From July to November 2020, DLINQ interns Xiaofan Chen, Natalie Fallert, and Sailee Rangole partnered with the Middlebury School in Jordan to create a pre-language-immersion website. This post will review how this project was established, challenges we faced related to content and technology, and the Jordan Team’s Learning Experience.
The School in Jordan Pre-Immersion website was created as a living educational tool for current and prospective language learners to prepare for onsite cultural and language immersion. The website includes interactive activities, posts, and media aimed to engage students before they arrive onsite. To ensure consistency across the Middlebury network, the Middlebury in Jordan site is intended to mirror other pre-immersion sites such as those of the Schools in Morocco and Italy.
(Click here to visit the School in Jordan pre-immersion site!)
Establishing the project:
In order to effectively act as project partners, the DLINQ team first established internal team roles and responsibilities, and scheduled a regular internal meeting where we would each share updates and solve persistent issues by brainstorming ideas together.
Xiaofan Chen: Project manager, WordPress support, building web fluency with WP
Sailee Rangole: WordPress lead, building web fluency with WP
Natalie Fallert: Content manager, building WP and web content skills
At our first meeting with the Jordan team, they proposed a website content map featuring potential sections of the website for cultural, linguistic, and logistical support.
“Instead of building and establishing a ready-to-use website for our partners, we decided to work together to build our digital fluency, leading to the Jordan Team’s full ownership of the website.” — Sailee Rangole
In order to support the Jordan team’s digital fluency, we started our work by comparing their map to the Morocco and Italy websites to identify style, technical, and content suggestions. Based on the work built in these two websites by DLINQ staff Sonja Burrows, we created a content guide to analyze how content is articulated on her two sites, and then created a technical guide and Optimizer Pro WordPress style guide featuring resources on interactive plugins such as H5P and Quizlet.
“While working across distance, we came up with some creative ways for communication.” — Xiaofan Chen
In order to support communication across three different time zones and at least five different cultural backgrounds, we set up internal communication methods to minimize misunderstandings and increase collaboration. Since we only have a few options to meet during the day, to communicate more effectively and timely, we added a Q&A section on the technical guide for the Jordan team to post questions about using WordPress, and tag our responses.
For external communications, we regularly communicated using email, zoom, and google docs to identify issues, centralize solutions, and document progress for future projects. In meetings with the Jordan team we encouraged the team members to share their screens in order to improve their digital fluency and confidence with troubleshooting.
“This project was an amazing opportunity for co-learning and collaboration across intercultural virtual teams.” — Natalie Fallert
Since we ourselves were pretty new to website building on WordPress there were times when we could not solve issues immediately and needed time to research solutions. We would often reach out to other DLINQ staff members for help and assistance whenever we ran into a particularly sticky problem and then get back to the Jordan team later and share the solutions.
When building content for the pre-immersion website, our largest challenge was to decide what content should be on the website and how it should be presented. Although this seems like a simple question, it required some investigative work, backwards design, and human-centered design thinking to determine how digital content could support student learning.
We decided to focus on the website as an educational tool that bridges pre-departure orientation and onsite orientation sessions and sets expectations about the onsite learning environment and level of onsite support. In the process of building the Jordan website, we kept records of model practices from other pre-immersion websites and documented the project process to build a comprehensive content guide for building future pre-immersion digital content.
The Content Guide features discussions of what digital pre-immersion content is, what it can do, an extensive appendix of activities and worksheets to support content development, and nine entry points for project work visualized and explained in Diagram 1.1. The nine entry points for project work for developing digital tools are represented in a circle to illustrate the importance of considering all parts of the diagram in order to yield meaningful results.
On the technical side, our biggest challenge was RTL (right-to-left language) support. The School in Jordan wished to build a site that creates an interactive learning experience, so we recommended tools like Quizlet and H5P to create interactive activities (click to see demo on the FRENCH GRAMMAR GAMES site, built by DLINQ instructional designer Dr. Sonja Burrows and Professor Brigitte Humbert)
However, there are no RTL features in the H5P editor that allows us to change the text alignment. The text editor window is not available, so we cannot use html codes to fix text direction issues. Luckily we figured out that we can copy the RTL content from other documents and paste it into the text box in H5P to solve the issue – though it doesn’t work all the time.
Since the website has both English (left-to-right language) and ‘Ammiyya (right-to-left language), it would be more rational to center align all texts (see DLINQ staff Sonja’s post Plurilingualism and the Digital for more details). Otherwise, the English would be positioned on the left side of the page and ‘Ammiyya on the right. To create a better visual effect, the School in Jordan site uses blocks such as tables to organize content.
(SiJ site. 12.9.2020)
Jordan Team’s Learning Experience
By Kerstin Wilsch, Associate Professor and Director of the School in Jordan, Rula AlHindi, Assistant Director of the School in Jordan, and Nadia Zuheir, Resident Coordinator of the School in Jordan
The Jordan team took WordPress 4 & 5online tutorials in preparation for the project and had an initial map laid down for the content, which included two main aspects: language learning (Jordanian Colloquial Arabic, aka ‘Ammiyya) and information preparing students for their experience in Jordan and giving them a taste of what is waiting for them.
Tasks were assigned as follows:
Rula Alhindi: Creating language content
Nadia Alsaudi: Building webpages, adding and editing media
Kerstin Wilsch: General supervision, content writing, proofreading
Regarding content preparing students for their stay in Jordan we especially benefited from Natalie who is about to complete her MA in International Education Management.
On the technical end, figuring out how to best house the Arabic content with its English translation plus the audio demonstrations in tables was the first and biggest challenge, as WordPress doesn’t inherently allow much room to manipulate tables. But with some trial and error and invaluable help from Xiaofan and Sailee/DLINQ, we managed to come up with content presentations that were appealing and functional.
We also had to explore the world of plug-ins, get familiar with industry-specific jargon, and learn how to use the ‘Customization’ options in WordPress, changing some elements on pages including menus, blocks, and widgets. The DLINQ team was essential in showing us how to do that and research/troubleshoot any obstacles we faced.
Overall this has been a very fulfilling experience for the Jordan team. Some of us may have had previous experience in creating content, but not in presenting it digitally or thinking about flow, layout, and interactivity concerns pertaining to online/digital content. It was refreshing to learn a new skill, and rewarding to use it to build something and see the end product being used by potential incoming students. Working with teams in the US and Jordan with such a diversity of backgrounds, interests, and skills was fun and of great advantage to the whole project.