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Penn Graduate Student On-Line Foreign Language Exams

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Language study is an essential component of doctoral education in the humanities, and demonstrated language competency is an important requirement for the granting of the PhD degree. In today’s digital world, on-line dictionaries have become the standard reference tool for translating texts from foreign languages. It is reasonable to expect that at Penn, language exams will allow the use of such dictionaries and be composed with a keyboard rather than with pen and bluebook.

In AY 2013-14, the Emerald software program was specifically configured to allow graduate students to take language exams on their laptops with access to a designated “white list” of on-line foreign-language dictionaries while blocking all other websites (such as Google Translate and sites that might contain English translations of the exam documents). That software worked extremely well and represented the culmination of an effort to meet the needs of various constituencies.

In March 2014, it was unilaterally announced that Emerald would be discontinued because its designers - a pair of Wharton students working with Penn’s IT division - concluded that it was not a “viable commercial product.”

Penn is not a for-profit institution, and the ability to generate income cannot and should not be the sole factor in our educational decisions, including those that involve technology.

We the undersigned urgently request that Penn provide a system for on-line exams equivalent to Emerald, with controlled access to on-line dictionaries, for doctoral students who must demonstrate foreign-language competency. Global eminence in the 21st century - one of Penn’s stated goals - requires no less.

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