Language program direction: Current and future trends (AAUSC@AAAL)

Organizers: Carl S. Blyth, University of Texas at Austin (AAUSC President)
                     Kate Paesani, University of Minnesota (AAUSC Journal Co-Editor)
                     Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, University of Utah (AAUSC Journal Co-Editor)

Discussants: Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, University of Utah
                       Kate Paesani, University of Minnesota


The American Association of University Supervisors and Coordinators (AAUSC) is a national organization of applied linguists who contribute to curriculum, instruction, assessment, and teacher professional development in U.S. colleges and universities. Often overlooked in applied linguistics circles, postsecondary programs are critical to developing the nation’s foreign language capacity. The purpose of this session is thus to collaboratively explore current trends and future directions in research related to postsecondary language instruction and beyond. To meet this goal, presentations address language program direction from six perspectives: multilingual speakership; learner-centeredness; proficiency development; complex dynamic systems; multiliteracies pedagogy; and digital environments. Each of the presentations highlights the rapidly changing landscape of postsecondary language programs (e.g., decreasing numbers of language majors in relation to minors; heavy reliance on contingent faculty; shifts away from communicative language teaching toward language-content integrated approaches) as it relates to the social turn in applied linguistics. In particular, the theme of fostering human capabilities through language learning links each of the presentations through their exploration of the individual learner, multilingualism and multiculturalism, critical and social pedagogies, proficiency expectations, and access to open online educational resources. After a brief introduction to the topic and speakers, presentations will be followed by a response from the discussants focused on implications for language program direction and teacher professional development, research questions to advance the field over the next decade, and intersections between postsecondary language programs and other language learning contexts. The colloquium will close with an open discussion with the audience to engage scholars from a wide spectrum of applied linguistics subdisciplines and research contexts and to examine issues of language program direction through different lenses and fresh perspectives.

The Individual Learner and Person-Centeredness: Implications for Research and Teaching

Carol Klee, University of Minnesota

This presentation examines recent studies of the individual learner, focusing on the implications of a person-centered approach for language research, teaching, assessment, and teacher education. What does a “person-centered” approach to research mean and how does it potentially influence language program direction? How is “person-centered” as a construct different from the individual learner notion?

The Proficiency Profile of Post-Secondary Language Students

Susan Gass, Michigan State University

This presentation provides an overall picture of the level of language proficiency attained by undergraduate students in the U.S. based on proficiency tests administered at all levels of instruction and in a variety of languages. Background information was also collected from test takers in order to establish potential correlations between proficiency ratings and other factors. Our data, accessible through an open source database, show findings that have immediate consequences for language programs.

An Ecological Approach to Pedagogy, Program Direction, and Graduate Teacher Education

Bridget Swanson, University of Vermont

Responding to persistent criticisms of postsecondary language education, this presentation frames the language program as a complex dynamic system within the ecology of the department, institution, and local/global discourses. The presenter reconceptualizes curricular and programmatic bifurcation as a symptom of contextual tensions rather than the cause of limiting aspects of language education. Proposals are offered that allow an ecological approach to become the “new normal” across pedagogy, program direction, and teacher education.

Re-envisioning L2 Hybrid and Online Courses as Digital Open Learning and Teaching Environments: Opportunities and Challenges

Joshua Thoms, Utah State University

The growing number of hybrid and online postsecondary second language (L2) courses in the U.S. (Blake & Guillén, Forthcoming), coupled with the emergence of the open education movement (Jhangiani & Biswas-Diener, 2017) and concomitant proliferation of digital tools (Kessler, 2018), is changing traditional notions of and approaches to L2 teaching and learning. This talk highlights the affordances and challenges of digital open learning and teaching environments for foreign language programs.

Teacher Development and Multiliteracies Pedagogy: Challenges and Opportunities for Postsecondary Language Programs

Heather Willis Allen, University of Wisconsin-Madison

For over two decades, postsecondary language programs have adopted more text-based curricula that develop students’ multiple literacies. Research documents the feasibility, linguistic outcomes, and perceptions of multiliteracies approaches, yet few studies have investigated how postsecondary language teachers learn about and implement multiliteracies pedagogy. To address this gap, the presenter summarizes current research on teacher development and multiliteracies pedagogy; identifies unanswered questions; suggests directions for the future; and discusses implications for language program direction.

L2 Speakership and the Transnational Paradigm

Carl S. Blyth, University of Texas at Austin

Today’s post-modern conceptions of L2 speakership are no longer framed in terms of the monolingual native speaker but rather in terms of the “multilingual subject” and the “authentic speaker.” In keeping with these conceptions of speakership, it is argued that language program directors should adopt a transnational paradigm in which the L2 is not confined to a nationally defined language area, but rather flows through social networks with a potentially global range.