Thursday, February 28, 2013

UBC's International Pathways Program: A new model ?

I don't know much about this new initiative at UBC, but it is going to be big -- they are spending $200 million on it.

UBC serves a local, national and international community and efforts are currently underway to strategically expand international student enrolment so that campus life and the student experience are universally enhanced. UBC’s International Pathways Program (IPP) as an adjunct to our expanding International Students Initiative (ISI) will allow UBC to significantly diversify the student body and increase the number of talented international students at UBC. The IPP will combine innovative teaching techniques with cultural and language support to provide a transformative program that will allow us to invite promising students from a more diverse array of countries while maintaining our base of direct entry students from traditional sources.

(That's from the "UBC 5-Year Capital Plan.")

The UBC student newspaper reported last year that Pathways would be a "separate but affiliated college," a kind of first-year program which would eventually allow students to enter UBC as 2nd-year students. "Separate but affiliated" worries me a little. The ideal situation, I think, would be to have credit-bearing language/culture/study skills courses, and this might be closer to that. I think of the first-year English programs at the Chinese joint-venture universities and wonder if this might be something like that. The JVU programs, however, seem to be much more integrated into the actual university. There's something a little off-putting about building a larger, more glorified "you're not actually a real student" style institution, of which there is already one at almost every university -- an English language institute. Incidentally, UBC's large ELI is supposed to be involved in Pathways, though I don't know how.

Anyway, something worth keeping an eye on. It could be a good thing (and even a place for me to look for a job in the future, maybe).

UPDATE: I note that this program has also been referred to as "A Bridge to UBC" and it does seem to provide actual credit courses despite the students not being enrolled in UBC. UBC's vice provost presented a sketch of the prospective program to the UBC student body association last fall and laid out the following steps (see the whole PPT here), with my emphasis:

We are proposing:
• An educational program developed for international students from domestic school systems that are significantly different from those found in North America and Europe
• A program to enable these students to complete first-year equivalent coursework, and
be prepared to enter UBC degree programs as second-year students:
- Preparation programs tailored to individual needs, with longer preparation programs for some students
- Development of English language skills for academic success, integrated with the  broader curriculum
- Course content based on UBC first-year credit programs and curricula
- The majority of instruction will be provided by full-time academic staff in a variety of teaching configurations
- A “living lab” for innovative undergraduate teaching
- A “high-touch” in-residence experience for all students, with strong social support, to address cultural acclimatization issues specific to different countries
 - A program that broadens our reach and enables students from diverse backgrounds to attend UBC 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

NYU Shanghai and Sino-Foreign Universities

NYU Shanghai is being touted as the first/only Sino-Foreign cooperative higher education institution in the media lately, though it isn't -- there are literally hundred of joint programs, ranging from dual-degree programs to genuinely independent institutions jointly managed by Chinese and foreign entities (e.g., Xi'An Jiaotong Liverpool University, University of Nottingham Ningbo, United International College, SIAS International University, and others).

NYU, though, is the highest-profile American university to start a program, and is following what you might call the Nottingham model, where the foreign university essentially dictates the entire curriculum (aside from P.E. and Marxist thought, one assumes -- traditionally required courses for all Chinese university students).

So while it isn't the only or first university to start such a program, it is possibly the biggest, highest-ranked (#43 on the QS Rankings!), most prestigious (just the words "New York" command attention), and most PR-savvy. A lot of people will be watching to see how it succeeds or fails. A number of facets of this institution will probably be under scrutiny: academic freedom, success of graduates in terms of employment or grad school admissions, treatment of language (English proficiency of local students, and, one hopes, Chinese proficiency of foreign students*), and so on. It will be really interesting to see what comes of this venture.

*I'm not yet clear on how these will be treated, but so far there does not appear to be a "first year English" program in place, which is mandatory at many other joint-venture universities.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wendell Berry on Global Thinking

“…love defines the difference between the ‘global village,’ which is a technological and totalitarian ideal, directly suited to the purposes of centralized governments and corporations, and the Taoist village-as-globe, where the people live frugally and at peace, pleased with the good qualities of necessary things, so satisfied where they are that they live and die without visiting the next village, though they can hear its dogs bark and its roosters crow.”

(“Standing by Words”)

“There can be no such thing as a ‘global village.’ No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity.”
(“The Unsettling of America”)

“In making things always bigger and more centralized, we make them both more vulnerable in themselves and more dangerous to everything else. Learn, therefore, to prefer small-scale elegance and generosity to large-scale greed, crudity, and glamour.

Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made.

Put the interest of the community first.

Love your neighbors--not the neighbors you pick out, but the ones you have.

Love this miraculous world that we did not make, that is a gift to us.

As far as you are able make your lives dependent upon your local place, neighborhood, and household--which thrive by care and generosity--and independent of the industrial economy, which thrives by damage.

 Find work, if you can, that does no damage. Enjoy your work. Work well.”

