Three levels of an Italian Language and Culture course, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, will be available on the edX platform starting Monday, January 25th, 2016. The classes, which were developed at Wellesley, are the first online courses in Italian to be offered as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

“These courses are a "first" in more than one way—first Italian language and culture MOOCs; and first language MOOC to cover all levels (from beginner to advanced). For example, Spanish is offered as a MOOC but only at the beginner level; French only at the AP level,” said Daniela Bartalesi-Graf, lecturer in Italian studies, the course instructor. Italian is Wellesley’s first online language class, the French and Spanish classes are offered by other edX partners.

In a video announcing the launch of WellesleyX and the edX partnership in 2012, Andrew Shennan, provost and dean of the college, referred to edX as a modern extension of Wellesley’s founding mission “to educate women who otherwise would not have had opportunities to receive higher education.”

The edX platform allows the College to reach far beyond its campus to extend Wellesley’s transformative education to women everywhere. With this class in particular, the online component also allowed instructors to involve Wellesley women everywhere in the course development.

The new WellesleyX classes are based off an online course that was successfully tested with 1,500 Wellesley students, alumnae, and selected high school students during the summers of 2014 and 2015, and three credit-bearing blended courses taught at Wellesley and MIT. Missy Shea, executive director of the Wellesley College Alumnae Association, called MOOCs and other online opportunities “key to engaging alumnae with the College via lifelong learning."

Like the previously offered course, the new courses include videos, downloadable podcasts, interviews with native speakers, and a discussion board where students can post audio recordings of themselves speaking and reply to other postings to reinforce course material.

"Cultural themes are treated via readings and interviews with native speakers, scholars, and others who are experts in a certain subject," said Bartalesi-Graf. "There are about 22 interviews. These are not scripted, and subjects vary from Italian cinema, to the history of 'made in Italy,' to Italian environmental regulations."

New interviews for the edX classes include: a music group from southern Italy explaining the origins of "tarantella" and performing a song; the theater troupe "Pazzi Lazzi" talking about "Commedia dell'Arte", an Italian genre of street theater, and performing an original piece; and Francesca Southerden,assistant professor of Italian studies, talking about Dante and his Divine Comedy.

"The course is not just about listening, it takes bits of conversations from our situational videos, then asks students to become one of the characters... participants practice by inserting themselves into video dialogue through podcasts," said Bartalesi-Graf.

A voice comparison tool developed by Ravi Ravishanker, chief information officer and associate dean for WellesleyX, assists students in these efforts. Bartalesi-Graf said David O'Steen, senior instructional technologist and associate director of the Blended Learning Initiative, Laura O'Brien, research and instruction librarian, and Jarlath Waldron, instructional media director, also contributed greatly to every phase of the project.

On campus, in addition to Italian, Wellesley offers 15 languages—the others are Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili—a larger selection than almost all liberal arts colleges of comparable size.

Registration is open now for the 8-week, self-paced WellesleyX courses. Student can also choose to work towards a "Verified Certificate of Completion." To register, visit WellesleyX on the edX site.