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 changes in the concept of the individual learner, focusing on research on individual differences. While early research on individual differences was characterized by a focus on cognitive-based accounts of SLA, the social turn in SLA brought with it increased attention to the individual learner and ushered in an era of person-centeredness, where language learning is viewed as “a social process in its social contexts” (Benson 2019). This shift in perspective, together with a conceptualization of language as a complex adaptive system, has resulted in substantive changes in how individual differences are conceptualized and in how research on individual differences is conducted. The presentation will explore what a “person-centered” approach to research means and its potential implications for language teaching, assessment, and language program direction.

The Proficiency Profile of Post-Secondary Language Students

Paula Winke, Michigan State University

What are normal proficiency targets for college-level foreign language programs? In this presentation, we update Carroll’s influential 1967 study with new data, and with new reasons for looking at the data. We provide an overall picture of the level of language proficiency attained by undergraduate students in the U.S. based on 5,241 ACTFL (Language Testing International) proficiency tests (2,036 speaking tests, 1,641 reading tests, and 1,564 listening tests) administered to students in six college-level language programs (Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish) across three public institutions. We present the results per language by showing the data displayed as violin plots. We will walk the audience through the graphs so that attendees can easily visually inspect the shape of the data within programs and by year, and quickly see where in the academic programs specific groups of students are. That is, we divide proficiency attainment by students’ heritage status, the students’ number of years of kindergarten through twelfth grade learning of the target language, and the students’ postsecondary curricular level (first, second, third, or fourth) of instruction. We discuss the effect of heritage status and K–12 study on attainment by language. We discuss how most educators think of upper-division language learners as primarily majors or minors, but we demonstrate that by doing so, a large portion of those studying languages may not be taken into consideration. We end by showing that the data from this study are stored in freely accessible and downloadable files at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan (Winke, et al., 2020), and we demonstrate how audience members can download the data to use at will.  

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

Bridget Swanson, University of Vermont

This presentation proposes that an ecological approach to language teaching and curriculum can address some of the long-standing problems and limitations of university language education, in particular those of language pedagogy, program direction, and graduate teacher education. This entails framing language program and department as complex dynamic systems toward two intertwined goals. First, in an ecological perspective, the ostensible and much discussed curricular and administrative bifurcation of language departments (James, 1997; MLA, 2007) becomes merely one element or even a by-product of forces inherent to the institutional ecosystem rather than the proximate cause of tensions and limitations of post-secondary language education. This permits us to untether our conception from solely hierarchical to networked, nodal interrelationships. Second, this reframing opens pathways to confront insidious structural limitations and power dynamics that continue to hamstring the humanistic potential of collegiate language education by facilitating human capabilities and creativity for all agents (actors) in the system, from the individual learners to graduate students to tenure-line and non-tenure-line faculty members. It also catalyzes the pursuit of social justice and ultimately the “decolonization” of additional language learning, as an ecological perspective not only permits but compels accounting for salient political and social dimensions of the system (Criser & Malakaj, 2020; Macedo, 2019). After outlining the programmatic and pedagogical principles of this reframing, I conclude with a potential preliminary research agenda implicated by apprehending the language program and department as complex, dynamic educational ecosystems.

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, 2020), 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. The current pandemic is also playing a significant role in how language educators and students engage with each other and the L2 in hybrid and fully online environments. The aforementioned developments present both opportunities and challenges for L2 learning and teaching and, more broadly, for the language education field.  

In this presentation, I provide a brief summary of the research literature that has been carried out over the last decade regarding L2 learning and teaching issues in college-level hybrid and online course contexts. Next, I explore the open education movement and highlight characteristics that are shared between open educational resources and practices as well as open access scholarship and the interactions, activities, materials, and digital tools that are commonly used in L2 hybrid and online courses. In short, the latter part of my talk will center on how L2 hybrid and online course environments can be conceptualized as—and are increasingly becoming—digital open learning and teaching ecologies (van Lier, 2004). I conclude with an overview of future empirical, pedagogical, and curricular issues and questions that will need to be addressed related to L2 digital open efforts as they continue to expand. 

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

Heather Willis Allen, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Over the past two decades, postsecondary language programs have experienced a paradigm shift away from communicative approaches toward more text-based ones and the development of students’ multiple literacies. Numerous curricular and course-level models exist, and empirical research has documented the feasibility, linguistic outcomes, and perceptions of multiliteracies approaches. Yet few studies have investigated how postsecondary language teachers learn about and implement multiliteracies pedagogy and limited professional development resources exist to support teachers in this endeavor. To respond to these gaps and to recent calls for increased research into multiliteracies pedagogy and language teacher development, this presentation has three aims. The first part of the presentation will summarize current knowledge about postsecondary language teachers’ understandings and implementation of the multiliteracies framework. Next, gaps and unanswered questions in this scholarship will be discussed and suggestions provided for future directions in empirical study. Finally, professional development needs for language teachers and program directors implementing multiliteracies approaches in postsecondary language programs will be explored, including tools and practices that might facilitate this work. The research reviewed in this presentation lends support to the notion that learning about and applying new instructional paradigms such as the multiliteracies framework is a complex and long-term undertaking. Additional research is essential for understanding the nuances of concept development and pedagogical practices grounded in multiliteracies principles and for broadening the contexts in which multiliteracies-oriented teacher development research is conducted.

L2 Speakership and the Transnational Paradigm

Carl S. Blyth, University of Texas at Austin

In recent approaches to symbolic and translingual competence in applied linguistics, the L2 speaker is no longer characterized as “a deficient communicator” (Belz, 2002, p. 211) but rather as “an authentic speaker” (van Compernolle, 2016, p. 62). However, today’s definition of authenticity differs from our previous understanding of the term. Following sociocultural linguists such as Bucholtz (2003) and Bucholtz and Hall (2005), L2 speakers are now deemed authentic if they are able to appropriate new forms and meanings that are consonant with their self-perceptions and performed identities as multilingual subjects (Kramsch, 2009). In such a view, authenticity is equated with the personal transformation that occurs when L2 speakers employ their multilingual repertoires in ways that feel true to their emergent sense of self (van Compernolle & McGregor, 2016).

In keeping with such recent conceptions of authentic L2 speakers, it is argued that language programs should adopt a transnational paradigm as articulated by Risager (2006, 2007) in which the L2 is not confined geographically, but rather is construed as flowing through multilingual/multicultural social networks.  As Risager points out, the nationalist paradigm relies on convergent scenarios in which monolingual speakers discuss topics commonly associated with the target culture. However, in a transnational paradigm, meanings and practices associated with a particular languaculture are seen as naturally crossing national and political boundaries and forming cultural and linguistic remixes. Such a transnational approach highlights the importance of divergent scena.