Even if I feel like there is still much to do in the field of Italian teaching/learning in terms of educational technology use (the post in Dan's blog on the state of web technology in Italy came as a nice surprise for me), a lot is beeing done lately, not only in Italy, but also in the States when it comes to CAILL (Computer Assisted Italian Language Learning :)
I was googling the other day looking for Teaching Italian as a second language (thank you, Steve, for giving me the idea in your review of putting the right words in the google browsing tab) and I found this website for German (www.webgerman.com ) which has also a section dedicated to resourses for teaching other foreign languages, Italian included (and it really refers to a wide range of languages, I was even able to find tongue-twisters in Romanian :)). The general layout of the site gives the impression of a school project and unfortunately many links are broken, while some pages are still in construction. However, I think that it contains interesting resourses (various activities and games, literature, dictionaries, translation programs, online courses etc) and links to other sites (MLA, QUIA, BBC etc). My colleagues in the class who teach Spanish and English might find there an interesting resourse/link or two. And the site looks pretty updated, at least the Italian page was last updated on Sep. 01, 2006.
But this is not the website I was planning to talk about, but CyberItalian found at http://www.cyberitalian.com which is linked to the previous site. This second website presents itself as an online Italian course for anyone wishing to learn or to improve their Italian language and knowledge in Italian culture. It turns out that the founder of this website has a Laurea (B.A. equivalent, but not exactly, as the American and Italian university systems differ) in Foreign Languages and Literatures with considerable experience in teaching, while the webmaster is an electronics and systems engineer, both are of Italian origins and graduated from universities in Italy.
The first page has a neat, clear layout (like the entire site, or at least the parts I navigated through, because you need to be a member and/or to be taking the course, therefore to pay, in order to have access to the entire available material). Although it contains a lot of information, I think this is very well organized and easy to get to or to find later and nothing about it gives the impression of too much or of amateurish work.
The links are displayed on the left side of the page and send you to other pages containing information on different aspects like: how to become a member, courses and course material available, meeting rooms where members and visitors can meet and exchange information about the course/ideas/opinions etc, how to get in contact with a real professor and ask for help, frequently asked questions, advertising for Italian movies, literature books or Italian textbooks and software.
Thank to the free trial, I was able to experience a sample of the content/material of the courses offered which address different categories of learners: beginners, intermediate, advanced, but also Italian for business, Italian for travellers (tours are available also) etc. The course material contains grammar charts and explanations (some of them in English, some of them are bilingual, in Italian and English), drills (exercises and exams at the end of the lesson) that provide immediate feedback, images, audio files for listening and practicing pronunciation, interactive exercises, cultural activities, glossary for each lesson. In all these activities, the student will be guided by and will interact with the funny character of Pinocchio. All over the place, the students are encouraged to practice and repeat the same exercise several times, until they feel comfortable with the grammar rules they just learnt or register their voice and compare it with the original audio files, in order to learn pronunciation. According to the free trial material that I was able to browse, all three course levels are structured in the same way: they start with a dialogue where students can read and listen to pronunciation at the same time ( a list with vocabulary and its translation in English is provided on the right side of the page), Pinocchio's directions on goals and approaches for each level, a cultural section which usually consists in a listening comprehension activity, a grammar section which contains bilingual explanations (although the more advanced the level, the less English used), charts and exercises where students have the possibility to check their answers, cultural activities that usually implies that students need to use other resources, generally the internet (in some cases, other related links are already provided). Each lesson ends with an exam (the usual format is multiple choices)
This website offers also (which I don't think I have seen in many online courses) private courses providing personalized instruction, seminars in Italian for Business, Italian literature, Italian for travelling and conversation courses. All these are divided in three levels: beginners, intermediate and advanced and use the Skype Voice/Video Chat service. There is even a calendar with times and dates where students can directly contact a qualified professor on line if they need extra help. Other ways for contacting a professor or the other online students are the email and the forums, which are great ways for building a learners' community in order to give students support and motivation. For the above reasons, plus the authentic information it provides, I think that another strength of this webside are the entertainment and the links sections. The former contains: a chat room open for members and visitors, games for practicing some already studied language structures, sending ecards in Italian, bilingual reading (integrated in the site) in various fields such as: literature, cinema, cooking, art etc and news which offers links to the main Italian TV and newspaper sites plus the CyberItalian newsletter. The latter, offers some very interesting and useful links to external sources related to Italian culture and language, very well organized in different categories such as: culture, education, magazines, politics, news etc, just to give a few examples.
Overall, I found this website very informative and attractive for the variety of activities and resourses it provides, as well as professional/pedagogical in the methods used and in the way technology is used. I can't think of any suggestions for improvement, it was a very nice surprise to find this website and I'm planning to use it for its resources.