Sunday, March 27, 2016

How to Turn Declining Enrollments Around: The Example of Communication

by Ann Abbott

It's well known that enrollments in higher ed programs in the humanities are decreasing. A lot. It has hit languages hard. Spanish, too. It seems we're all scrambling with no clear strategy that we can have complete confidence in. First of all, we don't really know from the students themselves why they are choosing to stay away from our programs. How can we fix a problem we don't understand?

Still, the Head of my department and I went in search of some potential solutions. We knew that the Department of Communication at our university had successfully reversed a very big dip in enrollments some years ago. We talked to them about how they did it.

Remember, there are no magic bullets. We probably need a combination of strategies, and we might even have to change some things about the very nature of our programs. (Ugh, it's so hard for people to change.) But here are the strategies that we walked away with.

Consider your name 

They changed the name of their department from "Speech Communications" to "Communication." This reflected more accurately what they actually do, they told us. I also suspect that many students see the word "speech" and their knees knock in fear. Taking the scary part out probably helped. The process took three years.

Redo the curriculum

They discarded old categories that no longer reflected the discipline and made the major/minor more flexible. They eliminated supporting coursework, so students now take 37 hours in communication. Of course, they had to make an argument for why this is important: to themselves, to students and to the administration. In other words, redoing the curriculum still requires us to offer a logical, sound program. As you can see from their program of study, they offer six areas of specialization, and they articulated in their brochures: "This is what this specialization does for you." 

One point to consider: rhey have an "intro" to the major, similar to LAS 101.

Aggressive marketing

Back when students read the campus newspaper, they ran full-page ads in the Daily Illini. They work closely with the Division of General Studies (DGS), and many of their students move from that program into theirs. They buy lunch for the DGS advisors and tell them about their communication major and careers. That helps the DGS advisors help the students make informed decisions about Communication. They told us that DGS sends a newsletter to students and one to parents. They suggested we try to be the "major of the week" for one of those newsletters to gain more visibility.

They hold a meet the department event (and faculty attend!). Furthermore, their student interns do the kind of work it takes to make the current majors feel good.

Became more focused on career outcomes

You can definitely see the emphasis on careers and successful alumni on their website. They always had an internship program, and they are pushing it even more. Additionally, they brought back a popular skills course that TAs teach: Business Comm 211. And finally, as we were running out of time with so much more to discuss still, they mentioned the importance of course titles. Course names matter: students need to clearly know what it means, but it should also be a bit "glamorous." (And for students today, the "glamour" often comes from being associated with careers.)

That's a quick summary of our discussion. It's not philosophical. It's not pinpointing the underlying problems. But it is a helpful list of ideas from a department that turned itself around. Are you doing any of these things in your department? Have different strategies been successful for you? It would be wonderful if we could share our ideas and outcomes (successful and not successful) so that we can all understand students' perspectives and concerns better and come up with better solutions. 

How I Have Been Reaching My Acadmic Writing Goals Lately

It feels good to check items off the list.
by Ann Abbott

When I made my March writing list, I tried to be realistic. I knew that March included spring break plus travel to Phoenix for the LSP Symposium. Still, I completed every item on that list by March 22.

While I'm happy about that, it's not because of anything special that I have done. There's no secret. I just simply sat down and wrote for about 60 minutes almost every day.

It wasn't every single day.

And it wasn't always a full 60 minutes.

But I just kept advancing. Slow and steady.

Here are a few things that help me stick to that.

Passion. I am passionate about the things I write about. I to want to share ideas and experiences with the world, and writing is the best way.
     Are you writing what you're truly passionate about? I sometimes see people who think they "should" research and write something that doesn't match with their true passion and area of interest.

Mental strength. I try to remind myself to write from a place of power. In other words, I say things to myself like, "Ann, you know a lot about this topic; own it!" Or, "I enjoy reading and learning from other people's work;  there have to be people out there who would feel the same way about what I want to share." That might sound corny, but I even write notes to myself ("Dear Ann,") to give myself pep talks.
     Say positive things to yourself. Out loud. On paper. There are too many negative messages all around us; make your words to yourself kind and encouraging.

