Tech in Language Ed: Reading List

I designed and taught an online Master’s course called Technology in Language Education at Mount Saint Vincent University this summer. It was a great learning experience: it was my first time teaching that particular course and first time taking care of the design, build and delivery of a fully online course myself. It was mostly asynchronous, with synchronous course meetings at the beginning, midterm and end of the course. I have a lot of reflection to share on various aspects of the course, but I’ll start with sharing my reading list. (Well, reading and viewing list, because variety of forms of representation of course material, etc.)

I’ve marked ***with asterisks*** the readings or videos that students in the course really engaged with or which stimulated lots of lively conversation and debate.

Why technology in language education?
• Thornbury, S. (2016). The Mouse that Roared. British Council Armenia 2016 Teacher Development Program. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lg9M45iUAys

CALL, MALL and Beyond: From Past to Present in Ed Tech for Languages Education

  • Lomicka, L., & Lord, G. (2019). Reframing Technology’s Role in Language Teaching: A Retrospective Report. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 39, 8–23. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0267190519000011
  • Rosell-Aguilar, F. (2017). State of the app: A taxonomy and framework for evaluating language learning mobile applications. CALICO Journal, 34(2), 3243–258. https://doi.org/10.1558/cj.27623

Technology and Skills Teaching 1: Listening and Speaking

Technology and Skills Teaching 2: Reading, Writing and Grammar

Gaming and Engagement in Language Education

Frameworks in Tech and Language Education

Are Teachers Obsolete? Tech and Learner Autonomy

The Mobile Learning Revolution

Solving the Access Problem: Online Language Learning

  • White, C. J. (2017). Distance language teaching with technology. In C. A. Chapelle & S. Sauro (Eds.), The Handbook of Technology and Second Language Teaching and Learning (pp. 134–148). Wiley Blackwell.
  • ****Gacs, A., Goertler, S., & Spasova, S. (2020). Planned online language education versus crisis-prompted online language teaching: Lessons for the future. Foreign Language Annals, 53(2), 380–392. https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12460
  • Bates, A. W. (2015). Chapter 4.3: The ADDIE Model. In Teaching in a Digital Age. Tony Bates Associates Ltd. https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/6-5-the-addie-model/

Best Practices for Online Design and Delivery

EAP Online: Helpful Resources

Before COVID-19, I will admit I didn’t know a whole lot about teaching EAP or any language online. Using technology to complement face-to-face teaching had long been an interest of mine, but best practices for designing and delivering a 100% online EAP course was a new area for me. But, when the pandemic hit, there was no time to sit around twiddling our thumbs–as a department, we had to proceed with first emergency remote teaching to finish up the winter semester, and then transition of all our English language courses and programs to online mode, as soon as possible.

EAP in higher education institutions falls into this weird space (third space? :), as it draws from pedagogies in higher ed as well as those from more general English language teaching. So in terms of tips, tricks and advice for online teaching and learning, there are two pools of information to be drawn from, which is great. But you have to filter out what’s irrelevant for EAP teaching (i.e. online assessment for biology labs or first-year classes of 200 students; or tips for teaching English online via CLIL to young learners).

So where did I go? I have learned a lot about online education in the last few months from a variety of people and sources:

  • Dalhousie CCE instructional designers Tracy Franz, Saira Akhtar-Alwazeer and my other colleagues at Dal ESL have shared a lot of knowledge and expertise.
  • Twitter, as always has been a great source of professional development and knowledge. In particular, lots of useful stuff has come through via the hashtags #AcademicChatter for general HE, #CdnELTChat for general ELT and #tleap for EAP-specific discussions.
  • There was an amazing #CdnELTChat held on May 12 (summary here) with instructional designer Linda Manimtim where there was a great discussion about applying the principles of instructional design to language teaching.
  • The BALEAP email listserv has a lot of lively discussions, and the BALEAP TELSIG has held several webinars and events around online EAP.
  • For resources on academic integrity in online courses, Sarah Elaine Eaton’s blog and webinars are great.
  • Universities’ Centres for Learning and Teaching/Teaching Excellence, etc. (they seem to be called something different at every institution), such as Dal’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, have great blog posts, Twitter discussions and webinars about online teaching and learning in HE.
  • Nathan Hall’s blog is an amazing resource on individual digital tools and other aspects of online teaching and learning of languages.

