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Grazia Scotellaro never expected to be in charge of the Digital Education Services (DES) team supporting language teaching at the College of Asia and the Pacific. Yet she has achieved so much in her diverse education and academic careers.
Her high school German teacher once advised her parents that she should avoid any career that involved learning other languages. She also once hated technology. Grazia's career is characterised by looking ahead and her willingness to challenge herself to do new things.
She now lives her passion for inspiring academics to utilize new technology to benefit student learning in her current role leading the Digital Education Services (DES) team at the College of Asia and the Pacific.
"I became fluent in German six months after finishing high school because I made some German friends and I worked in a shop where I had to speak German," she laughs. It was an important experience that set the tone for a career in which she has constantly challenged herself to go outside her own comfort zone, and to creatively challenge the accepted way of doing things.
As Deputy Manager of the Digital Education Services, Grazia now oversees the team that delivers innovative online language teaching for the College of Asia and the Pacific, which teaches the broadest range of Asian and Pacific languages of any university in Australia. Naturally these include the 'big' languages such as Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indonesian, but also languages that would otherwise not be taught at university.
"Languages are so important. We keep talking about STEM and maths and science and also about making our students global citizens. You cannot have a global citizen unless you understand a culture and language that is not your culture and language."
She has been instrumental in developing the online language courses now available to a wider Australian audience, thanks to the partnership between the College of Asia and Pacific and Open Universities Australia (OUA).
The first semester of teaching Tetum, Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Hindi and Sanskrit online has just wound up, with solid success. Tok Pisin, the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea, and Mongolian will be available in the near future. Grazia's vision is that all students at the ANU have access to language learning. She has already collaborated with CHL's language academics to create online ebooks for students. These are available for free download from ANU Press or in Wattle courses. McComas Taylor's Sanskrit textbook continues to be the most downloaded title, and there are also two Japanese ebooks with more to come soon.
"I call it 'Professor in your Pocket,' says Grazia. You don't have to be online to access them, you can download and annotate them on your device, and listen to the teacher, and read the materials."
"People often think that learning a language online is really just doing a few games, like you can on language learning apps, but that couldn't be further from the reality," says Grazia, who explains that these innovative courses follow a 'flipped classroom' approach.
Students 'arrive' in the live digital classroom having already completed set homework, which is the subject of the lesson. In this way the time online, in real time with the teacher, is maximised, and becomes an effective learning environment where they focus on communication.
"Computers are good at certain things, like rote learning and working on vocabulary, but you do need the person, the expert in the language, to do the activities and actually speak in the language," she explains.
Grazia has developed the educational and digital infrastructure necessary for the seamless operation of this kind of learning over many years and in many different roles.
Immigrating from from Italy, she spoke no English when she arrived. She brought her children up to be bilingual, although she struggled with the attitudes of schools at the time who did not see the point. She went to work as a part-time teacher of Italian language in schools, a job that fitted well with caring for her children.
Grazia admits that she was initially terrified of using computers. However, having only limited class time she realised that using such tools was the key to success in language teaching, and that her own fear of the digital world was preventing her students from access to learning.
"Languages were my passion and my driver and technology was this horrible thing; I didn't want to have anything to do with it. People don't realise I once hated computers, I didn't want to use them, I was petrified of using technology."
She found that if she prepared games, the kids could then do them at home, and during the week at school. Effectively she could double or triple the time children spent learning language. "That was a real epiphany. I made it my mission to learn something different every year."
Challenging herself to go outside her comfort zone, she taught herself many new skills.
She eventually found herself giving a presentation at the University of Canberra about the importance of integrating technology into language teaching, and was offered a job at the end of that presentation. She spent about 9 years there, and over that time also taught Italian at ANU and worked on technology projects here part time, and was soon offered a job at the College of Asia and the Pacific.
She now has constructed an online learning environment for her grandchildren to learn Italian. "That's how spoiled they are,' she jokes. "Mind you I am using this as a testing ground, so this is my professional development. I use it to test all the different tools so that I can show academics which tools are the best."
Having an inadequate teacher taught Grazia a valuable lesson.
"You have to cater for your students. You have to realise not everybody learns the same way. So when I design the courses, I make sure there is video, audio, and text. If information is presented in many different formats, you are bound to find the way you like to learn."
Get to know Grazia. Listen to the conversation on Soundcloud