To Include is To Excel: Diversifying Norwegian
In the first two years of the To Include is To Excel initiative, St. Olaf College faculty and staff members have developed nearly 50 grant-funded projects to support inclusive teaching and learning. We’re highlighting these projects in a new series — and we hope that hearing about this work in the words of fellow faculty and staff members will inspire you to think about how you can be part of creating a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
The Norwegian Department at St. Olaf College recognized it was time to provide intermediate Norwegian language students with a curriculum that more accurately reflects the diversity of the Norwegian experience in the past and the diversity of its present.
So Associate Professor of Norwegian and Department Chair Kari Lie Dorer and Visiting Assistant Professor of Norwegian Jenna Coughlin developed a To Include is To Excel project to help students develop a nuanced and up-to-date understanding of Norway and its place in the wider world, as well as of the public discourse surrounding “Norwegianness,” how it is defined, and how it is used to include or exclude various members of Norwegian society.
Together with their colleagues they created 300 grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, and reflection exercises. All of this content is housed and maintained on Godt i gang, a free website devoted to intermediate and advanced Norwegian-language instruction. Godt i gang is a resource for anyone teaching intermediate Norwegian around the world and allows other contributors to publish and disseminate their curricular work.
Dorer and Coughlin will host a two-week virtual workshop to develop more materials this summer, and have been asked to present their work on Godt i gang to a national association meeting with colleagues from across North America this fall.
They share what they learned in developing this To Include is To Excel project and what they hope the community takes away from it:
What led you to develop this project?
We wanted to respond to the broader goal of To Include is To Excel to create innovative curriculum that addresses diversity and responds to changing student needs. Although when people think of Norwegian at St. Olaf they might think of the college’s history as an institution founded by Norwegian-Americans, we want our students to both learn about this history and develop a nuanced understanding of contemporary Norway and its place in the wider world. Contemporary Norway is a diverse society with many international connections. There are established immigrant communities, such as the Pakistani-Norwegian community, and there are also people who have arrived more recently, including international adoptees, refugees, and people arriving in search of economic opportunities from places like Poland and the Philippines. While these developments go back a few decades, the history of difference in Norway is far longer. If we look back in history, differences based on gender, class, language, and indigenous status have been sources of debate and conflict in Norway and have inspired important social changes. We wanted to create a curriculum that would ensure that Norwegian majors and Nordic Studies concentrators encounter as many of these voices and perspectives as possible over their course of study. This way, they will be more informed about Norway’s diversity past and present, but they will also have the opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences between Norway and the United States. Including these topics and questions can also help make the Norwegian Department a place where students can examine questions of identity and belonging in an academic way, without assuming that they claim Norwegian identity themselves.
If we look back in history, differences based on gender, class, language, and indigenous status have been sources of debate and conflict in Norway and have inspired important social changes. We wanted to create a curriculum that would ensure that Norwegian majors and Nordic Studies concentrators encounter as many of these voices and perspectives as possible over their course of study.
Another source of inspiration was our network of colleagues who teach Norwegian at other small colleges or in small programs at larger institutions. Our colleagues largely share our goals, but they are often the only person teaching Norwegian at their institution. That leaves them without time or support to develop new materials. By gathering and working together, we hope we will be able to improve Norwegian instruction for students across North America — maybe even internationally as well! Additionally, one of the individuals who joined us was Nancy Aarsvold, who taught Norwegian at St. Olaf for many years and later went on to work in IT before she retired. Her tech expertise really guided how we conceptualized the project and made many of our ideas come alive.
What did you learn — about yourself, your students, your colleagues, the St. Olaf community — as you began working on this project?
One thing we learned is how many high-quality materials exist for teaching about these topics. We spent a lot of time gathering books, films, TV series, websites, and even podcasts to use for our project. We wanted to include as many free materials as possible so that students could use the curriculum without buying materials from Norway. Our project ended up generating over 300 grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, and reflection exercises. We really enjoyed telling each other about new interviews, shows, and articles. A lot of young Norwegians with immigrant backgrounds have really bold and talented voices, and the Norwegian media landscape is doing a lot to support them, even though they do experience public backlash at times. I think we all felt excited to share their voices with our students when the project was over. We also saw a lot of surprising connections between Norway’s past and present. A lot of immigrants to Norway today experience a feeling of being between cultures. If you look at writings from the past by Norwegian-Americans, you see a lot of similar feelings expressed.
Another thing we learned from our colleagues is that, although we have intended these materials to be used in the intermediate or advanced language classroom, other instructors saw value in using them in different ways. Our department offers the largest number of Norwegian language courses in North America. Other institutions where Norwegian is taught have a real need for modules that can be used as independent studies or to supplement a Norwegian literature or culture course taught in English for students wanting more practice in Norwegian. These modules can help keep Norwegian instruction robust across North America, in differing ways, at a time when many small language programs are struggling.
Finally, we were incredibly fortunate with the timing of this funding. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we already had a wealth of modules ready to use. Many of the language exercises we programmed provide students with instant feedback, even when we aren’t physically there, while the discussion questions we wrote have been ready to use in our chat sessions and forums. Most importantly, we already had an integrated approach to including authentic materials in our instruction through technology.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we already had a wealth of modules ready to use. Many of the language exercises we programmed provide students with instant feedback, even when we aren’t physically there, while the discussion questions we wrote have been ready to use in our chat sessions and forums.
What do you hope students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away from this work?What we hope our students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away is that accessibility, collaboration, and sparking curiosity are at the heart of curricular innovation.
We have developed our portal with accessibility in mind. Intermediate and advanced level language curriculum — in any language — is not cheap. The smaller the language, the more expensive it generally is. Developing a portal using largely free and online materials keeps curriculum costs to a minimum, making them accessible to more students.
What we hope our students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away is that accessibility, collaboration, and sparking curiosity are at the heart of curricular innovation.
This project would never have become so ambitious without the strong focus on collaboration. The field of Norwegian is small, but between us, we have many diverse experiences and areas of expertise, and we were able to build on each others’ work.
We believe the most successful learners are curious ones, which is why we love when students ask us, “Hvorfor?” (Why?). Asking why tells us students are seeing connections between different viewpoints, becoming interested in different experiences, and fine-tuning their understanding of Norwegian society and its place in the world.
Where does your work go from here?
So many ideas developed as a part of our workshops that we have been inspired to continue long after our initial grant funding ran out. We have continued refining and adding content to the portal throughout this academic year. Activities and exercises on Godt i gang are already being used in multiple courses. We also intend to follow up with other language programs at the end of this academic year to see how they are using Godt i gang and if improvements can be made based on their experiences.
During summer 2020, we have invited colleagues who teach intermediate and advanced Norwegian language to join us for a two-week virtual workshop to develop more materials. We will also be convening (either virtually or on the St. Olaf campus) for a one-day workshop before the annual meeting of our professional association, the Norwegian Teachers and Researchers Association (NORTANA) in November. The theme of the meeting, “Third Culture Experiences: Reading and Teaching between Cultures,” is inspired by some of the authors we discovered while making our new curriculum. These authors describe the experience of living at the meeting point of more than one culture. We think this concept of “Third Culture” experience is very relevant for teaching and learning here at St. Olaf.