Learn Armenian with the Aid of a Computer
Editor’s note: The following is a translation of an article original published by H. Asatrian of the Orer Armenian publication in Prague. We’ve prepared a translated version for Ararat readers to better familiarize them with AGBU’s Armenian Virtual College and the revolution in Armenian education that it offers.
A meeting between Yervant Zorian, founder and president of AGBU’s Armenian Virtual College, and representatives of the Armenian community of Prague took place in Prague on May 23, 2010. Dr. Zorian not only acquainted the attendees with the first year’s work of the Armenian Virtual College and the possibilities of participation therein by Czech Armenians, but also answered their questions. An agreement was reached for more active cooperation within the scope of AGBU educational programs. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Zorian also answered questions from “Orer” European monthly.
Q: It’s been almost one year that AGBU Armenian Virtual College is in operation, teaching Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian, history and culture of the Armenian people online. What are the college’s initial results during the past year? How would you evaluate it? What have you decided to improve in the teaching process?
A: One year passed rather quickly. We had divided the school year into four terms: summer, fall, winter, and spring. The number of participants and their enthusiasm was quite interesting for us, on the one hand; on the other hand, we noticed certain necessities, in the sense of expansion and addition. The number of participants has already reached five hundred, who came for one or more courses of study from 35 countries. Some of these countries lack Armenian organizations. Having access to Armenian education through AVC helped fill that gap. In general, we observed a wide range of interesting reasons, according to which our participants were motivated to join AVC.
Some wish to return to their Armenian identity, whereas others, in turn, aren’t Armenian but have ties to Armenian families, to the Armenian people. There are also some who have started doing business in the Republic of Armenia (RA) and wish to become familiar with the Armenian language and culture. There were individuals who were preparing to work in RA consulates or were spouses of foreign diplomats. Such a program is very suitable for them, since they don’t have to travel anywhere to take courses. The school comes to their house. As a result, we had Armenian and non-Armenian students. Another notable outcome was the age range of participants. We had students ranging in age from 17 to 82. Two-thirds of them were under 40, one-third were over 40.
Q: Does that mean that there is no age limit?
A: Yes, the only important condition is the ability to utilize technology. Any applicant must know how to use computer programs.
Q: What technical capability is necessary to utilize the programs?
A: The availability of Internet is required in order to connect with the school, plus the connection can’t be slow; it must be fast so that all the audio, photos and videos may be quickly downloaded.
Q: Is there a need for Skype?
A: Not for Skype but we have another similar kind of software, which we have included in this AVC program. Using such a tool is mandatory for discussions with teachers and among students.
Q: Do you give the program package?
A: No, we do not send physical packages to the students. The entire set of educational materials is posted online. The student accesses it via the Internet and communicates with the online instructors via the web, as well.
Q: The next question is connected with the time of teaching. Does the college dictate the hour, or do the students themselves select the time of instruction?
A: The teacher doesn’t teach the classes according to a schedule. Rather, the multimedia lessons are already prerecorded. Anytime you decide to connect, you listen, see and read through a multimedia program. However, during a given week, there are a number of activities that need to take place. On Monday each week, a new lesson opens up on our web page, and you have to complete that lesson by the next Monday. But you also have certain obligations during the week. Let’s say that you are scheduled to connect with your teacher on Wednesday, at a time that corresponds to the time zone in your country. Let’s say that someone from Argentina is learning Armenian history and discussing issues of interest with the teachers. Through a communication tool like Skype, it is possible to carry on a conversation with that person, ask questions and discuss things in the language of that student. Besides that, there are forums, participation in which is mandatory for the other 12 students in the given class. Thus, learning is both written and oral, along with online contacts with classmates. Students are free to learn their lessons at any hour.
Q: How effective was this one- year period? For example, how many semesters are needed for applicants to learn the Armenian language?
A: We have eight courses of study for learning the language. Each course of study lasts one quarter. In other words, if you study without a break, then you’ll complete the eight language courses in two years.
Q: How is payment made, and how much does one course of study cost?
A: We didn’t want to make the school totally free, since when you offer anything for free, it doesn’t have value. Payment must be made so that the student somehow remains linked to the school. We don’t need to make it entirely free of charge also since many non-Armenians are participating too. We haven’t set high tuition fees, like other schools. The AGBU itself covers all the expenses of the school. The sum charged to a student is symbolic. If someone applies and says that s/he is in tight financial straits, then we provide financial aid covering the cost of either three-quarters, half or one-quarter tuition. The goal is not to generate a surplus. If you’re an AGBU member, you get a 1/3 discount. If you complete the course with high marks, you’ll get back the sum you paid. We have a rather large number of participants who are refunded the sums paid at the end of the course. There has yet to be a case wherein an applicant has been excluded for lack of payment. Whoever needs to learn will receive the corresponding education.
Q: Can it be said that this first year’s program has been successful and shall be continued with new elements?
A: Yes, when we started, we prepared the whole program anew. Now we have already prepared the first four courses of Armenian language instruction. Work is also continuing with regards to the other courses, which is being accomplished by the staffs of the technical divisions of the linguistic and computer departments of Yerevan State University. The history of the Armenian people is being developed, based on the writings of Ashot Melkonian, director of the Institute of History in the National Academy of Sciences. Besides the preparation of the actual material, each course of study is made available in six languages: Western Armenian, Eastern Armenian, English, Russian, French and Spanish. For example, one can learn medieval Armenian history in Russian. A given course runs from four to six hours per week. There are nine active weeks in each quarter, after which there is a two-week break.
Q: What certificate of completion do the students receive, and where is it applicable?
A: They receive a certificate from AVC, as an AGBU college, attesting to their completion of their corresponding courses. Besides that, we are now working toward an agreement with universities. In that regard, we are working in a few directions. In Armenia, we are working for AVC’s courses of study to be recognized by the Ministry of Science and Education. They’ve already been approved by YSU; we’ve received a certificate attesting to the university level of our courses of study. The INALCO University of Paris, specializing in foreign and Oriental languages, has likewise already decided that one AVC course corresponds to two European academic credits. Those two credits can be used by a student enrolled in any European university. Now we’re carrying out the same effort in the US. We also have individuals who don’t need credits and don’t wish to take exams; in that case, they are registered as auditors. One-third of our students are auditors, who aren’t studying to get marks or credits. They make contact with the teacher and participate in forums but don’t take exams at the end.
Q: What percentage of the applicants is from America or Europe?
A: The largest percentage is from the US, followed by Russia, then France and Argentina. Naturally, each person studies according to his/her native language: English, Russian, French and Spanish. We also have students from Venezuela, South Africa, Estonia, China, etc, who are mostly Armenians. The applicants get into contact and become acquainted with each other starting the first week, and tell why they decided to learn Armenian language or history. A Japanese woman had applied because her Armenian husband, Armen, speaks Armenian with their children and she too wanted to learn Armenian. Many wish to learn because of marriage. By means of the school, they become acquainted with each other, and bonds are created between many Armenians and non-Armenians alike.
Yervant Zorian is a well-known expert in new technologies. He’s the vice president and chief scientist of Virage Logic Corporation, which collaborates with its affiliate in Armenia, the largest center outside of America, with 140 employees.
Article by H. Asatrian, Prague (Translated by Aris G. Sevag)