So Midd has some stock in software now… Why care?

In response to last week’s announcement regarding Middlebury Interactive Languages, the Middlebury community’s reaction has been relatively subdued regarding the College’s 40% hold in the computer software venture. This is especially surprising when compared with those supporters calling it a “revolution” in language-learning, or otherwise, with those who fear the software could damage Middlebury’s reputation.

The next Midd marriage, thanks to MIL?

The next Midd marriage, thanks to MIL?

The College is taking a significant step with Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL). Administration is counting on MIL as a “fourth revenue stream” to supplement tuition, the endowment, and gifts. What is more, according to the MIL software’s web site, the chief aim of the software is to answer the increasing need for foreign languages, while language-learning resources in the U.S. decline.

Perhaps the muted response on students’ behalf is due to the fact, that apart from periodic e-mail updates from the Office of the President, the College’s other recent additions — our adding “a graduate school of Middlebury College” (oh yes, by this fall, that is what Monterey will officially be) and the expansion of summer language programs to high-school students via MMLA — do not affect current Midd undergraduate students.

Though the Monterey Institute and MMLA might not noticeably impact the Vermont campus, here’s why you should care about the newest addition of MIL.

  • ‘BRAND’ ON THE LINE? K12, the company taking care of the tech and distribution side, seems to be a worthy partner – experienced, respected, and committed to providing learning tools “to maximize success in life, regardless of geographic, financial or demographic circumstances.” But still, is this Midd’s sell-out to the Man? Are we now that money-grubbing, liberal arts college? After following the commentary for a while now, it seems to me the answer is no. Why?
  1. MIL doesn’t change language schools or schools abroad. That’s why the “Middlebury brand” exists in the first place (outside of being another New England liberal arts college) – and they, along with the brand, are not going anywhere.
  2. MIL is entrepreneurial and creative. Problem: Middle- and high-school language program resources are on the decline. Solution: Create an alternative for intensive, pre-college language-learning using Middlebury’s experience. True, Internet-based learning does not help teachers keep jobs on the line. However, the fact remains that the U.S. is losing foreign language teachers to budget cuts: some substitute is needed. MIL is Midd’s answer. Plus, education experts agree that classroom tech is both necessary and helpful. Check out the stats on the software’s website and in the review for yourself.
  3. MIL really is aimed at solving this deficiency. The target audience is exclusively pre-college students who need language skills. It isn’t a tool for awkward middle-aged men trying to impress foreign supermodels, like the Rosetta Stone farm boy. It sounds like President President Liebowitz might even get it for his kids!
  • WHAT ABOUT THE LIFE-CONSUMING ‘PLEDGE’? Well, there won’t be one, it seems. But isn’t that why Middlebury language (summer schools, language tables, C.V. Starr Schools Abroad) work in the first place? Yes and no. The immersive, in-language, in-culture “Middlebury method” has literally a century of experience and success, yes, much of which is due to the Pledge (registered trademark). Though, as Middlebury Language Programs V.P. Michael Geisler says in the second video on this page, due to the College’s experience, the new programs “will be significantly more immersive than other programs” currently available. There will even be online clubs and 3-D simulators (boy, I wish that I’d had something like that to practice with, especially after my first attempts at dealing with “customer service” in Russia…). “Experience schmerience,” you say. As a Russian School alum, I can vouch that compared with other students coming to summer school with two years of Russian under their belts like me, my fellow Russian Department comrades and I consistently placed into higher levels than those from other colleges. Middlebury knows something about teaching language, outside of the pledge, too.
  • THEY KEEP SAYING ‘VENTURE’… This is a risk, like all investments. But, looking at the success of the MMLA for high-school students, Middlebury’s track-record in language instruction, and the promising partnership with K12 and its existing market, we have reason to expect some degree of success. Advertising Midd? Yup. Revolutionize language teaching? Maybe. Make some money? Seems so, too.

The announcement about MIL came in the same week as another e-mail message to students regarding recently purchased properties new housing options to expand student capacity (now listed on the Room Draw webpage). EDIT: The shifts in office and housing space on campus are to be funded through the newly created RRR (Reserve for Renewal and Replacement), a fund set apart for infrastructure updates in order to avoid depreciation on existing college properties.

Perhaps this signals a change of pace in the College’s financial outlook.

No doubt, we are still recovering from the losses of the crisis, with Juice Bar hours as the most recent addition to the list; though, with two long-range investments set in motion in the same week, Middlebury is (finally?) moving forward with confidence and a new product to sell.

(Now who’s with me crossing their fingers for free copies?!)


9 thoughts on “So Midd has some stock in software now… Why care?

