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Three times a week, Columbia University professor Mona Momescu keeps “one eye on the camera and one eye on the students in the classroom” as she teaches an elementary Romanian to students in New York and Philadelphia.

As part of a pilot program launched this fall, two Penn students are enrolled in Romanian alongside two Columbia students. Momescu interacts with the Columbia students in person and the Penn students on camera through a teleconference program.

As a member of the Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching, Penn is looking to expand its language offerings by collaborating with other schools. Through the group, universities can collaborate on teaching languages that are less commonly taught in the classroom, Christina Frei, academic director of the Penn Language Center said.

Brown, Columbia, Yale and Cornell universities along with Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago are also members of the 25-year-old consortium.

Three times a week, the two students connect to the Columbia classroom through the multimedia laboratory at the David Rittenhouse Laboratory. They are set up with a computer, camera and microphone.

Quizzes and assignments are faxed back and forth. Dialogue, discussion and oral presentations are done through the video system.

“Though it is different, we have never had any technical problems,” College freshman Katiera Sordjan, a student in the class and a Daily Pennsylvanian contributing writer, said. College freshman Alex Constantinescu is also enrolled in the course.

Sordjan said that the setup and small class size actually make the class more interactive than her other classes. She said she doesn’t have trouble focusing.

Momescu said her students on both ends enjoy being active participants in the unique learning community. “The Penn students have a sense of the classroom along with the Columbia students,” she said.

However, teleconferencing may not be a perfect substitute for a real-life classroom.

Though Sordjan is happy that she is able to take Romanian, she would still prefer to be in a traditional classroom.

“It’s helpful in our case, in languages like Romanian where it’s hard to find a teacher,” she said. “But for a traditional classroom that’s already in place for languages like French or Spanish, I wouldn’t recommend changing the format.”

Though Momescu likes the convenience of new learning technologies, she said “we do have to keep in mind when we’re using too much.”

Penn has had several requests for Romanian in the past but has had difficulty finding an instructor, Frei said. “It’s difficult to find teachers when the classes are small.”

Penn currently has classes in 32 languages on campus and is looking to expand, Frei added. The University is currently searching for ways to offer Thai and Indonesian, by hiring faculty or seeking collaborations with other universities.

“The Ivy League has been able to offer languages that other universities can’t,” she said. “Penn and Harvard have been at the forefront of being at the position to offer up to 45 different languages.”

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