Insights from the 2016 Conference from the Consortium on Useful Assessment in Language and Humanities Education

by Ann Abbott

This is just one example of the wonderful information that can be found at Rice University's CLIC website, Bridging Research and Practice.

Last weekend I was very happy to attend the Annual conference of  the Consortium on Useful Assessment in Language and Humanities Education (CUALHE) at Notre Dame.

I wanted to attend the conference because in my role as Director of Undergraduate Studies in our department, I will need to lead the assessment efforts when our university goes through its accreditation process in a few years. (My awareness and interest in this level of assessment comes from presentations and conversations with Dr. Staci Provezis in the Provost's Office.) Indeed, I picked up many good ideas about assessment, and I hope that our department can follow through on some of them.

For me and my interests for our department, the highlights were these sessions:
  • "Teaching and Testing Interaction Competence" by Maryam Emami, Kevin García, Katharina Kley / Hélade Scutti-Santos from Rice University. They provided very good examples of how they explicitly teach pragmatics and intercultural communicative competence in their Spanish basic language program. (I loved seeing Helade again! She presented their model of assessment that included the stages of practice --> awareness --> classroom instruction --> practice --> awareness/homework --> assessment, in which they video record their final conversation practice and receive a grade --> practice.)
  • Keynote: ¨Proficiency and Pragmatics: Expanding our Repertoire of Language Assessment.¨ by Julie Sykes, University of Oregon. Julie gave a very inspiring talk with wonderful examples of pragmatics and with a very intriguing look at what they are working on in her program in order to create simulations of pragmatics. I'm looking forward to learning more as her work progresses!
  • "The Evolution of One Foreign Language Department's Electronic Portfolio Assessment Program." by Jessamine Cooke-Plagwitz and Katherine Barbe at Northern Illinois University. It was very interesting to hear how they have their language majors create a portfolio throughout their coursework in the major, an idea that could work for us. They offer three one-credit courses each semester, so that counts as "one" course for a faculty member's teaching load.
  • "Improving the Student Experience through Program-wide Assessment and Articulation." This was a very impressive study of the proficiency levels of students in their basic language program. We have never had a broad assessment like this, as far as I know. This is what I wrote to myself after seeing their results: "What are our goal posts? (It feels funny to use that term while here at Notre Dame at a conference that is held int heir athletic facilities.) We gather data, students create portfolios, we see what students can/cannot do in linguistic and cultural terms, ... but where does all this information sit in relation to what, developmentally, student can actually be expected to do? In other words, I think that we sometimes overestimate where students can arrive without immersion. Other times we underestimate what they can do intellectually and socially."
  • "Assessing the Impact of Community-Based Learning on Student Learning Outcomes in a Spanish Program." by Rachel Parroquin, Connie Mick and Shauna Williams from Notre Dame. Of course I was interested in this! I know all three women and respect them greatly. They have a wonderful CBL program, and their results showed that.
  • "Improving Equal Access in Lower-Division Language Courses: A Collaboration Between the Language Program Director and Accessibility Services" by Muriel Gallego, Ohio University. I am very interested in issues of accessibility for people with disabilities, so this session was inspiring and important.
And here are some of my overall thoughts about this question: What can I bring back to our department?
  • Other programs have an emphasis on intercultural competence and pragmatics that we don't have at any level. Kevin Garcia presented a five-step process that they follow with students: 1) Reflection on how language works; 2) Contrast that between L1 and L2; 3) Analysis of L2 structures; 4) practice in speaking and writing; 5) translingual/transcultural discussion and reflection (at home). I wrote to myself, "This is a good response to the MLA special report that calls for translingual competence, not native-like proficiency. So in the end, what are our goals for the basic language program (BLP)? What do we want to achieve? (It seems like right now we are only focused on language acquisition.) What does the university want tot achieve? Why do they require foreign languages? What do students actually want to achieve in these required courses? Lastly, what does our society need us to achieve to further our civic society?"
  • Conversation partners. Rice and Carnegie Mellon both have "conversation partners" for their language students. The partners are advanced undergraduates (at Carnegie Mellon, anyway), and they are paid for that work. Could we use Mi Pueblo in a more systemic way like this? Or should we implement the conversation partners model?
  • Our department excels at linguistics and second language acquisition research. However, there is a broader body of literature and research out there that people draw upon for their language programs. We should widen our perspective.
  • I like the idea of a required 1-credit portfolio course during students' senior year, like they have done at Northern Illinois University. I wonder if we could do that at a School level, not just the department level.
  • Robert Davis showed the organization chart of their Spanish basic language program at the University of Oregon; he is the director of the program geared toward L2 learners, and Claudia Holguin is in charge of the program geared toward heritage learners. That brought to my mind other ways to organize a language program. At Rice, like Stanford, the language courses are their own program; the linguistics and languages are a separate department. What other ways could we logically organize ourselves? When's the last time we thought about this? How do our new online courses fit in? Could experiential learning have its own channel?
  • How can we make our courses more inclusive for students with disabilities, from a social justice perspective? I was very inspired by Muriel Gallego's talk, but I'd like to know more about how we can do that. We need to do that.
  • Finally, how does the emphasis on pragmatics and intercultural communicative competence fit in with the cultural competence sections I wrote for Día a día: de lo personal a lo profesional? I mean, the perspective of the presenters was still very language based, whereas my sections in the textbook have a more conceptual framework and tackle social issues. How can these two approaches fit together?


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