A pilot study was designed to examine student perspectives on the first two years of the foreign language program at an east coast college. The study addresses key areas of foreign language teaching and learning in terms of goals and objectives, effectiveness of instruction and instructional approach, and student suggestions for improvement. The survey's findings indicate that the program generally meets the needs and interests of the students; however, these findings call for a clearer articulation of program goals in culture and careful review of some instructional methods. They also reveal critical differences in learning priorities and learning styles between students in commonly taught languages and those in less commonly taught languages. This article discusses plausible explanations for the survey findings and makes recommendations for program improvement.
Key words: learner input, learner variables, program assessment
Language: Relevant to all languages
Program assessment includes a combination of diverse factors, not just those related to courses or curriculum (Gray & Diamond, 1989). In the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (Council of Europe, 2001), the term "programme evaluation" is used rather than "assessment" to encompass, among other aspects, "the effectiveness of particular methods or materials" and "learner/teacher satisfaction" (p. 177). Rationales for placing learner variables, both cognitive and affective, at the center of instruction and assessment have been expounded by many researchers (e.g., Breen, 2001; Lange, 2003; Lantolf, 2001; and Tse, 2000), and they provide the underpinnings for our inquiry. To lay the foundation for both formative and summative assessment (Phillips, 2005) in seven languages, we launched a pilot study to determine whether and to what degree the goals and objectives of our language core curriculum (first- and second-year language programs) had been reached and to identify areas of improvement using student input. We gathered data on various aspects of our program that revealed students' "preexisting conditions and attitudes" (Bailey, 1998, p. 96) toward language studies and the teaching-learning partnership. After a brief description of our general assessment plan and of the language programs, we present and discuss our findings as they relate to: (1) student priorities in studying foreign languages and cultures compared to program goals and objectives, (2) student perceptions of the effectiveness of instructional methods used, (3) identification of the best aspects of the program that permitted students to reach their linguistic and cultural learning objectives, (4) student application of language and culture learning outside the classroom environment, (5) student motivation toward culture learning and quality of this learning, and (6) student recommendations for change.
Language Studies and Institutional Goals and the National Standards
The assessment plan used by our department is linked to the one used by our institution, the United States Naval Academy. That plan, in turn, is based on principles of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology model (Rogers & Sando, 1996) and those formulated by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2003). A faculty committee representing the various disciplines created a list of desirable traits and outcomes, called Attributes and Capabilities, which our students should acquire prior to graduation. At the department level, we elaborated on those institutionwide goals that best applied to the study of language and culture by relating them to the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (National Standards, 1999): (1) competence in oral and written communication as it applies to foreign language acquisition; (2) geopolitical awareness as encompassing perspectives, practices, and products under cultures; and (3) lifelong learning in terms of motivation to continue the study of foreign languages and cultures beyond the classroom. …