Relaxation techniques. Still, I don't always feel like I'm writing from a place of power. There was something I needed to write this month (that's not on the list because it came up last minute), and I felt a great deal of anxiety about. I was too worked up to focus. So I named it ("Wow, I'm really anxious."), lit a nice candle on my desk, took some deep breaths, and just dove in. I know writing can make me anxious, and I know some of the things that I can help me lower the anxiety.
     Would closing your eyes for a few minutes help? Would downloading the app called "Calm" calm you down? Would some stretching exercises limber you for typing? Would writing by hand in beautiful, slow cursive help?

Buddies. I have standing writing appointments with a couple of friends. We Skype. They write. I write. I know myself, and I know that if I were trying to do this alone, I wouldn't do it.
     Pick up the phone and call your most supportive friend. Tell him that you rarely ask for help, but you really need this. They don't have to write, but you'd really love it if you could Skype while they work on one of their own goals and you write. (Honestly, this was the hardest part for me. It was really tough to find someone.)

Concrete goals. As you can see from the picture, I try to break the projects into concrete phases. When I sit down to write each day, I more or less have an idea of what I want to accomplish. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But those times when it does work, that means that I'm advancing toward the big picture. It adds up. It simply adds up over time.
     Get out a nice piece of paper. Write something big and bold at the top. Then write down some realistic goals. Your goal might be to simply think and plan your next project. That's a good one to start with!

Experience. Experience equals confidence. I know I can do. Because I have done it many times. Each project is different, of course, but previous success builds your confidence.
     What have been particularly successful at? Sticking to a workout regime? Cooking homemade meals most nights? Fostering friendships even when people move apart? Analyze those successes and use the same techniques (if possible) in your approach to writing.

Helping others. I have a friend who is getting back into the swing of writing, and we talk a lot. We talk about her progress, her challenges, her questions, her fears, her patterns, her goals...everything. I'm not claiming any special sway over this person--she is a full-fledged professional, capable of ruling the world if she decides to--just saying that being a support for another person who is writing makes me feel good and makes me feel good about writing.
     Who could you talk to about writing? Who is open about both the good and the bad? 

Visibility. I tape my writing schedule and daily to-do lists on the wall opposite my writing desk in my home office. I see the lists every day. (I also like using markers and nice papers.)
     Should you tape your list to the bottom of your computer screen? Could it be your screen saver?
This is my latest project, and as you can see 
I plan to write about 20 pages. So I simply 
assign a topic per page (more or less). There 
is wiggle room because the journal accepts 
longer articles.

Time and space. Through experience, I now know better how long something will take me to write. But last year I made a breakthrough in terms of "space." It was the first time I calculated ahead of time how many pages I would write for each section of my paper. In other words, knowing the page limit, I simply divided that number by the sections of the paper and the number of points I wanted to make in each section. What a difference that made! In the past, I often wrote too much then had to cut. Similarly, I would write without having a really good sense of exactly where I was within the limits of the manuscript, without knowing how much time I could spend illustrating a specific point without going over. Now that I have a better (though not perfect) sense of "the space" of a manuscript, I often simply tell myself, "Today I'm going to write about X for one page."
     Read the journal's author guidelines to find out the minimum and maximum length. Remember, 250 words is about one double-spaced page. Then splice your outline onto the page length you're shooting for.

Last year I submitted five article manuscripts, some of them co-authored. While on the one hand I was happy about that, on the other hand I thought that I should slow down, relax, since I am non-tenure track. For tenure stream faculty, the norm in our department is supposedly two articles per year (plus a book before going up for tenure). And I don't think most of them even reach that goal. So I said to myself, why? Why did I submit five? I decided to write just two things this year--one per semester. But I continued to write for almost an hour, almost every day. The writing simply accumulated. I guess I'll stop thinking about it and just continue to write consistently and see what happens.

