A Model Program: Area Studies and the Internet
John D. Hopkins (1996)
Invited Article for The Advising Quarterly, Special Issue on "Area and International Studies"
Volume 39, Winter 1996
A Publication for International Education Advisers of AMIDEAST, Washington, D.C.

The FAST Area Studies Program of the University of Tampere, Finland, is a good example of specialized interdisciplinary curricula emerging in universities outside the United States to meet the increased demands for intercultural communication in a rapidly-internationalizing world. It may also provide many useful resources for international educational advisers.

The FAST Program, an acronym for Foundations in Area Studies for Translators, is based in Tampere University's Department of Translation Studies, whose mission is to provide practical training and a foundation for advanced study and research for professional translators and interpreters. While the Translation Program itself offers the full range of university degrees, B.A. through Ph.D., the FAST Program offerss first or second-minor options for the Bachelors' and Masters' degrees. Students wishing to specialize in United States or British, Irish and European Studies may also receive Certificates for the completion of 10 credits from these individual components of the curriculum.

The FAST curriculum is interdisciplinary and inter-departmental, tailored to the needs of translators, interpreters, philologists and language teachers, media specialists, social scientists, educators and others whose professions will require a knowledge of intercultural area studies focusing on the national cultures of the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and Finland within the context of the English Language.

The FAST Core Curriculum

The FAST core curriculum is comprised of 18 courses from wholly within the Translation Program, providing a reliability and continuity of courses financed from a hard-money budget. Courses offered on by other departments can be taken as supplements to FAST basic subjects, as can courses taken during studies abroad.

While translation students form the majority in most classes, the Program is open to all Tampere University students; on average about a third of all FAST students come from other departments, particularly students of languages and mass communications, and about 10% of the students come from other countries. Inasmuch as translators are by nature 'international communicators', most of the courses include telematic collaboration with students and working translators throughout Europe and North America. All students have access to full internet services, and all must pass telematics proficiency exams at the beginning of their studies.

Some courses are also available by telematically-mediated distance education, though this option is primarily used as a means of continuing coursework by Tampere students who are working or studying abroad. While course participation by distance technologies is also available to others, University regulations require that one must first have been admitted as a student by the Faculty of the Humanities, in which the Translation and FAST Programs are located.

Objectives of the FAST Program

The FAST curriculum focuses on the practical needs of translators working to or from the English language. It is based on an examination and comparison of the languages and literatures of the United States and United Kingdom as the cornerstones of world English, the socioeconomic, cultural, political and educational institutions by which the U.S. and U.K. are known, and the mass communications structures and technologies through which the peoples of both nations convey information worldwide in the English language.

As is the case with most 'Area Studies' curricula, the FAST program was designed on the premise that cultural studies must by definition be interdisciplinary or a-disciplinary, e.g. involving cultural relationships and processes that do not easily correspond to traditional definitions of academic disciplines such as 'language', 'history' or 'literature' alone. Each subject within an Area Studies program will provide its own insight, or 'window' into the whole fabric of the target culture, with a 'holistic understanding' of how that culture operates the objective of the program.

American, British, Finnish and European Studies

The two primary divisions of the FAST program are United States Studies and British, Irish and European Studies -- or from the language perspective of translators, a focus on American English and British English from the standpoint of understanding the national cultures and subcultures represented by the two major variants of World English.

The core curriculum for United States Studies includes nine basic courses: "Introduction to American English", "U.S. Institutions Survey", "U.S. Literature Survey I and II", "The U.S. Education System", "U.S. Mass Communications", "U.S. Popular Culture", "Power, Pride & Politics in American English", and "U.S. Government & Political System". Basic courses are supplemented internet-based cooperative courses with universities abroad, by English-language offerings in other departments of Tampere University, or courses by visiting Fulbright and other scholars.

The British, Irish and European Studies core curriculum in turn includes eight basic courses: "Introduction to British English", "British Institutions Survey", "Irish Institutions Survey", "European Institutions Survey", "Introduction to European Arts and Culture", "English Literature I and II", and "Commonwealth Literature". Basic subjects are supplemented by offerings from the University's 'European Studies' curriculum, among others.

In addition, there is a Finnish and Integrative Studies component to the Program which is required of all students, with the presumption that most students would be studying or working in Finland, in professions requiring the use of English within the context of Finnish language and culture. While there is only one course in the 'Finnish Studies' component, "Finnish Institutions Survey" (taught in English), since 90% of all program students are Finns it has not been necessary for other courses to be offered in the FAST program itself. International students may take supplementary courses from the University's English-language "Finland" curriculum.

A feature of the FAST Program that may especially interest educational advisers is that course resources are on the Internet, available for all to use. These include a number of papers and projects on different aspects of American language and culture especially, as well as further details on the structure and requirements for the FAST program.

Also, all of the United States Studies courses, the Finnish Studies course, and a growing number of the British, Irish and European Studies courses have individual class e-mail lists to which advisers may subscribe. The course lists enable the rapid relay of class information, such as schedule changes or the forwarding of relevant internet lecture resources; provide a forum to discuss course-related topics outside regular class time; and also provide the capability for students to cooperate telematically on FAST projects. All of the lists run under 'ListProc' software at the University of Tampere Computer Center, and have names such as "USA1-L@uta.fi" and "BIE3-L@uta.fi".

