About me

My education

I have BAs in music and Spanish from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1999), an MA in Modern Languages & Literatures from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2002), and a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics with a certificate in Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2009). I received my Nebraska teaching certificate in 2019 after completing UNK's Transitional Certification Program.

Brief summary of experience

I started teaching Spanish as a graduate teaching assistant at UNL in 1999. After a one-year break from 2002-2003, as a result of receiving a fellowship at UIUC, I continued teaching as a graduate teaching assistant at UIUC from 2003-2007. In 2005, I began teaching part-time as an adjunct at Parkland College in Champaign, IL, and in 2007 I started on the tenure track at UNO. (That did not go well for me.)  For the 2015-2016 school year, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish at Nebraska Wesleyan University, and I've been adjuncting at Metropolitan Community College since 2016. I've been teaching Spanish 1-4 at Fort Calhoun High School since 2017.  I've taught students at all levels of Spanish proficiency, from high school Spanish 1 to graduate courses in linguistics, composition, and other subjects.  My student population has mainly been made up of traditional native English-speaking students, but I also have experience teaching non-traditional students (including one class offered in a business setting through the Parkland Business Development Center), and have also taught native Spanish speakers and heritage Spanish speakers at the graduate and undergraduate levels. For more information about the kinds of courses I've taught, please see my CV.

I've worked on multiple course redesigns in order to improve learning outcomes and maximize efficiency (translation: reducing the amount of time I spend grading). Some of the bigger projects are showcased on my portfolio site. I will be detailing other smaller innovations here on my blog.

What's up with my career trajectory?

Heh. Good question. If you're reading carefully, you'll see that my career trajectory is a what-not-to-do...I took a tenure-track job before finishing my Ph.D., which put me behind in publishing, which made it very hard to get tenure. So I went from tenure-track to VAP to adjunct to teaching high school. I had numerous health problems while on the tenure track, including debilitating depression that got worse with each passing year. I have had other offers in higher education, but higher education does not pay very well, and it would have meant moving far from my family without the financial means to visit them regularly (and as a first-generation college student who attended college on Pell Grants, etc., it also would have been impossible for my family to visit us). So I chose to stay in Nebraska and do something else. I never thought the something else would be teaching high school Spanish, but apparently I didn't know myself very well, because I love it. It feels meaningful to me in a way that teaching at the college level never did. So my career looks weird and kind of like a failure, but I'm happy and healthy, doing what I love.  If you're reading this and you are dealing with depression, please reach out to me at aksaalfeld AT gmail.com. I've been just about as low as you can go, and I'm glad I'm still here to enjoy my life. You can feel better, too.

Why I'm interested in technology-enhanced language learning (TELL)
  • Availability of authentic content. Back when I was learning Spanish (long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away), the only way to get authentic content was to travel to a country where it was produced. In theory, it may have been possible to have a mail subscription to a newspaper, but it would have taken a month or more to receive it, at which point the news is outdated. Now students can access authentic content from anywhere, including multi-media content. An obvious use for multimedia content is to improve listening comprehension, but there is also research that suggests that exposure to multiple speaker voices is beneficial for vocabulary acquisition (Barcroft & Sommers, 2005). The internet is an enormous (and free!) resource for language instructors.
  • Efficiency. Confession: I do not enjoy grading homework 95% of the time (maybe closer to 99%), particularly when it's something tedious like phonetic transcriptions or verb conjugations. I first designed and implemented my own online course component as an adjunct instructor at Parkland, when I realized that my students did not know how to study, and as a result, were not learning vocabulary and verb forms. Parkland had just adopted Angel, a course management system, and had offered training showing what kinds of features Angel supported. Among those features were assignments that would grade themselves, and I was hooked. This enabled me to give them homework to help them study without increasing the amount of homework that I graded. It also allows me to focus on things that can't be machine-graded, like overall writing and speaking skills. 
  • Immediate feedback. When I first started teaching, I graded very quickly, because I only taught one class at a time, and they were all beginning level courses. Now I teach a mix of courses, generally three per semester, with 25 students in each course. Grading assignments is considerably more time-consuming than it used to be, but reducing the number of assignments or diminishing their difficulty level does not promote learning (see Academically Adrift or this summary post for supporting evidence).  Enter technology-enhanced language learning. If I create an assignment using the "Tests" feature in Blackboard, students can immediately see how they did (Blackboard also allows you to customize the amount of feedback given, so I allow students to see their responses, but not the correct responses). 
  • Repetition. I wouldn't be able to allow students to complete multiple attempts of a homework assignment if I were grading it, because I would never have enough time to grade everything. However, using a Learning Management System, I can specify how many times students can repeat an assignment, which gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.