A Brief History of the CLA Language Center
The Language Center (LC) arose in the pre-digital early 1980s from an existing language technology resource center located in Folwell Hall. Originally a small unit, staffed by part-time, contract, and graduate student staff, it had a clear focus on language education by providing the analog technology required at the time, such as multi-standard VCRs, monitors, slide and film projectors, and audio recorders. By 1986, the LC had installed its first Sony analog audio lab and the unit began to grow.
In 1990, LC hired its first non-student full-time coordinator (later director), Jenise Rowekamp, and in the early 1990s, the Language Testing Program joined the Language Center. The number of analog language labs and other reservable spaces grew, and by the mid-1990s, the unit had its first walk-in computer lab and reservable computer classroom, along with more technical and support staff. In 1997, the LC strengthened its connection to language programs by hiring three liaisons, who worked 50% for the LC and 50% for a language department, with the goal of helping to expand the use of technology in language education, and begin offering more training opportunities.
In 2000, a fourth liaison, representing the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures (now called Asian & Middle Eastern Studies), joined the unit to deepen the connections with non-Roman and critical languages. In 2002, the LC transformed its first analog language lab into a PC-based digital system by ASC. The renovation of a second lab quickly followed, and the unit added a portable PC lab for use in a multi-purpose classroom. In 2004, the LC, having long outgrown its current space, began planning a move to the recently renovated Jones Hall. In March 2004, the unit also collaborated with all CLA language programs, the Office of Admissions, and other stakeholders to offer the University’s first World Languages Day (WLD), an annual outreach event for Minnesota high school students, which became a signature event for the College.
With the move to Jones Hall in August 2005, the LC became more focused on helping students directly by creating more welcoming spaces and services for them and by launching the TandemPlus program to pair language learners. In 2008, faced with declining use of its PC-based labs, the center renovated one of its labs with a MacDiLL system, which reinvigorated computer classroom use. A second room was renovated soon afterward. In 2007-08, the LC undertook a major conversion of the Language Proficiency Exam (LPE) from a desktop application to a web-based system. In 2008, Jenise Rowekamp, the long-term director announced her retirement. A major effort to reorganize the unit stalled due to economic concerns and an acting director was appointed while the position was unfilled.
In 2010, Dan Soneson was hired as the director. By 2012, all four computer labs were converted to an open floor plan and the MacDiLL system was installed in all LC computer labs and remains popular today. During this period, the LC turned with renewed focus to computerized proficiency test development, with a particular focus on less commonly taught and critical languages. The unit also began experimenting with self-assessment as a way for students to take charge of their own language learning, and the Language Testing Program became more integrated into the unit overall. At the same time, the old language department liaison model was transformed to a more flexible system in which the individuals, now called education program specialists, serve language programs overall, instead of maintaining a strict tie to a particular department. The unit also began working on providing more holistic professional development opportunities with an eye towards curriculum redesign. The unit partnered with the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies to design the first of several Certificate of Advanced-Level Proficiency programs available at the University. The unit also offered its final WLD after eleven successful years.
In 2014, the unit's new focus on assessment, self-assessment and professional development culminated in the Flagship PACE project, a two-year grant, with the potential of renewal. This project, along with the SLA Working Group report, has driven the department to focus its energy on helping programs develop student language proficiency and supporting students towards self-directed learning.