- What is the mission of your language center?
- What is the history/development/reasons for creation?
- Introduce your language center (staff, faculty, students, structure within the universities, etc.).
- What are the facilities (space, allotment/office space)?
- What is the number of faculty and staff?
- What is the status of teachers/kind of contracts?
- What are the requirements in terms of teaching load and responsibilities for teachers?
- What programs/classes do you offer?
- What are some of the pros and cons of having a language center?
- How are teachers in the language center evaluated?
I'm not going to summarize each person's presentation, but I want to mention a few of the major themes that came out of the presentations. In no particular order, here they are:
- There's an increasing attempt to reach out to honors or otherwise advanced students through special semester-long or short-term courses. The program at one school (and possibly more) is also feeling pressure from the rest of the school to offer courses and other kinds of help to graduate students and faculty who now are feeling more pressure to publish in English-language international academic journals.
- Most of the language centers would probably be better labelled "language programs" because they are responsible for the required first-year English courses and elective language courses. There was one (if I remember correctly) language center that did not have the responsibility for the FY-English program. It operates more as a center that offers short-term courses, lectures, study groups, and other activities for extracurricular English learning. (And the staff there consists of one director, 2 staff members, and no faculty.)
- There are more and more attempts to make use of computer-aided self-study systems so that students can learn on their own. Some programs require the computer-aided learning to be graded as part of required courses; some just provide the learning stations and hope that students will come. (One director mentioned that they had increased the number of computers in one lab from 7 to 41, but only the same 7 students were showing up...)
- Most of the directors complained of being understaffed, particularly in terms of full-time faculty. As one director put it, the problem is not a sense that part-time teachers are not as hard-working; the problem is that because it is difficult to give part-time teachers the same level of pay and facilities as full-timers (office space, etc.), part-timers usually have to teach at more than one school and therefore cannot be around for program activities, office hours, or important program meetings. This makes it harder both for students to have more interaction with their teachers outside of the classroom and for programs to be as unified as directors would like. [This is my recollection of what was said--if it doesn't quite accurate to others who were there, please let me know!]
- I felt a sense that teachers and administrators in the language center are not as highly respected as teachers or administrators in regular departments. The term "second-class citizens" was used more than once in characterizing the language centers' status.
- Related to this, I noticed a concern that language center faculty will end up being evaluated in the same way as faculty in other departments (in other words, a heavy emphasis on research), despite the heavier teaching responsibilities that come with teaching English to the entire freshman class, teaching English electives to upperclass students, and running various programs to encourage students to use English outside of class and to ensure that the English proficiency of the students meets some sort of externally defined standard (the GEPT or TOEFL, for example).
Again, this summary of the symposium is based on my impressions/memories of the meeting. I'd appreciate the corrections of anyone else who was there. (Like Kris Vicca, who in a careless moment admitted that he's read this blog before!) I have thought about whether or not I should mention who said what, but have opted not to at this point, though if the directors want their names attached to particular comments or opinions, I'll be happy to comply with their requests. And the paragraph above is based almost entirely on my own slightly muddled view of things. I'll try to develop these ideas in more depth at some point in the future.