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

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.


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. Among a number of changes designed to broaden and deepen students' engagement with courses across a range of areas of knowledge, the new curriculum included a foreign language requirement for all students graduating with a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science degree. The rationale for the language requirement stemmed from the commitment to internationalization as an institutional priority and to preparing students to live in an increasingly diverse and interdependent world. The study of foreign language by all students was viewed as essential to attaining cross-cultural competency, one of the learning objectives of the new general education curriculum.

In conjunction with the curriculum review committee, the Language Task Force,1 comprising faculty from the language departments within the College of Arts and Sciences, was charged with formulating the overall goal, specific learning objectives, pedagogical approaches, and assessment procedures through which the foreign language requirement would be operationalized.

Goal and Objectives

Largely as a result of the proficiency and National Standards movements, foreign language program leaders in the field and at this institution had already been expanding their goals beyond a focus on linguistic competence to include content that promoted communicative, cultural, and critical competence. Mindful of these goals, the members of the Language Task Force formulated the overarching goal of the new foreign language requirement, articulated broadly as follows: "for all ... students to have a level of competency in a second language sufficient to enable them to engage meaningfully with another culture in its own language" (Report of the Language Task Force, Duke University, October 1998, p. …

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