I recently did a workshop for teachers at East Coast Language College about teaching English online, where I could share some of this knowledge I’ve gained and discuss the experiences we’ve had at Dalhousie as we’ve transitioned more than 1000 hours of EAP and ESP curriculum to 100% online. Here are the slides from that talk:

Defending your Thesis Remotely

I recently defended my doctoral thesis remotely! This was supposed to be a face-to-face defense (or viva, short for viva voce exam, as they call it in the UK) at the UCL Institute of Education in London, which suddenly had to be turned into a remote viva once travel restrictions prevented me from leaving the country.

I know there are a lot of others out there with defenses/vivas scheduled in the coming weeks and months that may end up having to do them online. Here are some of my tips for defending your thesis remotely.

Think of it as an event, and you’re the producer. With a face-to-face defense, you don’t have a lot of control over the physical aspects of the experience. You show up to a certain room at a certain time, do your defense, and go. But with a remote defense, you can be in control of almost everything–short of the questions that examiners ask you, of course! The room, facilities, technology, etc. are all within your control.

Pretend you’re filming a movie or staging a play and think about all elements of the experience from the point of view of the examiners. Think about every link in the chain, and what is needed for it to function smoothly. And similar to the performing arts, practice makes perfect–make sure you rehearse not just the answers to your viva questions, but rehearse using your whole technical set up. Here’s what I tried to think about before my viva:

  • Staging and composition. I really think that if your image is coming through into the examiners’ computers clearly with minimal distractions, the examiners can better focus on what you’re saying. On the other hand, if the backdrop is chaotic, or you are looking into the camera at a weird angle, or if it’s hard to see or hear you, then it sets a negative tone for the session and will detract from your research. Set up your computer and do a video call to a friend or snap a few photos with your webcam to see the the angle of the camera and also what the backdrop is. Do you have to put your computer up on some books so that you can look straight into the camera rather than down or up your nose? Do you have to shift some furniture in the background or hang a sheet (no really!) to cover up a distracting or unprofessional background? I shifted a few pieces of furniture so a lovely oil painting of the Nova Scotia coast could be the background during my viva.


    And the best part of a viva via webcam is that you can have all sorts of notes, cheat sheets, motivational posters, luck charms, photos of celebrities–whatever you need–around and with you during the viva, just out of frame of the webcam. Even more than what you would take into a F2F defense. So make sure you have a good set up with enough space to spread out what you need.
  • Lighting. Lighting really influences the quality of the image your examiners will be speaking to during the defense. The goal should be a clear image so that the examiners don’t have to strain to see, and therefore focus on you. Don’t have a light source behind you because your face will be dark. Place a light outside the frame of the webcam, perhaps behind your computer, so you’ll be looking into it and it will illuminate your face. The important thing is to test it out beforehand and adjust as needed.
  • Sound. Sound is really important because it’s how you will hear the questions, and how the examiners will hear your responses to them! In most situations you have two options for your microphone: the microphone built into the webcam, or an external microphone, for example, on a headset or cellphone earbuds. (I use something like this.) If you’re in a large, echo-y room, I would recommend using an external mic as it will be closer to your mouth and will make the sound quality better. For the in-coming sound, it’s the same–you can either use your computer speakers, or connect headphones or earbuds to the computer. It’s a good idea to always have headphones/earbuds on hand in case the in-coming sound on your computer is so loud it’s being picked up by the microphone, and will cause the examiners to hear your voice in echo. This is very distracting and unpleasant, so if this starts to happen, you’ll want to plug in your headphones to stop it. Like the camera image, you’ll want to test out the sound aspect of your set up with a friend beforehand.
  • Eye Contact. Remember that you have to look into the webcam to make eye contact with the people on the other end of the video conference, rather than looking at their eyes as they appear in their images on your screen. This is one I always forget, so during my viva I put a bright post-it note with the two examiners’ names right above my webcam, so I’d be reminded to look at it instead of my screen. Others put a pair of googly eyes or some other thing by their webcam lens as a reminder. Just make sure it’s not blocking the camera!

