italian studies, is “part of the Department's policy of offering students multiple ways and start points for studying Italian.” ItalianOnline is not only excellent prep for a fall class, but it gives students—prospective and current—a taste of what Italian is like at Wellesley.  

Students enrolled in ItalianOnline could choose from a 5 unit non-intensive module, a 10 unit intensive module or a self-study module, which allowed them to proceed at their own pace. Of the 14 total units that were offered, units 11-14 covered material typically learned by students in their third semester of collegiate Italian who already had an intermediate level of understanding of the language.  

In addition to 45 videos, called Ciak! videos (ciak is the Italian word for the clapboard used for film shoots), the course now includes over 90 downloadable podcasts, 18 interviews with native speakers, and a discussion board where students can post audio recordings of themselves speaking and reply to other postings to reinforce course material.  

Ziyu Wang '18 took the first offering of the course in Summer 2014. “I still remember the first time I posted on the discussion page,” said Wang. “[I introduced] myself in Italian: what's my name, where I come from, etc. There were so many Wellesley students who replied to my post! I felt instantly in a strong and supportive community.” Wang was inspired her to continue with Italian studies on campus. “I took both 103 and 203 with [Professor Bartalesi-Graf] in my first year and absolutely loved it,” Wang said. She later applied to join the e-board of Italian Society and became president.

ItalianOnline goes beyond the grammar instruction central to any language course and also offers students a unique cultural component through interviews with native speakers that cover material related to the theme of each course unit as well as the speaker’s own area of expertise. For example, a Tufts professor speaks about Italian Cinema, a professor from Queens College speaks about the history and development of Italian fashion, a Boston College professor discusses Italian Opera, a chef from University of Massachusetts Boston talks about Italian cuisine, and Wellesley’s Sergio Parussa, associate professor of Italian studies, presents on Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli.

Diana Tosca '18, who enrolled in ItalianOnline this past summer, said “Grammar, while necessary to learn, can sometimes be overwhelming. Mixing in the cultural component at the end of every lesson helped remind me why learning the grammar was [necessary] to become immersed in the Italian culture that I appreciated.”

The course is being offered again as a blended online and classroom course at Wellesley this fall, and, thanks to a recent agreement between edX Edge, the College, and the Italian Consulate in Boston, it will be made available to select US high schools as an experimental self study tool. Bartalesi-Graf said the department is also hard at work to adapt ItalianOnline into an AP course this spring.