College Lectures for Advanced ELLs: Academic Earth

This summer, I was fortunate to co-teach an English for Academic Purposes class with the head of the English Language Institute at my college.  This gave me a welcome opportunity to learn from an experienced colleague about a whole new array of teaching tools.  Although we both made extensive use of TED Talks in class (a resource described in one of my earlier posts), I became aware, for the first time, of another invaluable online listening resource this summer: Academic Earth.

Although not specifically geared to international students, Academic Earth gives immigrant and international students in ESL programs worldwide a chance to vicariously experience life in a challenging university lecture hall.

Complete lecture series are video recorded, then archived and made available online by a wide range of American universities.  Harvard, M.I.T, NYU, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Yale, for instance, have each posted more than 100 lectures in fields ranging from science and engineering to humanities and the social sciences, with intriguing titles such as “Economic Crisis and Globalization,” “Foundations of American Cyber-Culture,” and “Writing and Reading Short Stories.”

Altogether, lectures are available from more than three dozen top-notch universities in the United States, Europe, and Asia. A curated “playlist” leads viewers to some of the most popular online courses offered by Academic Earth, while an online catalog offers detailed descriptions of the archived lectures available for viewing.

Lectures can be shown in whole or in part in class, or assigned as homework, and provide rich fodder for class discussions and debates. This semester, my colleague showed portions of the last lecture in Yale Professor Paul Bloom’s 20-part Introduction to Psychology series, entitled “The Good Life: Happiness.” This sparked a lively discussion in small groups about what leads to happiness and the disparity between what people think will make them happy and what actually does.

Harvard Professor Michael Sandel’s lecture series titled Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? offers international students a foretaste of the Socratic method as it is commonly used in American classrooms. Even in the vast lecture hall where these lectures were filmed, Professor Sandel calls on individual students to answer thorny hypotheticals and expects them to defend their views from challenges by their classmates. His thrilling parsing of the ethical issues involved in same-sex marriage and affirmative action neatly lays the groundwork for a classroom debate or a persuasive essay on these topics.

These “sneak peeks” into the American university classroom are a great way to excite and inspire advanced ESL students whose goal is to attend college in the United States.  And they don’t have to go to Harvard, Princeton, or Yale to take advantage of these schools’ intellectual resources, which can be readily downloaded to their tablet, smartphone, or laptop.

About Alexandra Lowe

Alexandra Lowe
Alexandra is an ESL instructor at SUNY Westchester Community College, where she has taught Speaking & Listening in the Intensive English Program, English for Academic Purposes, Business English, Accent on Fluency and a wide range of ESL levels. She has also served as a consultant to the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education, which is based at Westchester Community College. Her primary interests are bringing authentic materials into the ESL classroom, connecting ESL students to the supportive resources available at many community colleges, and promoting self-directed learning strategies that ESL students can use outside of the classroom to accelerate their learning and enhance their speaking skills.
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