Current Research Projects
Service-Learning: Teaching Languages in Community-Based K-12 Programs
Recent scholarship documents that service-learning and civic engagement programs advance students’ attainment of academic learning outcomes – if such initiatives are properly designed and supervised (see Hurd, 2006 for an overview). Most studies generally focus on academic courses where service-learning is a core curricular component. Research is lacking in the areas of (1) service-learning as a co-curricular experience and (2) service-learning focusing on second language learning and teaching.
The Community Language School at Michigan State University offers a variety of community-based language and culture programs for children in K-12 in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. Classes are taught by native speakers and MSU undergraduate students assist with the implementation. These programs provide undergraduates with an opportunity for service while putting them directly in the midst of the learning process (Terry & Bohnenberger, 2007). It also allows them to (1) use the language they are studying with native speakers, (2) expand their cultural awareness, and (3) gain valuable experience developing lessons and teaching modules in a supervised environment. Research has shown that by integrating learning into a community-based project, the students’ role as L2 learners and speakers might shift to a new perspective (Gascoigne, 2001; Grassi, 2003; O’Byrne Curtis & Jiggetts Baskerville, 2001; Schrier, 1996).
This project explores how MSU undergraduates involved as volunteers and/or interns in Community Language School programs perceive their own (language) learning and the effects of their participation on their educational experience and professional aspirations. The general design consists of online surveys given to participants at the beginning and end of MSU semesters, coupled with semi-structured, open-ended interviews. Results from this study will provide insights on how foreign language learners are influenced by their teaching experience through service-learning.
Alternative Instructional Models to Reach Proficiency Goals
Many university language programs currently face similar challenges: looming program cuts; high attrition rates in upper-levels; oral proficiency requirements for teacher candidates (e.g., Chapman et al., 2010; Weyers, 2010). In an effort to address some of these challenges, technology-enhanced models of instruction have become increasingly popular in higher education over the last decade (e.g., Sloan-C, 2007). The use of technology for language teaching offers great flexibility, provides direct access to the target culture, can increase student numbers, allows teachers to cater to individual students, and helps them reach proficiency goals.
This project consists of a number of studies that were conducted using Auralog’s Tell Me More software in conjunction with other CALL technologies, including TalkAbroad.
1. Self-study: The goal of the first case study was to determine what progress students could make over the course of a semester using Tell Me More software for 8 hours a week, coupled with a native-speaker conversation partner for 1 hour a week. 4 participants had completed 1st year Spanish and were not enrolled in a regular language course at the time of the study.
2. Supplement: For the second case study, Tell Me More software was a supplemental component in a blended 4th semester German course. 30 participants worked inTell me More for 1 hour a week.
3. Accelerated option: The third case study paired Tell Me More software with video conferencing with native speakers in the target culture using TalkAbroad. 5 advanced learners of Spanish participated.
4. Program-wide study:
308 students in all levels of German had access to Tell Me More over the course of one semester. Some classes replaced traditional supplemental materials with the software, others implemented it as additional supplement.
Data were collected on participant performance and attitudes toward the programs and their perceived effectiveness. Results indicate that participants advanced in their proficiency as evidenced by achievement test results, suggesting that programs like Tell me More and TalkAbroad can be a key component of an alternative mode of instruction if implemented and integrated properly.
Investigating Effects of Learning Space Design on Foreign Language Pedagogy (with S. Schopieray)
21st century learning takes place in vibrant, intellectually stimulating spaces that promote learner-, knowledge-, and community-centered learning. Through the use of pervasive technology, thoughtful design, and focused goals, these spaces promote collaboration, creativity, and discovery around academic work. The art and science of designing learning spaces that fit these criteria has come to the forefront of recent work in teaching and technology circles (e.g., Educause Quarterly 2009 special issue). Current classrooms are often designed in an industrial revolution era layout that does not provide opportunities for modern teaching and learning methods. Use of redesigned space is tied to curricular reform and pedagogical change that happens from an organic process relating to faculty involvement in use of the space. Learning studios often convey unspoken messages of institutional investment in the act of high quality teaching and learning. There is a growing body of literature (e.g., Tom et al., 2008) reporting that redesigned learning studios coincide with reformed curriculum, changes in pedagogy, and seem to empower students to collaborate and communicate in ways they had not previously done.
This project examines a variety of foreign language classrooms at a large Midwestern university to determine student and instructor perceptions of different spaces on their teaching and learning. The project also seeks to understand what components of redesigned space students and faculty prefer as a way of generating suggestions for future redesign projects. Quantitative and qualitative data gleaned from surveys and semi-structured, open-ended interviews indicate that students do not necessarily carry a preference for the type of classroom they are in and are more concerned with the quality of teaching regardless of where it takes place. These results may carry the implication that learning space designers should focus on designing rooms that impact pedagogy positively instead of trying to design rooms to influence students.
Issues in Designing and Implementing Hybrid Course Models for Language Teaching
This project investigates challenges and victories in curricular design and implementation of hybrid course models in advanced undergraduate German courses at a Midwestern university. Hybrid education is defined as courses with 30-79% of online content delivery (Sloan-C, 2005) while the remaining instruction takes place face-to-face.
With growing enrollment numbers in most languages (MLA, 2007), language teachers are often faced with classrooms that are filled to or beyond capacity. Providing sufficient opportunities to engage with the language and create output in class are therefore limited and students feel that their primary goal of achieving oral fluency is often not reached (Ossipov, 2000). Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) opens up many possibilities for language learners and educators that allow for expanded opportunities to practice all language skills, in particular speaking, the one skill that educators of advanced undergraduate courses often have the most difficulty with to implement in an already tight curriculum. In addition, CALL offers other benefits as it places the learner at center-stage, provides interactive ways to engage with course materials, and increases communication (Hokanson, 2000; Kern, 1995) while encouraging a variety of skills such as self-directed learning, active learning, interactive teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, time management, and computer skills (Darhower, 2002; Gannon, 2004).
This project examines the effectiveness of online technologies for speaking, listening, reading, and writing in lower- and upper-level language classes. Results indicate increases in students’ self-perceived confidence, motivation, and fluency and ultimately led to improved language learning in all areas.
Needs Assessment Community Language School
In order to raise global citizens who are competitive in the world economy, language instruction is necessary as has been acknowledged by the U.S. and the MI government. Furthermore, research has shown several positive influences of childhood language programs such as: (1) better communication skills (Cummins, 1981), (2) positive attitude towards language learning and speakers of other languages (Mantle-Bromley, 1995), (3) higher academic achievement (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004), and (4) better employment opportunities (Kecht, 1997).
The German Program at MSU has offered successful childhood language programs since 2002. Programmatic efforts expanded and Community Language School was formed in 2008, which required a needs assessment. This ongoing survey-based needs assessment of Michigan public school principals, teachers, parents, community leaders, public officials, and business professionals continues to help us identify the needs of Michigan counties and areas in regards to childhood language and culture learning and consequentially redefine our program and mission to meet those needs, to secure funding, and to identify community partners.