I love to read about writing and talk about writing. Any chance you could share about your writing process and practices in a comment? I'd love to read it. We're too alone and isolated in a competitive environment where everyone is sizing everyone else up instead of lifting each other up!

Monday, March 21, 2016

An Online Community of Practice for LSP

by Ann Abbott

At the recent Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) Symposium, I participated on a panel titled "Where's the Community in Languages for Specific Purposes?" Deb Reisinger (Duke) presented about the possibilities for French, Community Service Learning and LSP. Lourdes Sánchez-López challenged us to try to understand why there are not Spanish community service learning courses in all or almost all Spanish programs? Diana Ruggiero (U of Memphis) shared insights from her program, and I was most captivated by the reading she gave of one of her student's photo journals. Barbara Lafford (Arizona State U) suggested a clear path to creating and institutionalizing our LSP community of practice. And I talked about our online community of practice.

Normally I prepare slides and speak extemporaneously, but for some reason this time I wrote it out. Due to time constraints, I abbreviated my remarks during the presentation. Here they are in full.

Where is the community in LSP?

In the March 2015 issue of the PMLA, a special section on “The Changing Profession” focused on the role of public intellectuals who share their expertise online and explored “the divide between public writing and academic writing” (Loofbourow and Maciak 439). For Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) and Community Service Learning (CSL) specialists, this divide is further vexed because the “academic writing” side of this dyad is not as stable and esteemed as it is in other disciplinary areas such as literary analysis and linguistics. In other words, LSP and CSL specialists still struggle to be recognized in both academic and public venues. But if online writing “should be understood as valuable public engagement” as Loofbourow and Maciak claim, then this is especially consistent with the values and practices of our fields. So, quite simply, I urge all of you present [and now reading this] to build our community of practice through public writing. I will focus on social media.


As I stated in a blog post on the NOBLE website, working on CSL and LSP at my own institution was lonely, frustrating and even demoralizing at the same time that it was uplifting, engaging and community-focused. I began to blog because I had a lot to share but no interlocutors. Times are different now than in 2007 when I started blogging, but only recently (and I mean very recently) has my department begun to truly consider the viability and importance of these two areas as indeed areas of scholarly inquiry. Maybe. And that’s only because of alarmingly prolonged trends of equally alarming declining numbers of students. You might have a different why, but you need to know what it is because doing public writing is an investment of time and energy.

What should you share? 

These are the elements I feel that our profession still needs to produce and share in places that are easily accessed: 

  • course syllabi
  • detailed lesson plans or unit plans
  • helpful online resources
  • book and journal reviews
  • annotated bibliography
  • examples of student work and perspectives
  • community member and expert interviews
  • your stories--your process (not just products), your successes and your failures.

Where should you share? 

Share on your own channels. Start wherever you already are on social media. If you have a blog, blog, Write LinkedIn posts. (Our LSP colleague Steve Sacco is very good at this.) Film vlogs on your own YouTube channel. Do a podcast, Pinterest boards, Facebook notes, a Facebook page, and any kind of posts on social media (Snapchat stories, tweets, Instagram photos). 
By the way, we should decide upon a hashtag so that we can easily find this work. #LSP #CSL?)  
Guest post on NOBLE or someone else’s blog. 
Amplify other people’s posts. Hit like. It truly expands the post’s reach. Share. Retweet. Link to it. Share with your colleagues and students. Assign as reading to your students.

Final Reflection. 

Some people are afraid to share, but I find it to be actually liberating. If you regularly put your ideas out into the public sphere, you will find yourself generating more and more ideas. Don’t keep your great ideas and great work to yourself. People often write to me about how helpful my blog has been to them, and I average about 4,000 visits to my blog each month. (That's not a huge number, but who would imagine that so many people would be interested in CSL and LSP?) So while working in this field might still be lonely in my department, I know I’m not alone. As Loofbourow and Maciak conclude: “To occupy this position [as semipublic intellectual], with its potential rewards and pitfalls, is to be an academic in the Internet age--aware of all the barriers, real and imaginary, between the ivory tower and the public sphere” (445). That's a perfect space for us to build an online community of practice.