The Tech!

This is the aspect of the remote defense that strikes fear in the heart of most! There are three aspects of the tech related to a remote defense that you have to think about, set up, troubleshoot, and make several back-up plans for: the hardware (your device), the software (the program you’ll be using to make the call) and the internet connection. If you’re less than confident about tech, try to find someone who will help you get a primary set up and a backup ready, and who might be on hand during your defense just in case you need some tech help. That’s another advantage of the remote viva–you can have your whole entourage waiting in the wings to support you and no one will know!

  • For hardware, be it a desktop computer, laptop or phone, make sure it’s all up to date so that it doesn’t randomly shut off to install an update in the middle of your defense. Make sure there aren’t any embarrassing or weird files on your desktop if you’re planning to share your screen. And make sure you know the password to get back into the computer if it does restart just before or during the defense. Make sure you know how to silence or shut off all alerts and notifications for the duration of the viva so that you (and the examiners) aren’t being distracted or interrupted by dings and beeps or notification pop-ups. Have a backup device on hand that you could use in a pinch to do the exam if your primary device dies at the last minute–for example having your phone ready to use if your laptop stops working.
  • For software, the choice of video conferencing program is a big decision. In some cases, the university might dictate which program to use. If personal video-calling software such as Skype is suggested, push back on it. Try to get a more professional option that is made for meetings or online education (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect, etc.). They have a more professional interface, and functionality such as screen sharing, the ability to present a Powerpoint, etc. that you will need for your defense. Install the software on your primary device as well as your backup in advance, and have any logins saved in the device (so you’re not scrambling on the day of trying to remember passwords under pressure). It’s important to rehearse using whichever program in advance so you get used to where all the controls and buttons are so that when you’re nervous during the viva, you can still do what you need to do, and don’t accidentally disconnect the call while trying to raise the volume or put your PPT on the screen.
  • For the internet, if you can, connect to your modem via a cable, rather than relying on Wifi. It’s definitely worth buying an inexpensive ethernet cable (and any necessary adapters for your laptop) to do this if possible as it will make your connection much faster. If not, try to find a spot where the Wifi is strong, and be aware that if others are using the internet connection to do bandwidth-heavy tasks such as gaming, streaming videos or making video calls, it will slow down the connection for you. As for backup, if the Wifi gave out, or was inexplicably slow and causing an unreliable video connection, would you consider switching to your phone and using cellphone data for the defense? Video conferencing uses between 270-600MB/hour, depending on the program used. So if you have a good data plan, it might be worth considering it as a backup.

Remember, for the remote viva, you’re in control! Good luck and break a leg, everyone!

“Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy” @ Languages Canada 2020

February 25 is my talk at the Languages Canada conference, entitled “Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy”.

Here’s a description of the talk:

“English-only” policies—where use of students’ first language (L1) in the classroom is associated with a punitive response—are common in many English language programs. Received wisdom has long framed a monolingual “English-only” environment in many contexts as the most effective way to maximize English language use, and thereby promote the development of fluency, confidence, and communicative and strategic competence that may come with it. However, increasing research shows the advantage of moving away from a monolingual approach to a multi- or plurilingual approach, which gives space to all the languages in a student’s linguistic repertoire along with English, including their L1. Research shows well-implemented policies of this nature can contribute to more effective and deeper language learning via increased target language use, motivation, and agency.

In this presentation, participants will discover some of the latest research findings showing the increased learning outcomes, motivation and equity associated with plurilingual classroom and course policies in different ELT settings. We will also explore some of the challenges in developing and implementing such policies with teachers and students through a case study from a Canadian English language school.

I cite a few articles in the talk; links are below. Here is a link to the CEFR 2017 Companion volume. Both the selection of very recent research on plurilingual approaches in Canadian HE and EAP are great reads, as is Hall and Cook’s (2012) state of the art articles on own-language use in ELT.

