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World Language Department’s Pathways Project receives $100K grant, provides resources to teachers

Photo courtesy of Allison Corona

In January of this year, the Pathways Project in Boise State’s World Languages Department received a $100,000 grant. The project has gone relatively under the radar, but its resources can be vital for teachers of foreign languages. 

The purpose of the Pathways Project is to create open educational resources (OER) for language teachers and create a community for those instructors. It is used all over the nation and even abroad. With the grant, it hopes to do research to create more professional development opportunities and resources. 

The Pathways Project was started by Kelly Arispe, associate professor of Spanish, and Amber Hoye, director of the World Language Resource Center, about five years ago. It came to fruition because of the conversation labs required for Boise State language courses. 

VIP Showcase, Pathways Project, Open Educational Resources, Department of World Languages,
[Photo of the Pathways Project co-directors speak at a foreign language conference]
Photo courtesy of Allison Corona

“We create these activities … to give students real-world language practice. We want students to [be able] to do real-world tasks [and have] authentic conversations,” Amber Hoye said. “These activities are really meant to just promote conversation.” 

There are activities for American Sign Language, Arabic, Basque, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean and Spanish, as well as foundational activities for any language. 

Activity difficulty ranges from novice to advanced, depending on the language. Online-specific activities and materials are also available. 

“We have designed the activities around themes, so if you’re teaching family or shopping or any of those common things in a language classroom. You can go in and find activities that match your students’ level,” Hoye said. 

What makes the Pathways Project special, though, is the activities are created by students, for students. Rylie Wieseler, senior global studies major, is one such student.

“When I first started with the Pathways Project, it was just kind of what I was doing for my internship. It was a project I could work on, but as I started going through it … I thought it was really cool,” Wieseler said.

Wieseler is also minoring in French and has had the opportunity to see the resources used. 

“In the beginner levels, you started using the Pathways Project materials just to build a strong foundation, and I think a lot of the activities have been improved,” Wieseler said. 

The project uses OER Commons as well as Pressbook to create and distribute their resources, according to Wieseler. Professional development is also available for teachers on their website, and events have been held for professional development. 

“The whole idea behind ‘pathways’ is for us to create pathways or connections across Idaho so that these teachers have access to professional development and … to high-quality materials to use in their classroom,” Hoye said. 

The content standards for world languages in Idaho is only five short pages. In comparison, the content standards for dance, theater and visual arts are each between 10 and 12 pages, according to the Idaho State Department of Education

In addition, many Idaho school districts are rural, so it is difficult to connect with other foreign language teachers, particularly if there is only one foreign language teacher.

“I think having a community of language teachers is really hard, especially in those rural communities … With OER, [there’s an] opportunity to connect with what other teachers are doing,” said Emily Blackburn, a French teacher at Mountain View High School and Boise State alum. 

In foreign language teaching, textbooks in some classrooms have been replaced with different — perhaps more authentic — materials, and the Pathways Project creates activities with that in mind.

“OER is just so helpful for teachers … I think we’re moving away from just strictly teaching out of a textbook. That’s overwhelming for teachers that have been teaching from a textbook for a long time,” Blackburn said. 

The Pathways Project collaborates with speakers from different areas and cultures to create their activities and resources.

“As a language teacher, [I think it’s important] we’re representing all cultures of our language, so, in French, there’s a bunch of countries that speak French in Africa,” Blackburn said. 

During her time at Boise State, Blackburn helped with the Francophone Project, OER within the Pathways Project focusing on bringing awareness to other French-speaking countries in the world. 

With the grant, Hoye said the project hopes to put more time into research for their materials, professional development, and the continual creation of high-quality resources for teachers not only in Idaho but all over the world. 

“This is, specifically, for language teachers, but part of what we want to do is share these findings and help school districts … around the country figure out how they can better support teachers to use open educational resources,” Hoye said.

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