Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Development and Assessment of the Effectiveness of an Undergraduate General Education Foreign Language Requirement

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Development and Assessment of the Effectiveness of an Undergraduate General Education Foreign Language Requirement

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article describes a faculty-led, multiyear process of formulating learning objectives and assessing the effectiveness of a foreign language requirement for all College of Arts and Sciences undergraduates at a research university. Three interrelated research questions were addressed: (1) What were the levels and patterns of language courses completed under the language requirement compared to those under the previous curriculum? (2) To what extent was the oral proficiency learning objective being attained? and (3) How did oral proficiency vary by course level and the patterns of courses completed to satisfy the language requirement? The oral proficiency of 614 students was assessed with the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview and categorized in terms of ACTFL ratings. Study findings indicated that 76% of students met or exceeded the objective of the Intermediate Mid level of oral proficiency and that oral proficiency differed by course level and the pattern of courses completed to satisfy the language requirement. In particular, the impact of completing an advanced-level course was clear, which in turn had implications for curricular policies and academic advising. It is argued that faculty-led evaluation of program effectiveness, in which assessment approaches are both summative and formative and findings are routinely used to improve educational practices as well as document student learning, is the necessary context for developing an evidence-based approach to undergraduate language education.

Key words: assessment, foreign language program evaluation, foreign language requirement, postsecondary /higher education, proficiency

The purpose of this report is to contribute to the ongoing efforts to enhance foreign language education and assessment through an analysis of a multiyear faculty-led process of formulating learning objectives and assessing the effectiveness of adding a foreign language requirement to the general education curriculum at a research university. The new foreign language requirement included objectives for both language proficiency and cultural understanding for all undergraduates, not just foreign language majors, in the College of Arts and Sciences. Once the requirement was in place, faculty collaborated with the Office of Assessment to evaluate the extent to which the learning objectives were attained and then used the findings to guide improvements in educational practice and assessment processes.

Context

A review of the curriculum, in conjunction with the university's 1997 reaccreditation process, had made it clear that the curriculum did not adequately prepare undergraduate students for the challenges of the 21st century and did not reflect the values and aspirations of a national research university. The curriculum was characterized by an emphasis on student choice; one unintended consequence was that many students were graduating without having completed at least one course in each area of knowledge (i.e., science, social sciences, and humanities). One simple but telling metric was that 47% of graduating seniors in 1997 had omitted taking a single course in one of the major areas of knowledge, with the largest percentage (19%) having omitted the study of a foreign language. To provide students with a broader set of foundation courses, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences established a curriculum review committee comprising highly regarded faculty from the arts and humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Included in the dean's charge to the committee was an expectation that the committee "find a way in which to ensure that at the start of the 21st century, all ... students will be able to converse in and to understand a non-English language."

Instituting a Foreign Language Requirement

After a two-year process, a new general education curriculum in the College of Arts and Sciences was instituted beginning with the class entering in 2000. …

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