Thesis Submitted!

I haven’t been posting on this blog as frequently over the last year as I would have liked. That’s because all my free time was being spent on my doctoral research. The good news is, I just submitted my thesis yesterday! I realized I haven’t really posted much about my research, but now’s as good a time as any to start. This will be the first in a series of posts linking my research to practice for those of us who are language workers in a higher education context.

But first, the asbtract:

Monolingualism, Neoliberalism and Language-as-Problem:   
Discourse Itineraries in Canadian University Language Policy

Internationalization policies to promote international student enrolment at many Canadian universities have led to increased levels of linguistic diversity in the student body. However, institutional language policy responses to this diversity may be lacking, may centre a monolingual mindset or may discursively position the issue of the English language proficiency and development of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a framing of deficit. This study maps changing and conflicting “discourse itineraries” (Scollon, 2008:234), the taken-for-granted ideas, constraints and allowances at play discursively in institutional language policy. This was done via a multiple case study of three Canadian universities, where critical discourse analysis (CDA) was carried out on a variety of policy documents related to language, academic literacy and internationalization at the provincial (macro) and institutional and faculty (meso) levels and stakeholders at these institutions were interviewed.

This analysis revealed, first, that much language policy at these three institutions is covert, implicit and de facto. Two prominent discourses were also found: Language-as-Problem (Ruiz, 1984) and Neoliberalism and Language, each with pervasive sub-discourses—notably the Monolingual Mindset—that shape the creation of language policy at these universities. Discursive change is underway, however, as conflicting discourses were found at all institutions. In certain cases, there is a shift away from Language-as-Problem, influenced by a neoliberal focus on the English language as economic instrument. Building on Ruiz’s (1984) orientations toward language planning, this thesis proposes a new policy analytic heuristic to further describe the extent to which institutions ignore, blame, support or embrace language at different policy levels. As well, suggestions are made for Canadian higher education (HE) language stakeholders about how to realign discourses and bring about social change via critical language awareness-raising and policy-making. The ultimate goal is to provide a more equitable academic experience within Canadian HE for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

References:

Scollon, R. (2008). Discourse itineraries: Nine processes of resemiotization. In V.K. Bhatia, J. Flowerdew, & R.H. Jones (Eds.), Advances in discourse studies (pp. 233–244). London: Routledge.

Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8, 15–34

Teacher Qualification Frameworks and Equity in Hiring

Lots of university language centres in Canada get a big influx of EAP students in the Fall semester, and that often means hiring on more instructors. Although that’s not the case with our centre this year, it’s got me thinking about hiring.

In Canada, language schools or institutes might operate within a couple of different accreditation or certification frameworks in terms of the qualifications of academic staff hired: TESL Canada Professional Certification, a provincial certification process, or if it’s a Languages Canada-accredited language training institution, their Classification of TESOL Qualifications.

TESL Canada and Languages Canada are great organizations, and their existence and advocacy has contributed immensely to the professionalization and raising standards of English language teaching in Canada, especially with regards to teachers on government-sponsored immigrant language programs (Burnaby 2003; Sivell 2005; Chafe and Wang, 2008), and with regards to private language schools.

At the same time, the teaching of English for Academic Purposes in the higher education context seems to be a bit of a different beast in terms of the qualifications, background and experience of value in a potential instructor. For example, advanced degrees, research experience, familiarity with academic discourse(s) in different disciplines and published academic work is all of great value in an EAP instructor. BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework reflects this in a way that general ELT certification frameworks don’t (and can’t).

I also think that some aspects of the general ELT certification and accreditation frameworks work against diversity and equity in hiring, especially in a context like Canada. For example, for TESL Canada certification a teacher’s training has to have been carried out at an institution on their list of accredited training programs. This list is, in my opinion, very short, and every institution on it is located in Canada. If your training is from another institution, you have to apply for an onerous and expensive prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process. In an industry as globally-mobile as TESOL, and in a country with as much immigration as Canada, this is quite out of touch with the reality on the ground, where a great number of us (myself included) have training, qualifications and experience from outside the country.

