Background for Learning Languages at a Distance in the UC system


In collaboration with the National Middle East Language Resource Center at Brigham Young University, the UC Consortium for Language Learning & Teaching applied for and was awarded in 2003 a three-year $452,622 FIPSE grant from the Department of Education (#P116B030526) to design and implement Arabic Without Walls, an online first-year Arabic course offered through UC Berkeley. Students enroll in the UC Berkeley online Arabic course from other UC campuses through “simultaneous” enrollment (Senate Regulation 544:  i.e., concurrent enrollment on another campus from the home campus).

The Arabic Without Walls materials were designed to accompany Al-Kitaab, the most popular Arabic textbook (Georgetown University Press, 2004), and to serve students in both traditional and online learning environments.   The online materials offer (1) additional listening and writing practice for materials in Al-Kitaab, (2) video interviews with Arabic-speaking people with follow-up activities, (3) additional cultural materials not available in the textbook, and (4) an electronic forum where students can chat in Arabic in real time through both voice (voice-overIP) and text. 

The online Arabic curriculum represents the equivalent of UC Berkeley’s Elementary Arabic 1A-1B delivered in a distance-learning format. This distance-learning course meets the same objectives and emphasizes the functional use of Arabic in the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The authentic audio, video, and reading materials in current usage in the classroom have been expanded and enriched to provide even more culture- and content-based instructional material for the distance student, including exposure to a diverse presentation of cultural characteristics found in the Arabic speaking world.  Creativity with the language remains a central component of this Web-format Elementary Arabic course. Via a bi-modal sound/text chat program, students will interact among themselves and with the instructor or TAs on a daily basis, replicating live classroom conversation practice. Final examinations for the online course will be proctored at the language laboratories of the students’ home campuses.

The UC Consortium for Language Learning & Teaching ( was established in 2000 by the UC Office of the President and the Executive Vice-Chancellors of all the system’s campuses. One of the Consortium’s principal charges is to extend student access to the less commonly taught languages since the majority of campuses in the system cannot afford and do not intend to provide them (e.g. Arabic, Farsi, Punjabi, Hindi/Urdu, Swahili). Arabic Without Walls constitutes the first instantiation of a framework to offer credit-bearing, distance-learning first-year courses in languages of crucial importance to UC education.

In June 2004, the UC Education Policy Committee not only endorsed the use of new technological tools to distribute the curriculum at a distance but also encouraged and supported distance learning as one of the prime means by which students can enroll in courses through SR #544.