Indiana University: Betwyll in class

Indiana University is in Bloomington, in the heart of Midwest. In its Department of Italian, professor Colleen Ryan was one of the first teachers to test the TwLetteratura method. In this interview, she tells us why.

Indiana University

[Picture: the Global and International Studies Building, where the Department of French and Italian at Indiana University is located.]

Indiana University is a college like those we see in the movies: a huge campus, neat lawn, football and basketball teams with the cheerleaders, fraternities and athletes wearing bomber jackets. Within its Department of French and Italian, professor Colleen Ryan was one of the first teachers to test the TwLetteratura method for social reading with her American students to teach Italian language, literature and culture. We asked her why she chose this methodology and what results she achieved.

Books, cinema, TV: Indiana University’s pilots

How many and what projects have you built at Indiana University using the TwLetteratura method?

I’ve built several projects on Betwyll, all different and targeted to the use of the app by the students. I asked them to answer analytical questions involving close readings of the texts, to consider cultural differences, make personal reflections and also to perform visual analysis through the comparison of the text with still images, art works, book covers, movie posters, or even movie sequences. The first project, in late 2016, was based on the book Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio, written by Amara Lakhous, and it was in Italian. After that, in early 2017, I focused on the book The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo (better known for being the author of The Godfather), a project carried out in English. In late Spring 2017, I focused on two projects. The first was about the well-known TV series The Sopranos, in English; the second was about the book (written by Margaret Mazzantini) and the movie (directed by Sergio Castellitto) Venuto al mondo (Twice born), in Italian.

The advantages of the TwLetteratura method

In your case, the use of the TwLetteratura method with Betwyll served two purposes: to develop knowledge of Italian literature, on one hand, and to improve the language skills of American native speakers, on the other. What is the main advantage, from didactic and linguistic perspectives, of using the TwLetteratura method?

I found the use of Betwyll very useful for its accessibility, since its presence on mobile devices makes it usable whenever and wherever you like. Besides, the brevity of twylls does not intimidate students (even if, on the other hand, it may sometimes frustrate their efforts). Finally, it encourages the students to get a deeper knowledge of how to use the language strategically and formulate a concise sentence packed with quite specific meaning.

From paper to Betwyll

Your first approach to the TwLetteratura method was on paper, with tweet diaries (a pilot analised also by our Iuri Moscardi); after that, you passed to Betwyll. Which of the two methods was the most effective? In particular, how important is social interaction in the educational projects based on the TwLetteratura method?

I believe that practicing on paper, even in the form of a how-to-type practice session, would be useful and that I would opt to do it regularly with my class before giving students independent mobile app assignments with Betwyll. Betwyll, in general, is more effective for its accessibility: for instance, when using it, students don’t need to manually delete and then rewrite. Social interaction, in my experience, took place when students read and answered/commented on their classmates contributions to a given discussion. Sometimes, we projected all the answers to a given question in class for a face-to-face discussion, but most often they interacted “behind the screens” as part of their take-home/out of classes assignment.

Social reading and traditional teaching

According to you, can the TwLetteratura method integrate well with the most common teaching foreign language and/or literature methodologies? For what reasons?

Yes, it can very well, since certain assignments that I gave deserve merited much longer answers than those possible in 140 characters: for instance, the concise and synthetic idea, in traditional methods, would need to be supported with textual citations and from different perspectives or correspond/compare to various different quotes or episodes/sentences/moments in a given chapter. The short version on Betwyll can thus be a useful starting point for brainstorming or pre-writing or pre-discussion in class, and be effectively integrated with lengthier or more traditional assignments (written, oral, or visual) in this regard. Betwyll can also be used in class for exercises and activities, elements that are typical of teaching in the USA (for instance: you have 5 minutes to answer to/comment on/pose additional, related questions to the contributions of other classmates).

Colleen Ryan​ serves as Professor of Italian and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of French and Italian at Indiana University. She has taught courses of Italian Language and Culture, Italian American Culture, Cinema, Contemporary Italian Literature, Theater, at all levels. At Indiana University, she served as Director of the Italian language program from 2007 to 2014. Among her books, Sex, the Self, and the Sacred: Women in the Cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini (2007) and the textbook for intermediate-level Italian Caleidoscopio (with Daniela Bartalesi Graf, Pearson 2014).

She is currently President of the American Association of University Supervisors and Coordinators (Foreign Language Program). In the last 10 years, she has worked in the development of the curriculum for American high schools. Among her research areas, Italian Literature and Cinema, Foreign Languages Teaching, Teaching Methodologies. She is currently working on an anthology of the Italian American theater and on a book on Italian American female directors who worked inside and outside Hollywood.

Translation from the Italian by TwLetteratura. 

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