Saturday, January 15, 2011

Portage Library offers new data bases for online learning

By Michele Bourdieu

HOUGHTON -- Portage Lake District Library patrons now have the opportunity to access Universal Class -- a data base that offers a selection of more than 500 online, non-credit continuing education courses -- and Mango -- a data base for learning foreign languages. Anyone holding a Portage Lake District Library card can access these for free, either from home or in the library. Visitors without a library card can access them from library computers for a simple $1 computer use fee.

Portage Lake District Library Director Shawn Leche answers a question from a library patron during his recent presentation of new data bases he acquired for the library -- Universal Class and Mango. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

Library Director Shawn Leche demonstrated the use of both data bases in a recent presentation in the library. He will offer the same presentation on these new data bases at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 19. The presentation is free and open to the public. Those who attend receive a handout listing all 500 courses available through Universal Class and a set of frequently asked questions about the program, as well as a handout on Mango listing the languages taught.*

UNIVERSAL CLASS: user-friendly online courses

Projecting pages from a sample course, Time Management, Leche showed how Universal Class offers step-by-step modules with a user-friendly sequence that guides the student through each course -- from registration through exams.

"It's very, very self-explanatory," Leche said. "You have six months to do a course."

The program also allows one to take up to five courses at a time. The student may begin a course at any time.

Students first log in with their library card number, a username and password to introduce themselves to the professor. A click on the class syllabus offers them a list of requirements (if any), topics of each lesson, materials, grading scale, assignments for each lesson and exams. After finishing one module, the student can go on to the next one. The number of modules depends on the course.

"I'm taking a course in Excel," Leche noted, "and there are 12 modules in the course."

The Universal Class Web site lists more than 20 courses just on home schooling, from courses on how to teach certain subjects to computer basics to behavior management. In addition to academic courses like math or history, Universal Class includes more than 70 courses on crafts and hobbies -- from Genealogy 101 to Yoga.

In answer to a question on whether a student needs to download material to a computer, Leche replied that all the work is done through the data base. Downloading isn't necessary. The student types answers to questions and the professor keeps track of his/her work. The student is asked for the library card number only for the initial registration in a course.

"To my knowledge there are no course fees if you're a member of this library," Leche explained.

An exception would be a fee for a printed certificate -- a hard copy to show completion of a course.

MANGO: foreign language learning data base

Leche introduced the Mango data base for learning foreign languages with a YouTube video titled "Mango Languages Tutorial." This brief introduction to the program uses Japanese as an example.**

Students using the Mango foreign language data base have a wide choice of languages, including English as a Second Language.

Mango uses native speakers in a method called "Intuitive Language Construction" based on four components for speaking a language: vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and culture. Color-coded words, phrases and sentences assist comprehension of grammar structure and meaning. The program is self-paced, allowing the student to adjust the speed of the conversation elements, repeat the audio and see answers to quizzes. A simple mouseover gives phonetic equivalents for pronunciation help. Grammar and culture notes are also integrated into each lesson.

"Mango also is very, very simple," Leche noted. "You just point your mouse, and a pop-up box tells you what to do."

In addition to the tutorial, he projected some slides from Mango's French and Spanish lessons at the request of some of the library visitors in order to show how the program works.

"I'm a French native speaker, so I took several minutes of the French course to see how it's taught," Leche explained. "It's done very, very well."

Mango also has a recording feature, allowing the student to record his or her voice and compare it with the native speaker's voice. This "language lab" capability requires a computer with a microphone.

At present the Portage Library is anticipating a broadband connection, which will greatly improve the speed of the library's computers. Once the Michigan Tech Lakeshore Center (former UPPCO building near the library) is connected to broadband, the library will also be connected to it, hopefully within the year, Leche noted.

Leche said his real goal in purchasing the data bases for the library is to make these programs available without fees to library members' home computers.

"Then I've brought the library to you," he said. "It fits my philosophy of a library without walls."

Portage Lake District Library Director Shawn Leche has acquired new data bases for the library -- accessible from patrons' home computers -- as part of his philosophy of having a "library without walls." He also hopes to expand the Library District to include more Keweenaw communities.

Several visitors who attended the presentation, including some non-members from outside the district, voiced positive reactions.

"I appreciate the library offering this service," said Patti Lund of Calumet.

Pat Bacon of Hancock said she found the presentation interesting. Her sister, Marlys Bacon, of Hancock Township, said she often brings her grandchildren to the Portage Library, which offers many programs for children.***

Director hopes to expand Portage Library District

Non-members interested in taking courses in Universal Class or Mango on their home computers may find that the non-resident fee for a library card is more economical than paying for the courses on their own.

Portage Lake District Library District is a tax-supported institution including Chassell and Portage Townships and the City of Houghton. District residents pay no additional fees for obtaining a borrower’s card. A non-resident fee is $85 per person and $130 per family and is good for twelve months. Michigan Tech University students may use the library without a fee if they live on-campus or in the City of Houghton, Chassell Township or Portage Township.

Leche would like to see the Portage Library District expanded to other communities, provided the residents agree to vote for the millage.

"I'm going to try to get Stanton and Adams townships, Hancock and Calumet to join," he said.

Leche -- originally from Strasbourg, France -- came here from Santa Fe, NM, last summer to accept the position of Library Director. He is enthusiastic about the Portage Library -- its book collection, data bases and other resources, as well as community activities.

"It's just wonderful how much is available," he said. "Physically it's a jewel, and in its entirety it's a major draw for the community of Houghton."


* Visit the Portage Lake District Library Web site and go to Online Resources. Click on Universal Class to see a list of all the courses offered. This page also allows library members to log on to the program. See also for more information.

Click here for the Mango Web site, including a list of languages taught.

** Click here to see the Mango tutorial.

*** An example is the summer reading program. See our July 28, 2010, article -- "Portage Library Summer Reading Program: More than just a good read," by Samantha Stauch -- and read about Chris Alquist, Portage Library Community Program director.

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