Similarly, TESL Canada has a very narrow definition of acceptable English(es). They require any applicants for certification who have not completed an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university in one of the countries on this list to show proof of language proficiency. Lists of this type are common in university admissions, etc., but this particular list has a couple of notable omissions, such as Pakistan and India. In these two countries, English-medium higher education is very common, and there are also a significant number of Canadians who have received their education there. Why are they not on that list?

Finally, both TESL Canada and Languages Canada TESOL Qualification criteria prescribe training programs with a very specific minimum of observation and practicum hours. While recent certificate, diploma and degree-programs in the Anglo world might be likely to include these elements that is not the case in many contexts around the world. Folks who have received their TESOL training in the context of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in many different countries would not have had observations or practicum placements, as it’s simply not the norm.

Why flexibility and ability to exercise judgement in hiring are extremely important, as they allow me to hire who I consider to be qualified and a good fit for a given position, be they born, raised and trained in Canada, a recent newcomer to Canada, a Canadian with diverse worldwide experience, or a speaker of one of a variety of World Englishes. If someone has a degree in TESL from another country with no practicum, but a ton of teaching experience, then I can hire them. If they speak Indian English, I don’t have to subject them to an IELTS test. If they have a master’s in biology on top of their other qualifications, I can value that and put them on a science writing course. Languages Canada provides some flexibility by stipulating, for example, that “there will be a valid rationale provided for the employment of any teachers or academic leader without the ELT/TESOL qualifications specified.” This is extremely important not just to allow hiring to reflect the difference between EAP and general ELT, but to ensure I can hire a complement of qualified, experienced and engaged teachers that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population. Our educational program is the richer for it.

Interaction for Learning Framework

The interface between TESOL and international higher education is such an fascinating space to be working in these days. I enjoy how my work will take me into diverse areas and fields–EAP, general academic writing, SoTL, internationalization of the curriculum, etc. Every year Dalhousie hosts a conference on teaching and learning in higher education, and it’s a great chance to connect with people from different faculties and departments from universities all over Canada who care about teaching and learning. No matter what the conference theme, I always try to present on something related to linguistic and cultural diversity in our classrooms and/or internationalization of the curriculum and pedagogies. It’s so important to try to counter the deficit view of linguistic diversity and international students that is still quite common out there in Canadian higher ed. One way to do this is to offer some practical tools and teaching techniques.

Next week I’ll be presenting The Interaction for Learning Framework: A tool for learning in diverse classrooms .

It’s the first time I’ve presented on this topic, and I’m really excited about it. I’m still finalizing the presentation; if you have worked with this framework before, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter.

Here’s a description:

Despite increasing diversity at many institutions, students often gravitate toward others of similar linguistic or cultural backgrounds academically—in class, for groupwork or assignments, tutorial choice—as well as socially. When this happens, the benefits of learning in a diverse setting, such as expanded world view, increased empathy, strengthened sense of global citizenship, may remain unrealized. Many educators experience frustration when faced with this tendency of students to self-segregate. They many feel helplessness, or confusion at why interaction doesn’t just happen on its own. They may not realize that they are in a position to facilitate an inclusive classroom environment or they may realize this but lack the tools to do so.

This presentation is an introduction to one of these tools: the ‘Interaction for Learning Framework’ (ILF), which was developed at the Centre for Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne by researcher Sophie Arkoudis and her team. Arkoudis et al. (2012) and Arkoudis et al. (2013) describe this framework in detail. The ILF was developed to help faculty and instructors structure the learning environment to increase interaction between domestic and international students.

In the proposed session, I will introduce the framework and its spheres of application, balancing theoretical information with examples of its application from around the world, as well as criticisms that have emerged out of the literature. In terms of session outcomes, participants will learn about the ILF, and how to apply it in the context of their curriculum and classroom pedagogies to facilitate interaction between students and the synthesis of course material. There will be time allotted to reflection and application of the ILF to participants’ own educational contexts.

