PAMLA 2017 Conference: Shared Languages

New Paths to Old Problems: Innovative Cures for Atrophying Language Programs

  • Pacific Asian and Modern Language Association 
  • 115th Annual Conference – Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Friday, November 10 – Sunday, November 12, 2017
  • Session 6: Saturday 10 – 11:30 am
  • Session Chair: Gabriele Dillmann, Denison University and GLCA
  1. “Energizing Language Programs Through Inter-Institutional Collaboration,” Neal Abraham, Five Colleges Incorporated
  2. “Challenges and Opportunities of the Big Ten LCTL Partnership,” Emily Heidrich, Koen Van Gorp, and Luca Giupponi, Michigan State University
  3. “‘To the Rescue!’: The Great Lakes Colleges Association Shared Languages Program,” Gabriele Dillmann, Denison University and Great Lakes Colleges Association
1st Presentation: Neal Abraham, Five Colleges Incorporated

We have successfully re-energized or expanded language programs through shared curricula, shared co-curricular programs, shared staffing, and a variety of options for shared courses.

Russian and Hebrew language programs were facing declining enrollments on neighboring campuses.  We successfully re-energized these programs through sharing: curricula, co-curricular programs, and staffing, and a variety of options for shared courses.  We have also used these principles to build stronger programs in Arabic and Korean, for which the flexibility of shared curricular structures, shared courses and shared staffing persuaded the Deans of collaborating institutions to invest in program expansions.

Beginning in 2007, we have applied collaborative principles to develop shared language programs.  First the campuses developed a program in four-skilled Modern Standard Arabic.  Initially staffed by two shared faculty members teaching at three campuses, the program with an integrated set of curricular offerings has grown to 5.5 shared faculty members serving all five campuses.  Shared curricular offerings optimize students’ preparation to shift from course at one campus to courses at another.  Shared faculty members allow scheduling of their teaching locations to meet student enrollment demands with minimal travel inconvenience.  Shared co-curricular programs build larger cohorts of student learners, energizing them to continue their language students and to explore study-abroad opportunities.

We have used these operating principles to successfully rebuild offerings in Russian for three of the campuses and offerings in Hebrew for two of the campuses.  While declining enrollments may have threatened continuation of these programs, the deans in each case were persuaded to try collaboration before concluding that enrollments would never justify sustained investment.

Similarly, Korean Language programs serving three campuses were stymied by low enrollment in upper-level courses and long waiting lists for elementary courses.  The deans were persuaded to invest in expanded staffing on the commitments of the language lecturers to sharing curricular offerings and co-curricular programming, sharing staffing (with each faculty member teaching on at least two campuses each year with flexible scheduling), and exploring a variety of course-sharing technologies and schedule strategies.  In addition to conventional video-conference connections of classrooms on different campuses, we have explored having a conversation partner/TA in the classroom where the faculty member is not present, having the students meet together sometimes during the semester, and having the faculty member alternate campuses during the semester.

Results of these shared endeavors have helped the campuses to meet their goals of persuading more students to study languages and to persuade more students to study languages at greater depths.

2nd Presentation: Emily Heidrich, Koen Van Gorp, and Luca Giupponi, Michigan State University

The LCTL Partnership focuses on the collaborative development of models of LCTL instruction across multiple universities to improve the language proficiency of advanced learners of LCTLs. In this session we will discuss the practical, institutional, and pedagogical challenges of such a partnership as well as its opportunities for strategic cooperation.

The Big Ten LCTL Partnership is a three-year project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that seeks to expand the scope and refine the focus of the longstanding and successful Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) CourseShare initiative within the Big Ten Academic Alliance. Seeing a decline in enrollment at higher levels of proficiency is typical of all LCTL programs, making it virtually impossible for any one institution to offer advanced training in most languages, the LCTL Partnership focuses on establishing strategic cooperation across a variety of LCTLs by leveraging leading-edge research and advances in proficiency-oriented instruction and assessment so that more third and fourth year students, across more institutions, achieve at least intermediate high proficiency in more LCTLs.

The project focuses on the collaborative development of hybrid models of LCTL instruction. Course development and delivery are shared across multiple universities. Specific materials will be developed in three languages: Focusing on Swahili in Year 1, Swahili and Hindi in Year 2, and Hindi and a third language (TBD) in Year 3. This takes place through a ‘working groups’ model in which representatives from multiple Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions collaborate to develop curricula supported by innovative pedagogies. The working groups are comprised of experts in instructional technology and curriculum/assessment and include a language specific coordinator along with two additional language specific experts for each of the three languages from different participating institutions.

The LCTL Partnership aims to pool the relevant expertise and experiences across universities and other stakeholders or communities of language users (e.g., heritage speakers) to create an intentional community of practice that will enrich language programs. Furthermore, the project sets anambitious researchagenda. As part of our program evaluation we are carefully recording and evaluating all steps and missteps along the way. This program evaluation will inform us about the success of implementing proficiency-based course materials to improve students’ overall proficiency and will inform teachers and students of the effectiveness of their language program.

Because sustainability is essential to the success of this project, we see the outcome as the creation and implementation of transferable models for coordinated LCTL instruction (i.e., a language-independent Manual) that can serve as the basis for development of other languages in subsequent years. This Manual will consist inter alia of curricular templates, checklists of steps that need to be taken, personal stories from the working groups that outline their steps along the way, and webinar templates.

In this session we will discuss the progress of the Partnership that started in September 2016. We will reflect on the practical, institutional, and pedagogical challenges that we encountered in shaping the Partnership and on the ways we have advanced our project underscoring the intended strategic cooperation between the Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions.

3rd Presentation: Gabriele Dillmann, Denison University and Great Lakes Colleges Association 

This presentation provides an overview of the GLCA Shared Languages Program and how such a program has the potential to remedy the dire situation of upper-level under-enrolled language courses and expand the language offerings that no one institution could afford. The program’s logistics, its corresponding pedagogy, and student learning assessment will also be discussed.

Language departments across the country struggle to keep their programs afloat during current times where budget cuts often force our college administration to hold low student enrollment against the sustainability of lesser enrolled courses and eventually entire programs. Even for a language such as Spanish with very high elementary and intermediate level enrollment numbers, programs struggle to adequately meet the student minimum in their upper-level courses. This is certainly true for the other traditional languages such as German and French. At the same time, many institutions make a real effort to expand their language offerings to so-called lesser taught languages. These vary from institution to institution, but in the case of for example Arabic or Portuguese, the problem colleges struggle with is to take the language offerings in these offerings beyond the 6th semester – if even that far. This creates a catch-22 scenario with students not seeing any purpose of starting with a language that they cannot pursue beyond the basic level during their undergraduate studies and expansion of a program hinging on student enrollment.

Contemporary digital technologies allow us to search for new types of solutions to this seemingly cyclically returning problem. Over the past three or four years, several institutions have come together to pilot courses that are cross-institutional and collaborative, so-called “shared” courses, where students from these individual colleges can benefit from the course offerings of the partner institutions. The Great Lakes Colleges Consortium Shared Languages Program received a major Mellon grant to institute the course sharing initiative for a pilot period of 4 years. It allows students from thirteen different colleges to take courses at a partner institution for full credit as they join bricks and mortar courses virtually. The Shared Languages Program may not secure faculty positions as such, but it does attempt to preserve the languages taught and add further languages that each college alone could not afford.


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