Loofbourow, Lili and Phillip Maciak. “Introduction: The Time of the Semipublic Intellectual.” PMLA 130.2 (2015). 439-445.

Monday, March 14, 2016

What Foreign Language Students Need in College: Less Specific Purposes for LSP

by Ann Abbott

I'm looking forward to attending the 3rd International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes in Phoenix this week. Not only will I be able to see wonderful colleagues and friends (too many to list here), I always come away from this conference (and the CIBER Business Language conferences that have been folded into this one) with new ideas and renewed energy. 

A quick glance at the conference program, and you can see that many languages are represented, many professions and many approaches. Whenever there are speakers from the professional world, I always take away tidbits of information that I can work into my activities, so I'm happy to see that there is a panel on Friday evening. I also want to learn more about Spanish for the health professions because we have a lot of student demand for that, but no course. (I haven't blogged yet about my student's independent study this semester in which she is working at a local hospital and writing up case studies that I plan to use in my classes in the future to help students understand the complexities of languages, cultures and health encounters.) So I'm happy to see a workshop and sessions about health care.

On Friday I'll be giving a talk over the lunch hour: "Less Specific Purposes for LSP: The Skills Students Need in College." I'm listing below all the resources that I will mention during my talk, kind of a "digital handout" for anyone who wants to follow up on anything I mention.

Part I. What college students need

In college, students cannot predict the vicissitudes of their career paths—even if they feel confident in their vision of their future.

Interviews with my former students show us that their career paths look quite different than they had hoped or imagined.

In the world of work, competencies that denote a broad sense of “professionalism” are prized.

In the literature, a profile of “The Bilingual Professional” emerges across pLrofessions.

  • Soria Colomer, Oregon State University. You can see a list of some of Soria's publications here, These two articles are particularly pertinent: 
    • Colomer, S.E. (2010). Dual role interpreters: Spanish teachers in new Latino communities. Hispania, 93,490-503.
    • Colomer, S.E., & Harklau, L. (2009). Spanish teachers as impromptu translators and liaisons in new Latino communities. Foreign Language Annals, 42, 658-672.
  • Lissette Piedra, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
    • I quoted from: Deirdre LanesskogLissette M. Piedra & Stephanie Maldonado. "Beyond Bilingual and Bicultural: Serving Latinos in a New-Growth Community." Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work. 24.4 (2015): 300-317.
    • You might also be interested in the book she co-edited: Buki, Lydia P. and Lissette M.Piedra. Creating Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health. New York: Springer. 2011.
  • Glenn Martinez, The Ohio State University. You can see many of his publications here. I quoted from:
    • Martinez, Glenn. "Against Medical Spanish: Spanish in the Health Professions Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow." ADFL Bulletin 44.1 (2016): forthcoming.

In our survey, another profile emerges: community service learning students who “try on” professions and explore language/career connections.

Rejane Dias (graduate student, University of Illiois) and I surveyed the Illinois students enrolled in Spanish community service learning courses over two years. The results are unpublished so far.

Part II. What we need to teach

L2 Proficiency

Numbers: understanding, saying and manipulating.

Translingual Competence

You can find many intake forms, from many professions in both English and Spanish by doing simple search for "intake forms" in Google Images. (Here's an example in Spanish.)

Transcultural Competence

Inquiry project on public policies and immigration is described fully in my chapter: 
"Civic Engagement and Community Service Learning: Connecting Students’ Experiences to Policy and Advocacy." Creating Experiential Learning Opportunities for Language Students. Eds. Melanie Bloom and Carolyn Gascoigne. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. Forthcoming.

