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 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?
- 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.
- 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 InsideHigherEd.com review for yourself.
- 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?!)