NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Immersion is said to be one of the best ways to learn a language. Stephen F. Austin State University undergraduate students studying German are bringing that adage into the 21st century as they create virtual museums examining 20th-century German cultural history.

"The motivation behind this project is twofold," said Dr. Louise Stoehr, SFA associate professor of German and director of the Language Resource Center. "In an effort to make class assignments more relevant to communication modalities of the 21st century, students create interactive websites instead of writing papers. At the same time, critical thinking skills - learning to ask the difficult questions and seek answers to them - are a focal point of the course. Beyond fostering intermediate-level acquisition of German, the larger goal of this course is to successfully encourage and support mentored undergraduate scholarship."

Started two years ago as an extension of a study-abroad program, the virtual museum project allows for students to study the history of Germany from the middle of the Nazi Third Reich through the unification of East and West Germany.

"The virtual museum project evolved as a component of SFA's fourth-semester German course, in which students study the cultural and political history of mid- to late-20th century Germany," Stoehr explained. "Specifically, through the media of film, graphic novels and youth literature, students learn about resistance to Nazi ideology and leadership during the Third Reich, examine the stark differences of daily life in West and in East Germany, and finally discover through firsthand accounts how average people in East Germany successfully achieved what is known as the 1989 Peaceful Revolution."

According to Stoehr, the projects were well-received by faculty and staff members, students and the community during the virtual museum's first two years.

"People are impressed that students create the projects they do and present them in a modality that invites the visitor to engage personally with the materials as he/she wishes," Stoehr said. "At several conferences, a number of colleagues in attendance wanted to know if they could 'steal' my idea for adaptation at their own campuses. Many professors really liked the project for its ability to showcase what language students are doing and to demonstrate the relevance of our subjects to a well-rounded education."

Groups of two-to-three students in Stoehr's four-semester German course will present in-depth and interactive websites on selected topics to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, in the Griffith Art Gallery on the SFA campus.