Friday, December 25, 2015

Sharing Good Ideas among Language Programs in the CIC

My notes from the CIC meeting of language program directors.
by Ann Abbott

It's good to have a peer group. You can share and compare because you know that you're in similar situations. And that's what the CIC annual meeting of language program directors and executive officers is all about. (Although I'm not a language program director, I am the Director of Undergraduate studies; that's why I go.)

But the things driving our discussions--helping our students learn the most possible, integrating technology intelligently, combating declining enrollments, and running large programs effectively--concern all language educators.

So I'll share some things here. In the interest of privacy, I'll keep things very general, and I won't share the names of the university or person who presented the ideas.

Hopefully you can find one or two things that could help your language program and courses. There's no particular order to this list.

  • Course titles. Some spoke of successfully changing course titles so that they were "sexier," more appealing to students. (I don't know how I feel about this if the course content doesn't also actually appeal to students...)
  • High school visits. One program worked with the office of admissions to reach out to high schools that offer AP courses in their specific language. They have invited those schools to visit the campus and department on President's Day (a holiday for high schools but not colleges).
  • No minor. One program stopped offering a minor in their language. Furthermore, something like 73% of students were choosing the language track of the major, so they shut it down; students now take literature. (No comment.)
  • Languages for Specific Purposes. One university said that they actually have the buy-in of the faculty to concentrate on LSP. This is unusual!
  • The important role of TAs in promoting the major. One program shared how they encourage TAs to promote the following class in the sequence to their current students, to study abroad and to major/minor. There is a self interest in this as well: if students are plentiful at the upper levels, then TAs will be able to teach a wider range of classes and gain more professional experience.
  • Marketing your courses. Everyone knows that we need to advertise our programs in ways we never did before. One program sends all first-year students a pamphlet about the languages their university offers and explaining the language requirement. Another program advertises their classes with clever ads on the tables in dorm cafeterias.
  • Tenure track, non-tenure track and adjuncts. One program has a departmental committee devoted to improving the environment among the various appointment types. One example of their work is a workshop about "how are you treating grammar in 400-level courses?" (I think this is fantastic! We should be pulling from the talents and expertise of people in all ranks to improve our offerings at all levels.
  • TA accountability. The question emerged about how language program directors can handle TAs and non-tenture track employees who do not carry out their duties successfully. (This is very rare, in my experience.) This becomes problematic when the tenure-track faculty support those TAs because their main priority is their graduate education. So people asked: what is the role, then, of the Director of Graduate Studies in these situations? One LPD outlined their procedure: 1. TA receives a probation letter. 2. They have one year to improve their teaching. 3. The LPD and TA come up with an individual plan for improvement. 4. The TA is assessed again with multiple methods. 5. If there is not sufficient improvement, they are let go. (While this seems very rare to me, I will say that the individual who brought up the issue seemed to be very vexed by the problem. So it is obviously an important issue.)
  • TAs' language proficiency. When the question came up about what to do about TAs (and NTT) who have low language proficiency, I loved my friend Holly Nibert's response. (I said I would reveal names, but I think she deserves credit for this fabulous answer.) She said that she tries to create a "growth-oriented" culture among TAs and other teaching staff. She models the use of the language by writing emails in Spainsh, speaking in Spanish, because the department's "unofficial/official" language is English. 
  • Rutger's Department of Spanish & Portuguese. Again, although I said I wouldn't identify people or programs, I'd like to point out some unique things that Rutgers does. They have a 5-year Teacher Education program. I find this very interesting because our BAT program became so packed with Education requirements that students can no longer study in Barcelona for a year. That was our signature program that produced high school teachers with excellent Spanish. Rutgers does not have a foreign language requirement. The department does require all their majors to pass an oral proficiency test in order to graduate. They have an online course to prepare students to pass the OPI, which they take at the end of the second 7-week lab. They have one section for L2 learners and another for native speakers. They recommend students take these lab courses after study abraod, and most L2s are at intermediated mid or high. Some problems that are typical for students are: descriptions, narration and cohesion. However, their entire program is geared toward proficiency from the very beginning and all faculty are familiarized with ACTFL and use it in the class. 
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Is there anything from this list that is particularly relevant to your work and program?

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