  1. As a note, none of the expanded housing are new purchases–they’re all spaces the College has previously owned.

  2. To add to JustANote’s note: as I understand it, two of the three spaces to be converted used to be student housing, and will be returned to such use (and they have great locations). The third (Voter) has student housing, and is, too, so well located. Compared to the building spree that tore up the campus and added costly new square footage (not only to build, but to maintain every year) to house the same number of students, this is a very prudent move.

    Those who currently use the spaces to be converted, will move to the periphery of campus, which also makes sense, since students should be closer to the center. The conversion of space will allow for the small expansion of the student body, which is part of the budget balancing solution to the recession. A good decision all the way around.

  3. I find it hilarious that the first two response to this well-thought out post have to do with the expansion of housing. If that doesn’t tell you about the sedate reaction to the MIL announcement on our campus, I don’t know what will.

  4. It seems that a more obvious way to address deficiencies in high school and under foreign languages would be to put more support behind the education studies program. The creation of more linguistics courses, making the ninth semester cheaper and providing housing for students pursuing a teaching license would all be greatly appreciated in the struggle to put bright prepared teachers in classrooms.

  5. Anon: was your suggestion in jest? The scale of the language gap is national, and though I fully agree that the College needs to add to its linguistic offerings, it will do not a thing to address the big issue that MIL is seeking to address.

    MIL, if successful, is projected to reach thousands upon thousands of students, and probably adult learners, eventually. So what is so obvious about adding resources to our 9th semester and ed studies program? What exactly will that accomplish? Please elaborate on how this will/can come close to addressing what MIL is trying to address. Different issue, it seems, and so therefore not “so obvious.”

    Midd Staff@ 8:09: yes! Quite amusing, but I think that the original poster is making that point. It seems like a great idea, but it is “out of the box” for sure. But as the OP suggests, it is hard not to support the goals of the project — a potentiall win-win (for many who need langauge teaching and for the college if it makes additional revenue to subsidize all we have here on campus).

  6. @JustANote – Thanks for the clarification, I’ve edited to make it more clear.

    @MiddStaff – Me too… I’m anxious (+ and -) to hear what the open forums on MIL bring.

    @Anon and Midd11.5 – The suggestion about increasing support for linguistics and education studies programs is well taken: students who study language and education (myself, for instance) can theoretically help solve language-learning deficiencies in the U.S., too. And I, for one, would not be against a more-supportive 9th semester certification program (if it were better, I’d be doing it myself as an E.S. minor).

    But, MIL, clearly, is the professional-level solution that has global potential, compared to the small percentage of language-education program graduates.

    “A potential win-win” is exactly what I am suggesting, Midd11.5. But, before everyone agrees with me, I think that looking at MIL and other alternatives (as Anon is doing) is something that should to happen, too – among the community, and not just during admin’s planning mtgs.

  7. Casey: MIL is not a Middlebury department or program. It is a separate entity, 40% of which Middlebury College owns through the contributions of its intellectual property and name. If one reads the press on the new partnership, it will not cost the College’s operating budget a nickel, as it is “capitalized” through the partner (K12) and the College’s endowment, which would otherwise be funding other private partnerships; in this case, it is funding a venture it knows about and has some oversight of (as opposed to all other private partnerships the endowment now invests in.

    Only one Middlebury College regular year faculty member is involved in the project thus far (Professor Martinez-Lage of Spanish); most of the work being done and contributed by Middlebury comes from members of our Language Schools (who are not on the College’s regular year faculty).

    An initiative like this one could only happen at the administrative level, and if it involved our curriculum (or degree requirements), it would have had to work its way through committees. But this is another kind of entity and not, per se, part of our undergraduate academic program. Confusing, but I guess that does not preclude discussion “among the community” of other alternatives: they would simply be in addition to MIL, if I understand your last post.

  8. Midd11.5 in the last five years a school famous for it’s languages has generated TWO licensed foreign language teachers through the education studies program.
    That seems like a horrible waste to me, if Middlebury really does care about the state of foreign languages in America it seems that they should figure out why the program here is so underutilized. – In addition to whatever else they want to do.

  9. Anon: a rather self-centered critique, I think.

    Compare the impact of, say, even 50 undergraduates getting certified via the educational studies dept (25 times what you claim now is the case) with what the College already does — through the Language Schools, it awards 180-200 M.A. degrees each year! Many go on to be language teachers in k-12 schools across the country. No liberal arts college, or perhaps even any university, does more to feed K-12 schools with language teachers than Middlebury already does.

    Even so, the on-line initiative, which potentially will be able to reach literally thousands of school children each year, can have a huge impact in language learning nationwide — far greater than any licensing/certification program might. But that doesn’t mean our ed studies program should not have more resources, or that the College should not have more linguistics offerings. It should do both. My point all along was that somehow people (and you are one of them) seem to be missing what could be the monumental impact of this on-line program, if it is as good as we all hope it will be.

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