If true inclusion, diversity and internationalization are to be achieved on our campuses and in our classrooms, we must move past buzzwords and strategic directives and do the hard work of changing our curricula and pedagogies to foster the types of attitudes and create the types of environments we envision. This change won’t necessarily happen without our intervention. The ILF is one technique TAs, instructors and faculty can add to their toolbox for inclusive teaching.

References:

Arkoudis, S., Watty, K., Baik, C., Yu, X., Borland, H., Chang, S., Lang, I., Lang, J. & Pearce, A. (2013). Finding common ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 222-235.

Arkoudis, S., Baik, C., & Richardson, S. (2012). English language standards in higher education: from entry to exit. Camberwell, Vic.: ACER Press.

ELT and International Higher Ed

I’ve been neglecting my blog, I’m afraid. It’s ready to blame it solely on my doctoral thesis, which nearing completion, but it’s not just that. My professional role has expanded to include the realm of international higher education, which has meant a bunch of missions abroad representing the university, our English language unit, and Canadian higher ed in general over the past year and a half or so. Mostly to Latin America, and usually with a consortium or co-op such as the CALDO Consortium, Languages Canada or EduNova, these missions have been not only extremely interesting, but have given me some new insight into the the role of language in the internationalization of higher education.

For example, the growth of international education has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of English language as a medium for teaching, learning and research. As a result, English-medium instruction, language training for students and academics, and language capacity-building play an important role in many international partnerships. As well, policies and practices such as language proficiency requirements for admission, and standardized language testing continue to be points of discussion. However, the potentially important role language in international education is often underestimated. How innovative approaches to language can contribute to sustainable and successful initiatives is not adequately discussed.

I see this lack of attention paid to the role and potential of language in international higher ed as especially glaring  when it is done by Anglo-Canadian institutions. Going into meetings with institutions from places where English is not the dominant language, language proficiency, training, assessment and EMI are often prominent concerns, brought up right from the start in discussion of student and faculty mobility and joint research collaboration, etc. A monolingual mindset is prevalent at many Anglo-Canadian universities (more on that in my thesis!). This means that sometimes Canadian institutions don’t seem to think that these are important concerns and don’t address them as they build programs. Sometimes institutions don’t see language teaching, learning and research as “proper” scholarship, and miss opportunities for things like short-term language courses to be a first step in collaboration between two institutions while more complicated agreements get worked out for things like joint doctoral degrees or other more involved sorts of collaboration.

The HE IELTS Blame Game

This article is a real head-shaker: More than 400 students in India told to retake language tests after Niagara College flags concerns. As the subtitle to this article puts it, “an Ontario college has raised questions over the validity of the scores of a popular international standardized language test submitted by students applying from India after a probe found “inconsistencies” in language proficiency”.

I’m shaking my head over so many aspects of this situation. There are so many leaps of logic. And it seems like they didn’t really take the time to consult people that understand the IELTS exam and its shortcomings and/or the interplay of English fluency and teaching/learning in higher education. 

  • So, the faculty of this college flagged 300 students for being “at risk academically” (How? Using what tool/metric/method? Did unconscious bias/systemic racism play a role in who gets flagged as it has and does in lots of other Canadian higher ed contexts? ).
  • This was more than the 150 students flagged last year. (Did the demographics of the students admitted to the college also change in this time?)
  • The student flagged were made to take an in-house language test. (Was this test? Who designed it? Was it valid/reliable? Who corrected it? Does it test what the IELTS tested? Does it test content knowledge?) 
  • The college found 200 out of the group that did the in-house test were failing in their academic programs because their English was not “at the required level”. (Wait, what? How did we jump from students’ language proficiency to failing their academic programs/being “at-risk”? Don’t they realize that you can fail a course for many reasons?) 
  • The majority of the students who failed the in-house test were from India and had done the IELTS at IDP centres in India (How many more Indian students did the college admit this year over last year? How many cities and centres are we talking about?). So the college freaks out about the discrepancy between the IELTS score and the score on the in-house test, alerts IDP and IRCC (!) about these ‘inconsistencies’, making it sound like there’s testing fraud at IDP centres. (Do they not know how common it is for there to be a discrepancy between IELTS scores and real-life language ability? That you can get a 6.0 IELTS (the score required for admission to Niagara College) and not be able to meet the academic demands of higher education, which are much more complex and broad than what is tested on the IELTS?)
  • The college is paying for 400 Indian applicants to be re-tested (Where? With what test?) before they can be admitted for January. 

