Persian studies department changes course content to prepare students better

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Blake Atwood, Middle Eastern studies assistant professor, talks about UT’s Persian program Wednesday.
Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Persian-language students at UT are typically under-prepared by the time they enter advanced classes, according to Blake Atwood, Middle Eastern studies assistant professor. 

The Persian studies department changed the content of its intermediate Persian language course, 322K, because the intermediate course failed to prepare students for the advanced courses, according to Atwood.

Students in the department require more cultural knowledge in order to succeed in the advanced classes, Atwood said.

According to Atwood, the intermediate course aims to teach the language through the historical context of Iran after the 1979 revolution. Atwood said the intermediate Persian courses fail to prepare students for the advanced Persian courses because of they don’t emphasize Persian culture enough.  

“I can’t teach a course on youth culture in Iran unless students build a better base,” Atwood said.

Atwood, who received his master’s and Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies at UT, said he also experienced difficulty with the advanced classes during his time at the University. 

“It was a shocker to go from two years of poorly taught Persian to reading classical poetry,” Atwood said.

Atwood said an emphasis in the course changes will be placed on media jargon.

“There are about 300 words that the Persian media uses,” Atwood said. “[Students] can pick up a newspaper and know what’s going on.” 

The new course will provide improved vocabulary lists and use videos — some of which he will film himself — to help teach students more about Persian history, according to Atwood.

“In the past, we tried watching YouTube videos [and] online videos, and it was an abysmal failure,” Atwood said.

The use of native speakers will be incorporated into the videos to help students learn different viewpoints on historical Iranian events, according to Sadaf Ahmadbeigi, Atwood’s assistant.

“Native speakers don’t just follow the vocabulary lists in class; they provide a lot of [historical] content for the students,” Ahmadbeigi said.

Atwood said the tests would be restructured to place strategically chosen vocabulary words in historical-content questions. 

One concern about the change to the class is that students will be spending three semesters on course material that students previously completed in four semesters, Atwood said. 

Mona Mostoti, Persian language and literature senior, sees the additions to the course as an advantage that will outweigh the risk of condensing the material into three semesters.

“I think it will be beneficial; I don’t think it will be a problem at all,” Mostoti said.