Telling it Like It Is
A Q&A with Michael Heller, Director of Language Learning Technology
How long have you been Director of Language Learning Technology at Montclair State?
This is my first and only evolving job at the University. I’ve had this position for sixteen years – since June 1998.
What did you do before then?
I was the Language Technologist at Oberlin College, after I completed my master’s degree at the University of Iowa.
What are your job responsibilities?
My day-to-day job involves facilities and technology management and other operations – including financial and technological -- in Schmitt Hall. I supervise personnel and also work with faculty in an instructional designer role.
How much of a difference have the new facilities in Schmitt Hall made to you?
The move to Schmitt Hall has well positioned our foreign language and linguistics programs within the higher education sector in New Jersey. Our well thought out and purpose-built facilities serve nearly all undergraduate students at Montclair State at some point during their academic careers.
Personally, I truly enjoyed the process of working alongside faculty and students as we identified the functionality requirements that were important and necessary for our programs to flourish. This was a fruitful collaboration from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, involving college division and University leadership, external architects and consultants, and the divisions of Information Technology and University Facilities.
What do you like most about your job?
I particularly enjoy helping faculty develop technology solutions that meet instructional and research objectives. I’m passionate about the impacts that well-designed and outfitted instructional facilities can have on teaching and learning! I also enjoy working with students as they use technology and our facilities to meet language and linguistics course objectives.
How many languages do you speak?
I learned English and Spanish simultaneously having grown up in Colombia. I’m a beginner in Portuguese and have had many false starts at learning German. My wife is German and we are trying to raise our daughters trilingually. She is much more successful at teaching them German than I am at teaching them Spanish!
What do you think about language learning programs like Rosetta Stone?
I think there is a place for technology-enhanced and computer-assisted language learning – TELL/CALL – particularly for highly motivated learners.
That being said, I’m not a proponent of Rosetta Stone or of learning a foreign language in a vacuum. Language is intertwined with culture and requires interaction with others for it to have meaning and value. In fact, I’ve been an outspoken critic of my own town’s school district’s exclusive use of Rosetta Stone in elementary level foreign language instruction.
Do you like to travel?
I do! But these days most of my travel is to visit family, rather than for leisure and exploration.
What is your idea of a perfect vacation?
After this past winter, three days on the beach sounds really good! I’d like to visit the UK and meet my wife’s host family from her year abroad in Scotland. I’d also like to visit some good friends in Brisbane, Australia.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? What’s that?
I like to tinker with home improvement. I’ve mastered demolition but my skills in finishing projects are sorely lacking! I do enjoy cooking, gardening and drinking good beer.
I’m also pursuing PMP -- project management professional -- and CTS-D -- certified technology specialist-designer for AV systems -- credentials.
Do you have a favorite TV show?
I’m fond of British mysteries. Our DVR is always full of shows that we’ve not had time to watch!