Sunday, April 27, 2014

10 Questions Raised by the 2014 CIBER Business Languages Conference

What a lovely setting for the CIBER conference: Park City, Utah.
by Ann Abbott

Each year, I usually provide a roundup of the things I learned at that year's CIBER Business Languages Conference, like last year's post from Indiana University.

This year was an exciting, fulfilling learning experience, too. However, I think I came away with more questions to reflect upon than answers to immediately act upon. You can see the program, author bios and paper abstracts from the 2014 CIBER Business Languages Conference here.

1. What is the status of the field?

Judging by the quantity and quality of the sessions at this year's conference, things are going very, very well. This is important because we know that many departments are looking toward business Spanish and other languages for specific purposes as an antidote (one among several) to declining enrollments in language programs. You can read the paper abstracts, and you will notice that the topics cover a lot of ground and the presenters come from many different types of institutions. I will confess, I struggled with what to present during my Spanish workshop. I didn't know if I would have beginners in the audience or seasoned professionals. As it turns out, I had both, and so I was glad to have prepared an outline that moved from the first decisions you must make when building a Business Spanish course to ways that you can go beyond the basics. 

2. What is the role of experiential learning?

More and more people are integrating service learning and other types of experiential learning and business languages, although it's still not as much as I think it could/should be. Sean R. Hill (Farwell High School; Mid Michigan Community College) presented Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities Outside the Classroom with Student-Selected Micro-Loans, and Maria del Milagro Lozada Cerna (University of Pennsylvania; Lauder Institute) presented session on corporate visits. (I co-authored an article with Maida Watson several years ago about experiential learning in a faculty development program.) 

3. Can we integrate this into graduate studies?

Diana Ruggiero's (University of Memphis) session challenged us to think about how to integrate business languages and LSP into graduate education. I believe strongly that we should build a working group to come up with a white paper suggesting models of graduate education in language programs that includes LSP.

4. Are we connecting study abroad and business languages enough?

I attended sessions by Leland L'Hote and Kacy M. Pekenpaugh that combined the topics of business languages, intercultural communication and study abroad. I particularly appreciated the framework Lee L'Hote offered us for assessing students' intercultural communication proficiency (scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "download"). Pekenpaugh's title was ironic (I Learned How to Pack Light and Effectively: Helping Students Translate Study Abroad Experiences for the Real World), but I pointed out that my husband has actually mentioned this as something he needs in his employees and doesn't always get: the ins and outs of international travel, including packing. We sometimes focus so much on the theoretical and abstract elements of study abroad and transcultural competence that we lose sight of the very practical skills that study abroad gives students--and that most people in the US do not have.

5. How can we best engage heritage language learners?

Juanita Villena-Alvarez (U of South Carolina, Beaufort) is probably the very first person I have ever heard at this conference tackle the topic of heritage language learners. Although she specifically focused on differentiated rubrics for assessment, this is obviously a topic we need to work on much more in LSP. The attendees were very interested in the topic, and you could see that departments are giving this topic a lot of thought but still haven't fully figured it out.

6. Is entrepreneurship education taking off?

Deb Reisinger (Duke) and I co-presented in a session about social entrepreneurship. I shared my lesson on mission-based management. (I'll write that up in a future blog post.) Deb shared her successess with teaching students to fail (yes, fail) and to do the Gumball Challenge.In another session about entrepreneurial literacy, Karen Rauch and Dawn Slack (Kutztown U of Pennsylvania) shared the two courses they have designed about entrepreneurship: one in Spanish and another one in English for all language students who plan to be language professionals (translators, interpreters and more). 

7. How do we incorporate technology in ways that actually matter?

I greatly enjoyed Orlando Kelm's (U Texas) workshop on technology. You can see all the technologies he had for his workshop here. Our challenge is how to use technology in ways that enhance student learning in significant ways. I am particularly interested in teaching students to produce business-grade content in commonly-used technologies.

8. What conferences should I attend next year?

There will be a CIBER Business Languages Conference next year, we just don't know when or where. CIBER is a Title VI program of the federal government, and there will be even less funding--even fewer CIBER centers--in this next round of grants. So they will wait to see which Centers are funded and then make the decision about next year's conference. I'll be there. And I'm now going to look into the conference held by Global Advances in Business Communication which rotates between three locations: Eastern Michigan University, Malaysia and Antwerp. Next year it will be in Michigan during the Memorial Day weekend, and I will look into attending it once the official announcement is made. 

9. What is my research agenda?

Christine Uber Grosse (American U of Sharjah) and Tomoko Takami (U Pennsylvannia) gave a workshop titled "The State of Research in Business Language." They shared the latest publications, invited us to discuss trends in those publications, and then at the end asked us to reflect on our own research agendas. I was rushing between sessions all during the conference and didn't have time to reflect on this very, very important question. What do I want to work on? How do I want to approach my research questions? Where do I want to publish them? Maybe (maybe...) during the long travels back to Illinois today I will have a chance to reflect and plan for this.

10. Who are my colleagues?

This question is easy to answer. We all need to feel like we belong to an intellectual community. When you do something outside the mainstream (and in language programs, literature is the mainstream along with linguistics to a lesser extent), you need that sense of community even more. Here at CIBER, I was happy to see old friends engaged in the same endeavor: Maida Watson, Chris Grosse, Mike Doyle, T. Bruce Fryer, Juanita Villena-Alvarez, Orlando Kelm, Mary Long, Mary Risner, Deb Reisinger, Nola Senna, Liz Martin and more. During this conference, I came to know David Victor better and met wonderful people for the first time: Karen Rauch, Dawn Slack, Erin McNulty and more. And I missed my partner in crime, Darcy Lear. I look forward to following all of these people's work and collaborating when possible.

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