It seems to me like this college opened the floodgates and admitted a very large number of students who use English as a second/additional language from India, all at once, without considering or making any arrangements for (1) students’ development of academic language and literacies appropriate for the Canadian college context or (2) developing their faculty’s skill and ability to teach a culturally and linguistically-diverse student clientele (3) adapting curriculum to a very culturally and linguistically-diverse student body whose academic language and literacies are varying and will need support and development.

This college does not seem to understand that the IELTS exam only tests what it tests, and that is only a tiny sliver of the broad spectrum of linguistic and academic skills needed to succeed in English-medium higher education. So someone can get a 6.0 (or higher!) on the IELTS and still be unable to succeed at university. Think of the IELTS as testing running speed, and studying in higher education as soccer. I may be a very fast runner, and running is an important part of soccer, and I have to be able to run a certain speed to get onto the soccer team. But just because I can run fast doesn’t mean I’ll be able to play soccer well or be a star player. I need some training in some of the other skills involved in soccer, like dribbling, passing and shooting. 

As well, this college doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that many people can train specifically for the IELTS exam, and without any fraud or nefarious tricks, get a score much higher than what their real-life language ability would suggest.  You could go to any university or college in Canada and test first-semester students on an in-house language test and you’d find lots of students with a discrepancy between that test score and their IELTS score. It’s simplty the nature of the beast. Far be it from me to defend IELTS or IDP, but it seems like in this case they’ve become scapegoats for an inadequate institutional response to very rapid changes in admissions demographics for this college. 

Institutions can make a fuss about IELTS scores, but it won’t be enough to ensure an equitable teaching and learning environment for students from all linguistic backgrounds. Regardless of what a certain IELTS score for admission may be, institutions have to change their curricula, integrating time and space for the development of academic language and literacies into their courses and programs. If you want a very diverse group of students to possess certain skills, you have to teach them!

Reversing Deficit Discourses

Around this time of year, I tend to do different talks around the university for faculty, staff or teaching assistants about dealing with linguistically-diverse classes in terms of teaching and learning.

I’ll often begin these sessions by talking about what faculty, staff or TAs can do to help avoid the deficit discourses around international students and ESL/EAL students at our universities. It’s a matter of framing: international students are often characterized as lacking language or cultural skills, but I encourage folks to remember that international students are actually in the process of adding language varieties and cultural know-how to their repertoire.

Then I bring out my most cited of Bourdieu quotes–“academic language […] is no one’s mother tongue” (Bourdieu et al., 1994, p. 8)”–and remind everyone that all students are in the process of acquiring academic and English and the language of their discipline. Depending on their linguistic background, some students from non-English-speaking backgrounds just have a bit farther to travel than those raised and educated using English to add Canadian Academic English to their repertoire of languages.

None of this is particularly revolutionary, but it can be a bit of a reframing of things for folks who don’t spend all day thinking about language and working with people developing their English language proficiency. The monoglot ideology (Silverstein, 1996) is really prevalent in of English Canada: in general, English Canadians are really not very successful language learners, and tend to fall into the “everyone else can speak English so why should I learn anything else?” trap. Even in places with a lot of cultural diversity, a real embracing of linguistic diversity, valuing multi/plurilingualism, on behalf of the whole population –including monolingual English speakers, and not just those who happen to speak a non-English heritage language at home–doesn’t necessarily follow. The lack of linguistic diversity on the CBC is one example of this. 

 

Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J.-C., & Martin, M. D. S. (1994). Academic Discourse: Linguistic Misunderstanding and Professorial Power (1 edition). Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Silverstein M. (1996). Monoglot “standard” in America: Standardization and metaphors of linguistic hegemony. In D. Brenneis & R. Macaulay (eds.), The matrix of language: Contemporary linguistic anthropology, 284–306. Boulder, CO : Westview Press.