Category Archives: languages

Come to 2013 LLAS e-learning symposium (+hear about YazikOpen)

Don't forget to register for the 2013 LLAS e-learning symposium at the University of Southampton.

Keynote speakers

Prof Mike Neary, Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of Lincoln
Prof Allison Littlejohn, Chair of Learning Technology, Glasgow Caledonian University, Director of the Caledonian Academy
Prof Gráinne Conole, Professor of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester
Nik Peachey, Associate Trainer, Bell Educational Services

Also

Hear more about open access and yazikopen.

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Severe grading at GCSE and A-level MFL: Consequences for Higher Education

Issue 1: Severe grading

Research into grading at GCSE and A-level has revealed that Modern Languages are graded more severely than most other subjects. A pupil who takes a GCSE or A-level in a language is, on average, likely to get half a grade lower in their language than they will in their other subjects. For example a pupil who gets a mid to low C in English is likely to get a D in their language GCSE.

Issue 2: Preparedness for university-level study.

When the severe grading issue was discussed at the recent LLAS workshop for Heads of Department, it prompted discussion about another entirely separate issue—the extent to which students are prepared for language studies in higher education. Students are getting good grades at GCSE and A-level, but are not as well prepared as university lecturers would like.

Issue 3: the proportions of students getting higher grades in language GCSE.

Over 70% of students got a GCSE grade C or above in French, German and Spanish in 2012 compared to 58% in mathematics. This would suggest that it is easier to get a higher grade in languages than mathematics. This is fairly straightforward explanation here: the students who take languages GCSE are generally speaking of high academic ability than the cohort as a whole (nearly everyone takes mathematics, irrespective of academic ability). The GCSE data alone does not tell us this, but when we examine all of an individual student’s grades we can see that those who take GCSE languages will, on average, do worse than they will in other subjects.

Consequences for higher education

Some in higher education welcome severe grading—it could be argued that those who succeed at school, despite severe grading are those who will do best in higher education. The reverse argument is that those seeking to recruit school pupils to study languages at university are essentially trying to convince students to study their worst subject (assuming that pupils consider there to be a link between grades and how good they are at the subject). Work by Felix Maringe on university course choice found that employability was an important factor in the choice or subject, but only alongside performance. If potential students believe that they are not as good at subject A as they are at subject B they are less likely to choose it.

Conclusions

The argument about severe grading is entirely based on averages, and, as the statistics joke goes it’s normal to be deviant; some students do consider languages to be their best subject and their grades will support this belief.  Others will be getting more than half a grade lower on languages compared to their other subjects. Grading adjustment could benefit universities enormously in terms of recruitment—if students did as well (or better) in languages than in their other subjects more would consider languages to be their best subjects and choose them in higher education.

Questions about the actual curriculum and standards are actually separate questions entirely. Severe grading is about relative performance, ensuring the highest performing students in languages get the same grades as the highest performing students in other subjects.

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12 actions language lecturers are taking to engage with the National Student Survey.

I have just been looking back at the NSS project I was involved with LLAS last year. The report concluded with 12 actions colleagues from nine institutions were planning to take. Not everyone will agree with all of them, I though I would post them here for interest.

1. Using the NSS questions on first and second year questionnaires.
2. Encouraging students to make more use of timetabled advice and guidance sessions.
3. Providing a more comprehensive introduction to the library resources. One colleague plans to recommend making library sessions obligatory.
4. Informing Level 2 students about previous actions taken in response to the NSS.
5. Discussing ways in which the NSS can feed into broader staff development, including courses for early career teaching staff.
6. Promoting more staff use of discussion boards in the institution‘s VLE as a means of providing feedback.
7. Encouraging tutors on skills modules to put more emphasis on transferable skills.
8. Developing a better understanding between staff and students of staff availability.
9. Communicating assessment criteria more clearly in order to relieve pressure on office hours.
10. Harmonising teaching and assessment for different languages. Where there are exceptions a case should be made to the students.
11. Fostering a 'personal tutoring' culture in the department.
12. Promoting awareness to students of the importance of the NSS.

John Canning, et al (2011) Understanding the National Student Survey: investigations in languages, linguistics and area studies. Southampton , GB, LLAS (Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies), 13pp. Available from: LLAS website

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Language Futures: Languages in Higher Education conference 2012

Date: 5 July, 2012 - 6 July, 2012
Location: John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh
Event type: Conference

Language Futures is the sixth biennial conference organised by LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies (LLAS), The University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) and the Association of University Language Centres (AULC). It aims to bring together language teachers and researchers from across languages and related disciplines. It will be of interest to those in higher education and related sectors including secondary schools and further education.It is also aimed at representatives of business, language professions and any other employers who wish to develop closer links with education in the field of languages. It is intended as a forum for networking, sharing ideas and resources ,and exploring ways of meeting the challenges of sustaining good quality language education.

Event website

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The 5th issue of Debut: Thoughts and observations on undergraduate research

7 thoughts

I have spent this afternoon editing the next volume of Debut: the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies. I am pleased that the journal has kept going and is now in its fifth edition.

