A summer trip to Spain with her high school’s Language Club “changed everything” for Crystal Marull: her desire to be able to return to Spain eventually led her to select Boston University for college. Crystal participated in their study abroad program in Madrid twice as an undergraduate, and she was invited after graduation to serve as the assistant to the director there, leading to a seven-year stay in Madrid.
While working with students in Madrid, Crystal became fascinated with the process of second-language acquisition. She would observe patterns in learning, question what the brain was doing, and wonder which processes were universal and which ones were idiosyncratic. She kept a notebook of her observations and started forming her own questions and hypotheses. This passion led Crystal to begin a doctoral program in Madrid, but bureaucratic entanglements forced her to change plans. At that point, married and celebrating the birth of her daughter Maia, Crystal and her husband decided to return to the U.S. so she could pursue her degree here. Crystal’s son Thomas was born just after her return to the U.S., where she pursued a master’s degree in education and later a PhD in Spanish: bilingualism and second language acquisition. This past spring, shortly after her UF interview, she successfully defended her dissertation on the same day she had labor induced. “From the defense to the hospital, no joke!” she says. Her son Sebastián was born 36 hours later.
As SPS’ Coordinator of Online Courses in Spanish, Crystal is optimistic about these classes and their role in the UF Online degree program. With the recent incorporation of online language coaches from Ecuador, Spain, and Guatemala, UF students get to practice their communicative skills on a biweekly basis in a small group session tailored to the content covered that week. The initial student response to this addition has been overwhelmingly positive, as has their reaction to the use of the VoiceThread application, which allows them to interact with authentic sources asynchronously.
Crystal sees her role as a curator of the language experience, a tour guide who meticulously determines the content, pacing, and interactivity of the journey. She would like to be more involved in guiding the conversation about what learning language online should look like and what technology we need in order to get us there. “Some find this scary,” she notes, but “I find it thrilling!”