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The New Language Learning Center at Willamette University

I was fortunate to visit the brand new Language Learning Center at Willamette Universityfor the last few days. I was invited to give the inaugural presentation (“Language Learning Spaces at Liberal Arts Colleges”) and meet with faculty, students, administrators, and of course language center employees. The space shows how far we’ve come in terms of design, language pedagogy, and yes, technology, since the first language labs opened up many decades ago. I also visited the former space, and like so many older language labs I had seen before, it was located in the basement and has now come up to the surface.

A more detailed review and description will hopefully follow as a chapter in the next edition of the book “Language Center Design,” which is published by the International Association for Language Learning and Technology (IALLT). So I just wanted to briefly highlight a few key points in this post:


– Visibility: The space is visible through a number of features: a large help desk that links the main public entry area with the language center. Large signage TVs show large language learning and teaching images as well as relevant information, such as student worker shifts, locations, services, news, etc. These displays of course are becoming more common these days, but kudos the the LC’s staff for making these rotations beautiful, informational, and unobtrusive. The space is also visible from the outside through large windows, which provide lots of natural light to this LEED-certified building.

– Furniture and flexibility: The mobile tables are square and thus allow for multiple configurations. Some of these are outfitted with shiny new iMacs, but several are not, allowing for work with and without the computers, and also offer the possibility to transition from one to the other with ease. This inititial configuration may change in years to come; this is what happened at “my” center at Rhodes College.

– Staff: All of this would be nothing without the people work in this space, who not only made this become what it is but also help shape it in the future and constantly reinvent the center. Today we understand the term “space” no longer as an empty, geometrical space, but as a complex social phenomenon that is more than its physical attributes.
So kudos to the language center’s staff! All of you are doing an amazing job, it was easy to feel the energy and enthusiasm you bring to the place. It was great to share our knowledge and to celebrate a wonderful, new language learning space. And thanks for making me feel so welcome, what a wonderful visit!

Well, there’s much more to write about this language learning center, but that will happen another time. All of the new ideas, creative solutions, and design features will be shared through multiple venues. I mentioned the book Language Center Design, which is currently in its first edition (I hope to publish a completely rewritten one in a few years; the call for chapter proposals will go out through several listservs.) There is also the “Language Center Design Workshop” at IALLT 2013 in Florida. Many of the ideas I gather from spaces such as the center at Willamette University are shared in this workshop, in my presentations, and in conversations with language center designers and re-designers. If you’re thinking about reinventing, upgrading your current space or designing a new space, this workshop will be very useful for you. And please send me a message, I’d like to know about your project!

Language Learning Center at Willamette University: http://willamette.edu/dept/llc/

Book: Language Center Design: http://www.iallt.org/products/publications

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