Independent Minds, Working Together
Spanish 311

John Gabriele, the Raymond and Carolyn Dix Professor of Spanish at The College of Wooster (upper left), and his students in “Contemporary Spanish Theatre in a Global Context” (Spanish 311) chat with a Spanish playwright via Skype during a class in the “Cube” of Wooster’s CoRE (Collaborative Research Environment) in Andrews Library. 

 

Technology Brings Spanish Playwrights into the Classroom

Students Skype with famous writers in Wooster’s Collaborative Research Environment

February 27, 2013 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Accomplished Spanish playwrights are making regular appearances at The College of Wooster this semester, despite the nearly 4,000 miles that separate the United States and the Iberian Peninsula.

Itziar Pascual, Juan Pablo Heras González, and Borja Ortiz de Gondra have been invited to become virtual participants in “Contemporary Spanish Theatre in a Global Context” (a.k.a. Spanish 311), a rigorous upper-level course taught by John Gabriele, the Raymond and Carolyn Dix Professor of Spanish. The playwright sessions take place via Skype in the “Cube,” a glass-enclosed seminar room in the CoRE (Collaborative Research Environment) of Andrews Library.

“I thought that using the CoRE would help students connect with the authors we are studying,” said Gabriele, the venerable profesor de español. “It’s an innovative and effective teaching tool, and it complements President Cornwell’s global learning initiative.”

Students interact with the authors in a dialogue that is exclusively in Spanish. “I allow the students to engage the author for 30-35 minutes,” said the always colorful and energetic Gabriele, who also participates in the conversation. “After that, we wrap things up with a brief discussion.”

The students develop a series of questions, some of which even give the authors pause. “It’s very exciting,” said Gabriele a member of Wooster’s faculty since 1986. “These types of virtual, face-to-face exchanges really enhance the students’ learning experience.”

After the first session, students were buzzing about the format. Julia Kennedy, a senior Spanish major from Topsfield, Mass., said that the format offers direct, enlightening insights that would not be possible without the live interaction. “It gives us a platform to pose thoughtful questions that help us delve deeper into the intense themes of each play,” she said. “As we read, we consider the works in a global context, and we are energized as we learn more about them by speaking directly to the authors.”

Ryan Thomas, a senior double major in German and Spanish from Carmel, Ind., was equally enthusiastic in his assessment of the process. “I find Skyping with the author makes the works that we read come alive,” he said. “The interaction gives us key knowledge about the author, which allows us to see why he or she wrote the work and the meaning he or she tried to convey with certain dramatic devices.”

Clearly, the exchange makes for a more robust and interesting discussion. “While you can certainly read about it, it's like the difference between a picture of the beach and actually being at the beach,” said Thomas. “The picture will show you where everything is, but not until you sit on the beach itself can you actually experience it.”

Not every discussion is facilitated by technology. One author, Jerónimo López Mozo, will actually be speaking to the class in person next week, but without the CoRE, conversations with multiple authors would not be possible. “It’s a format that really works,” said Gabriele. “Class discussions are much livelier as a result.”