(“The Futility of Global Thinking”)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Some stuff on cosmopolitanism and language

I have a huge knee-jerk reaction against the term 'cosmopolitanism.' Probably because of, you know, Cosmopolitan magazine. But I'm trying to understand it.

Drawing on recent work on cosmopolitanism, global citizenship, and critical applied linguistics, this article examines the concept of cosmopolitanism as a viable goal in education in Canada. Particular attention is paid to the inclusion of global citizenship objectives in K-12 language programs in general and in heritage language (HL) curricula in particular. I make a case for consideration of the concept of cosmopolitanism as a key guiding principle at diverse levels of education in formal, non-formal, and informal settings. I argue that in the Canadian context, multilingual education could play a more prominent role in educational agendas as it has the potential to promote cosmopolitan ideals. I conclude that in the framework of official bilingualism and multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism can fruitfully add to discussions about the role of education in the emergence of a Canadian identity.

Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations introduces a new way of looking at the use of English within a global context. Challenging traditional approaches in second language acquisition and English language teaching, this book incorporates recent advances in multilingual studies, sociolinguistics, and new literacy studies to articulate a new perspective on this area. Canagarajah argues that multilinguals merge their own languages and values into English, which opens up various negotiation strategies that help them decode other unique varieties of English and construct new norms.

Suresh Canagarajah , "The Possibility of a Community of Difference"  (concluding paragraph)

TO SOME EXTENT, THE ARTICULATION of my position on cosmopolitanism in this article has itself been dialogical. I have drawn from my South Asian, multilingual, and postcolonial backgrounds to engage with the scriptures as an evangelical. As a scholar, I am happy to negotiate with other scholars from different belief systems on common projects of intellectual inquiry or social change. Though I start from my position as a South Asian evangelical, I am open to learning from my engagement with others, critiquing my positions, and moving to more hybridized and richer positions. I want to have the humility to let God speak through the social encounters he has arranged for me. To think that I have nothing more to learn is to be proud. To fear that open engagement with others will damage my faith is to underestimate God‘s power and sovereignty. My faith and social positions do influence my teaching practice. As an instructor of English, I strive to teach students negotiation strategies that will enable them to engage with others of different languages and cultures. I remind Anglo-American students that rather than resting on their status as native speakers, they should treat English as a language commonly owned by diverse people around the world, with whom they have to negotiate on equal terms. I encourage both native and nonnative students to shift their perspectives from correctness to contextual negotiation; from mastery of a single code to developing a repertoire; from individual achievement to social collaboration; from treating their first language or culture as problems to treating them as resources; and from being product-focused to being process-orientated in their negotiation of diverse languages and cultures.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Wrong Word"

To say a writer used the "wrong word" (cf Lunsford and Lunsford, 2008, p. 789) is a pretty serious claim, it seems to me*.

(*This is probably only something a PhD student would say.)


What is the difference between the following: "wrong word"/ "word choice error" / "inappropriate for an academic essay" / and just a stylistic preference?

And how on earth am I going to categorize this kind of thing?

For example, here are 6 people rejecting the use of the phrase "it is known to all" in an essay:

1 It is known to all: 
Not necessary – if its known to all then why state it

2 It is known to all:
I didn’t know that!  I always advise students to avoid this kind of phrase

3 It is known to all:
Overused, meaningless expression that makes a false claim (it may not be known to all).

4 known to all:
well-known (otherwise this is a bit presumptuous)

5 known to all:
Proper expression: “common knowledge”

6 to all:
Best to avoid superlatives and absolutes in a serious essay-unless there is strong supporting evidence. Try “it is commonly known”, or “many people know”

1-3 seem to be doing basically the same thing -- rejecting it because it's cliche, or a kind of 'empty phrase' that they don't like. (NESTs tend to really go after these things, by the way -- Chinese teachers do it much more rarely.)

4 verges on that, but you could also say it's arguing this is a 'word choice' problem, with a simple substitution of a more appropriate phrase (which again, is a register thing, too).

5 is straight-up correction, probably related to register, but possibly not -- I could just as easily imagine it as a correction of an 'awkwardly worded' phrase ("it is known to all" does sound weird to me).

6 is very clearly looking at it from the perspective of what is considered appropriate for a serious academic essay written by a university student.

So, my question is, does it matter if I differentiate what is going on in each of the comments? Because if I do, I might drive myself crazy.

I can hear the voices of my committee echoing in my head: "It depends on what your research question is."

Oh, but my research questions are damn slippery things that seem to grow and change and shift whenever my mind isn't on them.

I need to print those suckers out, tattoo them on my arms, repeat them like a mantra. I really do.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Right Grammar, Wrong Habit

This about sums up the views of one of my participants, which I've seen in some other participants' responses to 'unacceptable' language:

"The student actually is not wrong in terms of grammar," but the "language habit" is wrong.

Several Chinese teachers refer to "language habit," which I still don't have a clear handle on the meaning of, but in this case she explained that she was referring to a kind of native speaker habit.

