Investigating Second Language Learner Self-Efficacy and Future Expectancy of Second Language Use for High-Stakes Program Evaluation

Article excerpt

Abstract:

As part of a larger summative evaluation of a foreign language department and a two-year foreign language core competency, the researcher investigated fourth-semester student self-efficacy (a person's belief, rooted in experience, that they can do something) and future expectancy of second language use. In effect, this was also an evaluation of program theory, which sought to determine what faculty members thought second-year learners ought to know and be able to do at the end of their study, and the extent to which those learners felt they knew and could do these activities. Using questionnaire data from 150 students in nine divisions (Arabic, Chinese [Mandarin], French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish), this study found that learners had at least a modicum of self-efficacy for the things that faculty members and instructors thought they ought to know and be able to do. It was recommended that (1) practice and language use opportunities probably require more attention within divisions so that learner self-efficacy might be further developed, and (2) divisions and students might benefit from having instructors more explicitly connect potentially undiscussed classroom processes (staying in the second language [L2], interacting with classmates in the L2) with successful class outcomes.

Key words: learner variables, program evaluation, self-efficacy

Language: relevant to all languages

Introduction

In January 2008, a major accrediting body presented a large, southwestern U.S. university with the dismaying news that it was on probation. Unless the university provided satisfactory evidence that its students had achieved core competency goals set for the core curriculum (multicultural, mathematics, communication, etc.) by the following September, the institution might lose its accreditation (Texas Tech University SACS-COC Task Force, 2008). The university responded quickly to the situation and formed Core Competency Teams comprising faculty members with expertise in the core competencies. The nine teams were charged with the task of formulating sources of data that would provide reasonable, theory-driven evidence that undergraduate students had achieved stated core competencies. Second languages (L2s), which are considered an institution-optional core competency, were included in the accreditation response process. Because L2s had never been included in university-wide discussions of core competencies, the five faculty members on the L2 core competency team were charged with an extra task: Formulate core competency statements, then create measurements for them and collect evidence that students had these competencies.

Cross-Divisional Assumptions About Learning Outcomes

This allowed for a unique opportunity for a department- wide, cross-divisional examination of assumptions and outcomes concerning student learning at the end of the university-required two years of L2 study. Thus, the faculty members on the core competency team for L2s planned and carried out an evaluation, with the help of 30 faculty members and instructors, and 612 U.S. undergraduate students, of core competencies in Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. In line with extant standards (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 2006), proficiency guidelines (ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines,. 1999), and theoretically informed assumptions about the nature of language as a communication of meaning, core competencies were stated, stipulating that students be able to express and interpret language, and appreciate basic aspects of the cultures where the languages being learned were used.

An additional, unexpected core competency emerged:

Students of Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish will demonstrate confidence in using the second language in their language classrooms, and their future expectancies of their ability to use the second language in real-life contexts. …