Digital Strategy for Teaching and Learning Languages at Boston University

Introduction: In recent years, faculty from BU’s language departments have greatly increased their use of digital tools for teaching and learning. With support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Geddes Language Center has recognized and funded their work through mini-grants, professional development, and by maintaining state-of- the-art technology-equipped learning spaces. Collaborative efforts have expanded with the goal of sharing best practices among the seven Boston-area research universities. To consolidate and reaffirm these activities as mission-critical for languages at BU, a broadly focused yet concise digital strategy for teaching and learning languages at Boston University has been developed by the Assistant Dean for Language Instruction and the Director of the Geddes Language Center with input from selected faculty in each of the language departments.

Vision: Boston University (BU) embraces a learning strategy for languages that seeks to promote innovative teaching and learning practices by providing high-quality instructional environments, which are informed by appropriate digital technologies and current pedagogical approaches. Effective integration of digital pedagogies will also inspire life-long learning – both for students and faculty. As leaders in digital learning, the language programs will share successes with others at BU and beyond, promoting broad-reaching innovation where possible.


  • Enhance teaching and learning through effective use of digital technology and engaging curriculum design;
  • Help BU’s language faculty and graduate students to become leaders in digital language teaching;
  • Ensure that language students become effective communicators and productive professionals in a digital and global age;
  • Expand flexible learning arrangements;
  • Connect to other BU schools and colleges and the greater language teaching community both in and beyond the Boston area.

To achieve these goals, faculty from BU’s language departments collaborate with the Geddes Language Center, Educational Technology, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Distance Education, Mugar Library, the BU School of Education, and the BU Summer Term Office, among others.

Enhance teaching and learning through effective use of digital technology through engaging curriculum design: Strategies focus on the design, development, technology integration, and delivery of undergraduate language courses.1 They encompass a range of capacity building approaches to professional development, partnerships and evaluation designed to ensure quality. The aim is to ensure that courses creatively utilize face-to- face and online tools to provide students with greater flexibility and variety in their learning experience. Effective use of technology focuses teaching activities on the needs of language learners, and allows faculty to make better use of face-to-face time. For example, students may use simulations, readings, and activities in an online environment to study the grammar and vocabulary, and come to class to ready interact with their teachers and peers in a range of active communicative tasks which promote deeper engagement with the language. Another example is the creation of a peer-created annotation database for a novel, which focuses class discussions on specific issues in a given text, furthers students’ critical thinking abilities and allows for more in-depth interpretations.

Help BU’s language faculty and graduate students become leaders in digital language teaching: Through effective employment of digital learning, language faculty seek to maximize student engagement, success, retention and employability. Since not all faculty are equally equipped with the skills and knowledge required to design and teach effectively using digital technologies, the Geddes Center staff offers support and training related specifically to language instruction. This, in turn, requires the provision of well- designed structured and unstructured learning spaces and a continuous process and constant testing of new technologies that support innovation in language teaching and learning. As greater numbers of faculty move from novice to intermediate or advanced level in their use of instructional technology tools and their effective integration within their respective curricula, they are serving as leaders both in the Boston area and beyond. Furthermore, in response to the Modern Language Association’s recommendations for changes in Ph.D. education (Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature, 2014), pedagogy training and professional development opportunities at BU now ensure that graduate students develop and use new digital tools and techniques for the study and teaching of languages and literatures. Evolving facility with digital technologies not only prepares graduate students for hybrid and online course development but also ensures that they engage more readily with collaborative and interdisciplinary aspects of digital scholarship in the humanities.

Ensure that language students become effective communicators and productive professionals in a digital and global age: Through the strategic use of digital technologies, language faculty improve student success, satisfaction and retention. BU’s language faculty therefore seek to integrate digital technologies to facilitate the creation, discovery, transmission of knowledge and content. They employ teaching approaches that include a focus on the acquisition of both information and digital literacies. Pedagogical re-designs of existing and creation of new language courses therefore focus on the incorporation of enabling technologies, which requires digital skills training to empower students to use technology effectively. As part of their course assignments, students not only use digital courseware, but also produce and peer-evaluate digital narratives, movies, recordings, etc., which are both linguistically and culturally appropriate and demonstrate sophisticated technology use. As a result, students simultaneously develop soft skills such as teamwork and communication skills, needed to be effective professionals.

Expand flexible learning arrangements: Learning in the digital age is increasingly flexible, student-centered and interactive. Strategies involving language instruction therefore focus on both the technological and physical learning and teaching environments, which are becoming increasingly integrated. As a result, faculty continuously experiment with new and innovative technology-enhanced pedagogical models and learning spaces, harness the opportunities of Open Educational Resources with the help of librarians at Mugar. Multi-section language courses already provide a student portal that offers a single entry point allowing students to access relevant language resources and services. Increasingly, faculty are also enabling personal learning environments – both synchronous and asynchronous – through adaptable digital tools. These tools, including language maintenance resources designed to help sustain and improve language skills, could be particularly useful to students returning from study abroad or residing in the Global House living/learning community. In as much as it aligns with the goals of the College of Arts and Sciences, BU’s language programs seek to facilitate learning through the provision of integrated, flexible and intuitive online and physical environments.

Expand purposeful engagement with a wide range of collaborative partners: To enable knowledge creation and exchange in a digital environment, the digital learning strategy for languages draws on collaborators both internally and externally. One mechanism for providing access to expertise and knowhow involving pedagogically sound uses of digital technologies in language courses involves regular training events in the Geddes Language Center and events in the respective language departments. In turn, we regularly invite experts in language teaching and technology to campus. Another opportunity exists through cross-registration among Boston-area research universities in our Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs). While online collaboration between BU and study abroad language faculty has only just begun, the exchange of expertise and integration of learning experiences both here and abroad show strong potential for growth. In addition, the advent of a faculty member in the School of Education who is solely responsible for K-12 language teacher training and expanding collaborations with area university language center directors, will help focus the language faculty’s outreach to the Boston area language teaching community to establish and nurture productive relationships and opportunities for sharing expertise. Forging strategic relationships with language faculty in K-12 – some of whom are BU alums – and post-secondary institutions will help build capacity to create and deliver high quality blended and online learning experiences.

“Language courses” refers to all courses taught in a language other than English as well as courses taught in English about both classical and contemporary literatures and films from non-English-speaking cultures.