Professor Brings Innovation and Love of Teaching to the Classroom

Developer of New Approaches to Teaching Languages

Dr. Bettina Cothran sees learning a foreign language as more than just memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules. She views studying a language as an exciting way to expose students to other cultures and the truly global nature of today's world.

"Having the language exposure makes students more attuned to differences in different cultures," says Cothran. "You need to see the others in order to appreciate them as well as your own culture."

Cothran, an associate professor of German in the Georgia Tech School of Modern Languages, brings her enthusiasm and genuine caring for the well being of her students to the classroom, and her students respond to it. She has won several teaching awards including the 2004 E. Roe Stamps Award for excellence in teaching, Georgia Tech's Outstanding Teacher of the Year award (1993), and the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) Georgia Professor of the Year Award twice (1991 and 2002).

"I always enjoy how Dr. Cothran keeps the class lively and keeps all students involved-asking questions, mini-projects with presentations to the class, etc. Also, she ties in what we are discussing with current events, bringing the information to life," says Keri Foster, a senior in Global Economics and Modern Languages (GEML).

"She takes the time out of her day to help you through whatever class related problems," says Charlie Ruhs, senior in Computer Engineering. "In my European Union class, I met with her every Tuesday to go over the material so that I could stay up with the class."

In addition Cothran is highly innovative and has been a pioneer in developing new ways to teach German, which other language departments across the country have adopted. She developed the first curriculum for the highly successful applied-learning language program called Languages for Business and Technology (LBAT) for which the School of Modern Languages has a national reputation. LBAT is an intensive program that prepares students to be able to negotiate in the business world in their foreign language and includes topics such as appropriate behavior such as eye contact and body language. Each summer she leads a group of students in an LBAT study abroad program in Germany.

"The practical application of a language is so important, in addition to the literature and philosophy of that country," says Cothran. "I think it is important to prepare students with the necessary tools to make this nation successful in a global marketplace. After World War II, the American economy as the single largest economy constituted the largest percentage of the world market, but that is no longer so."

In fact, about 700 German-based firms have operations in the southeast United States.

Another novel, collaborative teaching approach developed by Cothran is the highly successful Languages Across the Curriculum courses, where courses are co-taught in the foreign language by faculty from Modern Languages and the discipline, such as International Affairs. This format provides students with two perspectives. Cothran began this program with German courses and subjects, and after receiving a grant from the Department of Education, the School expanded the program to courses in French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese.

"The co-taught course about The European Union (EU) was probably the most fantastic teaching/learning experience that I have ever had," says Ashley Wood, senior in International Affairs and Modern Languages (Spanish/German). "One teacher focused mainly on our German skills, while the other on our writing and debate skills as well as the content of the course. I felt like I got double out of that class."

For her co-taught course about the EU, Cothran reaches an even wider audience with an online, interactive teaching unit based on the course, which has been published by the Goethe Institute and is available worldwide on their website.

"I think a good teacher has to awaken curiosity and wonder. The joy in that to me is the core of what my profession is all about. Not to just teach an agenda but to open their minds," says Cothran.

Modern Languages' growth supports one of the goals of Tech's Strategic Plan of offering a student-focused education by increasing the number of students who work or study abroad. Reflecting its overall teaching excellence, the School of Modern Languages in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts received in May the 2004 Regents' Awards for Excellence in Teaching in a Department from the University System of Georgia. The award recognized Modern Languages' impressive growth over the last five years of launching two new joint degrees, creating 61 new courses, building a strong advising program for its undergraduates, developing new team-taught courses and an International Internship Program.