Faculty Spotlight: Professor Angelina Craig-Flórez on Using Authentic Materials to Enhance Language Learning

by | Sep 16, 2019


Angelina Craig-Flórez is a Senior Lecturer in the department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (LAIC) at Columbia University. Angelina teaches and coordinates the redesign for Spanish Intermediate II, the last course of the language requirement in the LAIC program. This course is open to undergraduate and graduate students that need to fulfill a language requirement, as well as to any member of the Columbia community if space is available. 

Angelina sought and received a Provost’s Hybrid Learning Course Redesign and Delivery award to redesign this course. In this video and interview we hear from Angelina about the reasoning behind the course redesign, her experience working with the CTL, and her students’ experiences in the course.


What teaching challenges were you facing in this course?

Spanish Intermediate II needs to prepare students for the Advanced level courses and for the life-long learning skills they need to continue to develop the language outside the classroom. Our challenge was that we were using the same textbook that we had been using since Elementary I and it was insufficient for the type of preparation students needed at this level. As a result, we were creating course materials mainly around grammatical points, which meant the course lacked a thematic cohesion.  In addition, the advanced level courses use mainly primary sources in the target language, and students often find it difficult to transition from working with a textbook to working with content material. I saw the course redesign as the opportunity to substitute the textbook with authentic materials such as: news articles, podcasts, films, literary pieces, documentaries, etc.

Working with authentic materials was the perfect way to ease students’ transition into the advanced level and to teach students how to develop life-long learning skills to keep practicing the language outside the classroom. 


How did the CTL help you to address these challenges?  Which tools or resources were most valuable?

With the help of the CTL we were able to create a theme-driven course inspired in multiliteracies, project based learning, and blended learning. We decided to create a website using only authentic materials. The website is inviting, engaging and visually appealing. It offers a seamless integration of multimodal material such as articles, videos, self-grading activities for vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension. From the home page the student is able to have a clear idea of the scope and materials of the whole course, including the four units with links to the learning objectives, the content material for each unit, and the description of the final project.  

Although some of the content had already been developed in  the previous semester and hosted in Courseworks (Columbia’s Learning Management System), creating a website that is well organized, easy to navigate, and with a consistent user experience was more difficult and laborious than I had imagined. The support of the CTL was invaluable, and working closely with Aurora Collado, a learning designer at the CTL, showed me not only the benefits of the use of technology in the classroom, but the true symbiosis between technology and teaching and learning. This was a challenging undertaking, and to optimize the appropriate delivery of that content we needed the expertise of the CTL.


What was the experience for the students?

The implementation has been very smooth and very well received by the students. The use of authentic materials gives us the flexibility to choose topics that are relevant for our students, interesting, current, diverse, inclusive, and socially engaging. Within “Communities,” which is the main theme we chose for the course, we explore topics related to language and identity; climate change; innovations in technology and in medicine; immigration; historical events, and others. Once the students have the chance to explore the topics, materials, and integrated activities, they seem very engaged in the course.


Here are some student responses to an end of semester survey: 

“I really liked it! I think it’s the best way to learn Spanish because I’m now able to use it in real world experiences and have pretty advanced conversations about real world issues.

“The theme of Communities […] helped humanize the Spanish language (beyond the grammatical rules and the vocabulary words). Especially with our consistent use of Boomalang, which allowed us to actually interact with different communities, I found the final project to be a solid ending to the course. Feeling confident that I could reach an understanding with a stranger completely changed how my interactions developed from then on: they were finally meaningful. And I hope they continue!” 

“[…] the topics were very relevant to the current time period and political climate. They were both intriguing and important topics to talk about which was something different from what I have experienced in other Spanish classes. I loved that we spoke about very hard topics like immigration, wars, etc.,”

“Really interesting, and grounded in real issues/ real events which I think is important for learning languages, culture and history.”


What advice would you have for other faculty who are considering this approach in their courses?

Have very clear goals but be flexible to modify them, start small, be willing to put extra-hours of work (which will pay off!), don’t be afraid of the technology but seek help, and apply for an RFP to get the magnificent help of the CTL!


Interested in integrating instructional technologies into your classroom? CTL Learning Designers help promote the purposeful use of educational technologies for hybrid and online education. Click here to find the contact information for our CTL Learning Designers, organized by their assigned school or department.