Many colleagues complain that students do not like putting effort into work that does not count towards their degree. Much of the work submitted to Debut is based upon assessed work (I know this because they don’t always remove the lecturer name and course number). In most cases the student will have received a good mark (they often tell me this when they submit) and in some cases their lecturer has suggested they submit their work to Debut.

Their work is then reviewed by an academic in another institution who makes comments and recommends whether or not the work should be published in Debut. Few of these students, if any, will have experienced this double-blind review process. It is daunting enough for those of us with experience but for undergraduate students this is unknown territory. Last year I conducted a small-scale consultation on whether Debut should maintain the review process. I was fairly surprised that those who responded said that the review process should be kept.

 

After five issues I have the following thoughts and observations on Debut and undergraduate research in general.

  1. Undergraduate research publication completes the research cycle (Walkington and Jenkins) but only a very small number of students seek to get their work published.
  2. The review process not only prevents weak work from publication, but also good work on which the student is not willing or able to put in the necessary work to bring the work up to a publishable standard. In these cases I encourage students to persevere.
  3. What is the standard for publication in an undergraduate journal? This remains the critical question for me. Work on the linguistics of a ‘less-widely taught/ used language which received a first class mark on a general linguistics course often gets a harsh review from experts in the language itself. In retrospect I feel that many articles submitted in the first year of Debut did not make it to publication when they probably should have.
  4. Some reviewers think that certain topics should not be attempted by undergraduates (the subject of my editorial in this issue).
  5. Undergraduates do not necessarily know that multiple submission is not customary. On a couple of occasions it has been revealed by a student that their work has been accepted for publication in another journal and “is this a problem?” I don’t think that this means the student is a bad person—it merely shows that the student has not been told that this not considered the proper etiquette in most disciplines (I now mention this in the ‘Instructions for Authors’ page). It reminds me that undergraduates do not automatically know how academic publishing works, it does not automatically occur to them that this is something they should find out about and I suspect that few academics teach students about how academic work comes to be published.
  6. We allow students to submit up to a year after graduation. Sometimes reviewers suggest additional reading, sometimes from items to which the student no longer has access – another issue about closed access.
  7. As a journal of languages, linguistics and area studies Debut has a very broad remit. As editor I have to rely very heavily on advice from reviewers and it can be difficult to separate reasonable and unreasonable judgements.

In conclusion

I believe that discussions of academic publishing should be included in any undergraduate degree. Detractors might see it as ‘another thing to teach’, but surely an awareness of the process by which the articles and books they read came to be published must be seen as essential. Lecturers often complain about students citing unreliable sources in their essays and teaching them how to identify a good and bad source. However, a better, more detailed understanding of the process of academic publication may be a better way forward than teaching students to use context to discriminate between sources.

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Update on things

No blog post for a while now. I have been busy with work then the Christian conference Spring Harvest. I’ll be back in work on Wednesday in London at the Islamic Studies Network workshops on partnerships then Thursday at our annual new staff workshop at Aston University, so it’s a while before I get back to my Southampton office.

I have been working yazikopen.org.uk, my database of open access language teaching research. I’ve now produced a flyer which people can print out to give to their colleagues/ students. It’s not the highest quality flyer, but it gives the necessary information and life has been very busy recently. It is also available on humbox.

We bought our eldest son his first train-set for his sixth birthday a couple of weeks back. We are already thinking in terms of extending his layout and I am beginning to reacquaint myself with my Science GCSE as I think about building signals and lampposts with LEDs and resistors and things. We have also had some problems with the free sat which I seem to have sorted out now. I’m spending more time developing my practical side right now out in the garden and around the house.

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Social and economic background of applicants to study languages in UK higher education

Source: UCAS: Accepted applicants 2011 entry

Economic background of accepted applications for European Languages, non-European languages and All subjects.

Quintile (Polar 2)* European languages (Group R) %
Non-European Languages (Group T) %
All accepted applicants.%
1 (applicants from postcodes with fewest 20% applicants to HE (2000-2004) 5.80 8.47 11.98
2 10.27 11.48 16.45
3 15.49 15.99 19.57
4 25.06 23.04 22.48
5 1 (applicants from postcodes with highest 20% applicants to HE (2000-2004) 41.94 39.67 28.13

 

*See http://www.hefce.ac.uk/widen/polar/

Ethnic background of accepted applications for European Languages, non-European languages and all subjects.

 

  European languages (Group R) (%)
Non-European Languages (Group T) (%)
All accepted applicants.(%)
Asian - Bangladeshi 0.1 0.3 1.1
Asian - Chinese 0.4 1.0 0.8
Asian - Indian 1.1 1.1 3.5
Asian - Other Asian background 0.6 0.6 1.7
Asian - Pakistani 0.2 1.0 2.9
Black - African 0.9 1.3 5.0
Black - Caribbean 0.4 0.5 1.6
Black - Other black background 0.2

 

0.2 0.3
Mixed - Other mixed background 2.0 1.9 1.0
Mixed - White and Asian 1.8 2.1 1.1
Mixed - White and Black African 0.6 0.8 0.4
Mixed - White and Black Caribbean 0.9 1.8 1.0
Other ethnic background 0.7 1.0 1.1
Unknown or Prefer Not To Say 1.3 1.3 1.1
White 89.0 85.0 77.2

 

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