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Release: May 22, 2002

Foreign language distance learning consortium gets $320,000 grant

Students at Iowa's three state universities will have expanded access to courses in Russian and Eastern European languages, culture and politics through the new Iowa Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (REEES) Distance Learning Consortium. The consortium is being established through a $320,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The federal Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) Program Grant will allow The University of Iowa, Iowa State University (ISU) and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) to pool their resources in order to offer a combined statewide curriculum in Russian and East European Studies, said Russell Valentino, the lead project director, Russian professor, and director of the UI Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREEES).

Other project directors are Madeleine Henry, chair of the department of foreign languages and literatures at ISU, and Maria Basom, chair of the department of modern languages and at UNI.

"More specialized fields of study have found themselves at a distinct disadvantage compared with the most heavily enrolled subject areas, and Slavic, East European, and Eurasian area studies have been among the disciplines most affected," Valentino said. "We need to take advantage of technological advances that allow us to share our resources and expertise to offer a solid, enriched curriculum to students throughout the state."

Steven Hoch, associate provost and dean for UI International Programs, said this partnership demonstrates tremendous teamwork among the three state universities that ultimately benefits the students.

"Through the REEES Distance Consortium, we hope to pool faculty resources and combine student populations so that undergraduate foreign language and area studies offerings at all three campuses are simultaneously enriched," Hoch said. "This combines cutting edge technology with faculty expertise to offer courses that would otherwise be difficult to offer due to limited enrollment on any one campus."

Based on specific institutional strengths, faculty resources, and student demand, the consortium will initially focus on offering Czech, Polish, and Serbian-Croatian language instruction.

These will be augmented by a series of new, English-language courses on Russian environmental health, Central Asian area studies, Yugoslav cultural politics, Central European history, literature, and culture, and spiritual responses to violence in the former USSR, Valentino said.

The consortium partners have been working together since summer 2001 to evaluate technologies, select courses and explore internal funding sources. The consortium will use an internet-based video conferencing technology (Polycom) as its primary delivery system.

Future plans for the consortium include: curriculum development for 12 new courses designed specifically for distanced delivery; procurement of additional computer hardware and related equipment; establishment of study abroad opportunities; and the organization of a series of REEES speakers to tour the three host institutions.

CREEES is part of International Programs, which consists of a number of offices, centers, degree programs, academic programs, research projects and services. Organized under the associate provost and dean for International Programs, these units serve to further internationalize the campus and community and promote global scholarship, research and training.