The FAST Program is a Pioneer in its IT-based Curriculum

The use of interactive information technologies in the FAST program is part of the growing use of telematic learning aids in higher education worldwide. In Europe, the FAST program has been a pioneer in the use of internet technologies, and has served as a model for programs elsewhere wishing to implement on-line work. In 1996, the FAST program was designated as one of the Core A-1 leaders among 104 European university programs selected for an inaugural European Union SOCRATES Thematic Network on 'Advanced Computing in the Humanities'.

The FAST program uses technology to expand the influence of the traditional university, to help offset some of the budget cuts faced by universities worldwide, to involve a greater part of the communities surrounding but outside the traditional university, and to drive the ever-growing concept of Life-Long Learning.

Technology is used to enhance the human touch, rather than replacing it. It supplements personal mentoring, complements human guidance and enhances face-to-face instruction, while at the same time extending the reach of university and incorporating those outside the university who need the training and knowledge universities can provide.

There are several levels of telematic work, starting with e-mail. Each course has its own e-mail "list" which all the students join. Each list carries substantive information, such as notes and articles on the lectures and followup to class discussion, as well as practical information, such as schedule changes. Through the list there is an ongoing contact among students and teachers, and with the course material, to supplement the weekly physical meetings of the class.

Enhanced Learning as well as Budget Savings

Learning is enhanced in several ways. There is more exchange of ideas and perspectives than would have been possible with the physical class alone. There is also more involvement. Students who may not have felt like volunteering ideas during class often do send ideas to the list. Students open up more to each other. Exchanges on-line lead to discussions in person. Learning extends beyond the course itself. Students have not left the lists even after courses have been completed. They stay subscribed and involved with each new course cycle.

Each class also has its WWW directory, which stores class schedules, lecture outlines, course exams, student papers and projects, and what used to be known as 'hand-outs': supplementary teaching and reference materials which are now made available electronically.

This provides a budget savings as well as a resource benefit. Putting "handouts" on the web instead of duplicating them on the copy machine means more material is available at a fraction of the cost. Instead of duplicating three pages of paper, thirty or three hundred pages can be archived digitally, extra material the teacher has available, but which would have been marginal for most students and too expensive to be copied. Students browse the website, select material of use to them, download it to their disks, and print out all or parts of it as they wish, or edit it directly into digital projects. The incremental cost for doing this, with the infrastructure in place, is just the few minutes needed to put the text on-line.

International Cooperation is Easily Available

Student work is also published in the website, where it remains, modest additions to the body of knowledge. For our curriculum needs, benchmarks are established which successive classes advance; more pride and care is taken by students in their work, and more visibility gained for both the students and the Program. But our materials are also used by others, by school teachers and other language workers throughout Finland, and by students, staff and advisers in other countries and on other continents. Freely available and searchable on the internet, the glossaries, projects, papers and reports produced for our own local needs become a global resource, at no extra effort for us.

Distance education and continuing education opportunities are inherent in the technology. Classwork includes collaboration by e-mail with students and teachers in other institutions and other countries. Sometimes these lead to new physical exchanges, but ones in which the 'home culture' need not be left behind. Students can complete credits in our curriculum at the same time they are studying in another, or directly combine work done abroad with courses and classmates back home.

The physical classroom is supplemented by a personal 'learning environment' which is anywhere from which students can be on- line. Students need not always be present to complete their coursework. Those who are handicapped, who have child-care duties, who work part-time, or who simply fall ill and miss a few days, can all be accommodated through the larger electronic dimension that supplements our physical meetings.

Extension courses for the professional training of translators in Finland and abroad are also easily enabled. Another e-mail list, (TRAN-Q@uta.fi) handles questions translators submit when faced with unusual terminology or obscure cultural references in the books, films, or TV series on which they are working. With deadlines near and one's dictionaries not enough, where does one turn? The e-mail list puts one quickly in touch with hundreds of students, teachers, and colleagues, some of whom will likely know the answer, which then is shared with all.

There is a mutual benefit from this service. For teaching and research, the questions are as useful to us as are the answers to the askers. New definitions go into terminology registers which are on-line in the website. Through the exchanges of queries and responses, students get a better view of the reality of working life in their future professions. In turn, this 'reality' can be coordinated better with extension and continuing education courses for working translators. These courses can be completed partly by e-mail while one is working elsewhere, a convenience which brings more new students to our courses, who then raise our enrollment figures, which helps our budget problems, and so on down the line. Technology enables an on-going synergy of benefits. More can happen. All will gain.

The FAST Program is designed to help professionals who must use English to communicate the social, political and educational dynamics of the United States and United Kingdom to and from their own language and culture. This is precisely the function of educational advisers, as well as the translators and interpreters for whom the Program was designed.

Advisers are welcome to explore the FAST program website, make use of any of the materials you feel are helpful, and even subscribe to class e-mail lists if you would like to join class discussions of American or British language and culture. There is no obligation, or any cost other than possibly for your local internet access. Thanks to the new technologies that link us together, again it's 'more can happen; all will gain'.

Background on John D. Hopkins