Digital Literacy


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Student Reflection

Image source:
As you read through Joey's detailed reflection consider this: in addition to the possibility of not sharing the same cultural norms and responsibilities in a school setting, it's possible that these students also have competing responsibilities that sometimes take priority. They might work, have family duties (childcare for siblings, extended family members, etc.), transportation problems, etc. There's a lot to think about when you work with people whose daily experiences are different than yours! --Ann

by Joey Gelman

            Llevo un mes en mi trabajo voluntario con el programa de ESL en la escuela secundaria de Central en Champaign. Para esta entrada, quiero enfocar en el choque cultural que he notado con los estudiantes.  Desde mi primer día con este programa los profesores y administradores me recordaron que estos estudiantes son de muchos trasfondos diversos y tienen normas culturales que voy a necesitar a respetar y entender durante mi tiempo allí. Mientras que no conozco todos sus cuentos y viajes increíbles para llegar a los EE.UU, espero haber respetado a los estudiantes lo mejor de mi capacidad. Pero, lo mas interesante es la diferencia en el comportamiento de los estudiantes en escuela y sus habilidades con la tecnología. Algunos de estos estudiantes nunca han estado en una escuela formal en los últimos años y por eso, no entienden las normas que necesitan en un aula. Las tareas obligatorias y la vida de un estudiante responsable, son choques de culturas para algunas estudiantes.  Las normas como respetar a los maestros y también las herramientas de las aulas son cosas que noté y también la idea de asistir a las clases y las responsabilidades que acompañan esta idea, también han sido un reto para ellos. Por ejemplo, durante la semana pasada, hubo un estudiante que entró la clase que yo nunca había conocido antes. Pregunté a la profesora “quien es este estudiante?” y ella me respondió,  “es [nombre], tenemos suerte si asiste una vez cada tres semanas.” Esta idea es chocante para mi. Pero necesito recordar que estos estudiantes no tienen las mismas ideas de sus responsabilidades en referencia a las normas de las escuelas y educación que tenemos. El otro choque cultural a que me referí arriba es sobre la tecnología. Al hablar con el profesor de la clase de historia, me dijo que tomó casi tres semanas para los estudiantes a aprender cómo entrar una computadora, y también para algunos, cómo usar una computadora. Mientras que esta idea ahora es natural para la mayoría de nosotros, necesitamos recordar que no todo el mundo tiene acceso a las computadoras y la misma tecnología que nosotros tenemos. Este mes me ha enseñado diferencias grandes, que algunas veces nos olvidamos, a través de culturas y la diversidad de nuestro mundo, aunque pensamos que muchos de nosotros tenemos las mismas vidas.  Las cosas que pensamos que son simples podrían ser de lo más difícil para otros. El choque cultural para estos estudiantes es real, y necesitamos recordarlo para servir a los estudiantes mejor en la escuela para prepararlos para la vida real.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship: Week 8

SPAN 332 Spanish and Entrepreneurship Spring 2016 @AnnAbbott with a picture of a table and some printing work to convey the idea of creativity and work required by social entrepreneurship
We focus on social entrepreneurship that is linguistically and culturally appropriate, with 28 hours of service learning.
Week 8
by Ann Abbott

Semana 8: Medios sociales


¿Qué importancia tienen los artistas solidarios para las causas que apoyan?
  1.  ¿Es Angelina Jolie una artista solidaria? Lee esta página web y analiza las ventajas y desventajas de utilizar las grandes artistas para llamar la atención a una causa.
  2. ¿Qué causas apoyan estos artistas latinos? Mira el video y haz una lista de los artistas que aparecen y la causas que apoyan
  3. ¿Qué es una fundación? Echa un vistazo a este documento y luego explica la diferencia entre una fundación y una organización sin fines de lucro.
  4. ¿Qué tipo de branding hace Ricardo Arjona para su Fundación Adentro? El branding es importante para las empresas sociales. Analiza esta imagen de Ricardo Arjona y el poster de su Fundación para luego describir el efecto del branding. Presta atención especial al logotipo y al lema
  5. ¿Qué elementos del emprendimiento social se ven en estas fundaciones? Con un compañero-a, exploren el portal de uno de estas fundaciones. Haz una lista de por los menos tres conceptos que hemos estudiado en este curso que se ven reflejados en estas fundaciones.

6. Contesta la pregunta inicial, ¿Qué importancia tienen los artistas solidarios para las causas que apoyan?