by Annie Dubois

Over the past three years, Anne Violin-Wigent, associate professor of French and faculty supervisor of the basic language program, has pioneered the transformation of introductory French classes at MSU.

In an effort to improve the curriculum, Violin-Wigent and a team of faculty members in the French department redesigned the online platform, “Oui je peux,” to better suit student needs and create an upgraded language-learning experience. The new platform guides students through a flipped classroom model, where they learn online and utilize class time to practice. 

“We wanted to create a program where students could learn at their own pace but then have the class time interaction to practice,” Violin-Wigent said. “We also wanted to have a platform that was truly diverse and represented the diversity of the French speaking world and show students that there is French culture here in East Lansing.”

Some learning activities on the platform include listening to recordings of current and former MSU French students talking about themselves, with participants ranging across various ages, races, gender and sexual identities. For example, in a module that covers families, a wide range of dynamics are covered; families with divorced and remarried parents, widowed parents, and LGBTQ parents are all included.

In fact, diversity, representation, and social justice are overarching values for the entire curriculum. Throughout FRN 101-202, students will learn about colonization, migration, education, and environmental justice in the French-speaking world. 

“We cannot avoid talking about race and social justice,” Violin-Wigent said. “Developing this curriculum is an ongoing process that I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with, especially because the world keeps changing and we need to keep up with it. Each module I create, I question if it moves us forward in terms of social justice and environmental justice, if we are stereotyping, and if we are including everyone. I’m constantly thinking about including more voices.”

The curriculum changes were first implemented in fall 2020 starting with FRN 101, the first of four introductory courses at MSU. Following the natural course progression, FRN 102 implemented changes in spring 2021, and FRN 201 will see the curriculum change this fall. 

The platform has already shown increased engagement and language retention in FRN 102 students. A new learning activity that covers past tense language allowed students to listen to recordings of family migration stories over the course of three chapters. Students were then asked to complete a similar activity talking about their own family history.

“The quality of what came out of that activity was much higher than anything in the previous program,” Violin-Wigent said. “We now have interesting, personalized assignments for the students that motivate them to spend time and energy on it, and some of them will even go beyond what’s required.”

Another change to the curriculum will be seen in FRN 102 and 201 with the addition of TalkAbroad conversations. TalkAbroad, an online platform that allows students to connect and talk with native speakers, is typically introduced in FRN 202. Conversations range from 15 to 30-minutes and cover a variety of subjects, but for FRN 102 and 201 classes, TalkAbroad assignments will be approached as a class versus the usual one-on-one conversations. 

“TalkAbroad teaches students so much about critical thinking, problem solving, and communication,” Violin-Wigent said. “Additionally, it teaches them to consider different perspectives and be more empathetic.”  

The transformation of the French curriculum is a project three years in the making, beginning in 2018. Over the past year, as changes have been gradually implemented into the curriculum, the new program has successfully established itself around student engagement, connection, diversity, and social justice in an effort to drive student engagement with language learning.

“The goal of learning a language is really to change perspective and consider new ways of thinking,” Violin-Wigent said. “We hope that the students experience French as real, diverse, and interesting. We hope that students go beyond 202 and consider continuing for a major or minor.”