|Language link delivers programming from around the world
At a location in western Iowa known as “the farm,” a crew of some 10 SCOLA employees moves about a cluster of barracks and prefabricated buildings tending to an assembly of satellite dishes, cables and computers. Their efforts beam TV programming from 100-plus countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia, to educational institutions and government entities across the United States. St. Norbert counts itself among those, thanks in large part to Tom Conner (Modern Languages and Literatures).
“News and language go together. They’re a wonderful way of learning about the culture,” Conner says. “Shakespeare is great, but if you want to learn about Great Britain today, you need to watch the news and read newspapers.”
The college community can access news in more than 100 languages, plus other language-learning resources, through St. Norbert’s partnership with SCOLA. The nonprofit educational organization was founded in the 1980s by the Rev. Leland Lubbers, a Jesuit priest and art professor at Creighton University.
“SCOLA was for a long time and still is, as far as I know, the only worldwide news network that is available,” says Conner, who for nearly 25 years has advocated for the organization at the college.
Current and former students of Conner’s are likely familiar with SCOLA through the professor’s cultural-awareness assignments. His students watch a French news broadcast, describe the topics covered and reflect on the cultural differences evident. These differences may be as obvious as the presence or absence of commercials, or as subtle as the anchors’ gender and apparel.
“Using SCOLA, not only do [students] work on their language skills but maybe they learn something about the world. They learn about differences, that our way is not the only way of doing things, and that’s a healthy kind of lesson,” he says.
St. Norbert’s relationship with SCOLA began in 1987, the same year Conner joined the college. Conner’s advisory role with SCOLA earned him recognition as the organization’s 2004 Outstanding Teacher of the Year and played a part in the college’s 2009 selection as a SCOLA flagship institution.
From that Iowa field that Conner says “looks like something from a sci-fi movie,” SCOLA receives and retransmits broadcasts. A satellite dish atop John Minahan Science Hall picks up those transmissions, which are shared with the college community via Time Warner Cable.
St. Norbert students aren’t the only ones who can access SCOLA on TV or online. Some area residents also watch the news in their native tongue.
“The community probably benefits as much or more than the campus does,” Conner says.
Like Conner, those community members know that watching the news in their own language immerses them not only in familiar words but also in a familiar context. For language students, such immersion broadens their understanding.
Says Conner: “You need language to access a more in-depth knowledge of a culture. Otherwise you’re always going to be a tourist.”