Which, considering that mention of habitus and hypercorrection the other day, makes sense. Though I still think calling this "hypercorrection"isn't really fair. It's more like NESTs are "hyper-relaxed" about grammar -- the Chinese teachers are just being "strict," as the participant said. Or, as she also put it: "Your emphasis is on meaning, but my emphasis in on whether they can use language in the right way."

Perhaps it's only from the perspective of the Centre that we have the luxury to focus on meaning and not form -- probably because facility with English means something different here than it does there, so to speak. In China, as many other Asian countries, being good at English isn't really for the purpose of communicating, per se, but for mastering a subject to pass tests, gain knowledge, gain access to jobs, etc.

I hope I don't sound like I'm denigrating that. We NESs get a little precious about our language sometimes when we feel like people don't view it as the magical wonderful beautiful language of the King James Bible and Shakespeare -- which it is, of course! -- and it would probably be better if we accept that for some people, writing an essay is really just a way to demonstrate that you studied hard and know your stuff.

On the other other hand (?), plenty of Chinese teachers I talked to bemoaned students' utilitarian attitudes about English. There is still -- for many English teachers NS & NNS -- a kind of push-and-pull between English as in applied linguistics and English as in the humanities. I suppose there is room for that tension.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Future of Applied Linguistics

"What do aspiring applied linguists see as their own future needs and goals? Where do they want to be placed? Which sorts of issues do they want to deal with and in which countries or communities? Are they confident that on the basis of their graduate-level education they have the resources and experience to deal with the range of future challenges awaiting them? And what exactly are those challenges?"

Patricia Duff, Facing the Future Now: Reflections from a Student of Applied Linguistics, 1992 

Kind of amazing to see something written by one of my committee members, and a very distinguished scholar, at the beginning of her academic career. Worth thinking about these questions, though perhaps they can only be answered in retrospect. The second two questions are kind of haunting to me -- I've got applications in to two incredibly different institutions at the moment, though won't be doing any more apps until next year. If I got either job my future would be vastly different (a small local school with a speciality vs. huge international research university). I wonder if much has changed in the 20 years since she wrote this?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Notes on Wendell Berry, globalization, language, & education

  • When Berry talks about poetry he is talking about his vision for the right use of language.  I don't know if he views poetry as the highest/best use of language but when he talks about it he is usually talking about ethics and standards in language.
  • In general Berry is against "specialization" in language and knowledge, i.e. the way universities arrange disciplines. I think this has to do with uprooting human action from community/place.
  • Berry suggests these questions should be asked of poetry, rather than taking it as a professional, disembodied, specialized field where poets write for other poets:
    • What good is it?
    • Is it at home here?
    • What do the neighbors think of it?
    • Do they read it, any of them?
    • What have they contributed to it?
    • What does it owe them?
  • We could/should probably ask the same questions of the language(s) and communication strategies we teach. This makes good sense if you are in a community ESL situation where your primary goal is to welcome immigrants, newcomers, etc. to your community
  • But the issue here, as Berry rightly notes, is that the globalized industrial economy has created a situation of "destroyed communities." Two related problems for language education: genuine community life is barely possible, and the motives and purposes people have for language learning are frequently not based on being rooted in a place.
  • We are encouraged to think of neoliberalism / late capitalism / globalization as the Way it Is now, and that we need to educate for this -- think of James Gee's "people as portfolios," or human capital. That this should be an accurate or ethical view of humanity seems inimical to Berry's though, Christian though, or humanist thought more generally.
  • Yet it is clear that most English teachers and students buy into globalization pretty wholeheartedly, either because we see it as offering good possibilities for human flourishing on an individual scale (though again, Berry would probably rightly suggest that it does not allow for community flourishing, which ultimately is detrimental to individuals and humanity as a whole), or because we see that it is an inevitable organizing principle of who we are and what we do.
  • I'm concerned that we can't necessarily escape having a "global orientation" to our language and our profession because of current material conditions -- concerned because, as Berry writes, the idea of a "global community" or "global village" is a metaphor that could (should!) never actually exist. This may result in a rejection of "imagined communities" at a conceptual level (even though we should certainly allow students to be motivated by their own desires).
  • The question I'm left with is "How can we integrate the slow, the small, the permanent, and the communitarian into a world where the fast, the large, the transient, and the cosmopolitan are basically the rule?" I can't think of a good answer, though there are several, probably:
    • Commitment to living and working in one place
    • Intentional cultivation of (temporary) community in classrooms, institutions, etc (this isn't very satisfying, but a posture of inclusivity and love probably goes a long way)
    • Refusal to view people as portfolios/capital, even though we want to teach strategies that will allow people to get to where they want to be; view people as individuals rooted in communities, and encourage them to view themselves 
    • ...

  • There is probably more to be said here, especially about Berry's rejection of specialization, and some basic ideas of contemporary rhetoric (e.g., ambiguity, flexibility of language and meanings, etc). Overall I'm concerned about whether Berry's vision of ethics and standards in language use (and by extension teaching and learning,  I think) can a) be shown to be other than the Complaint Tradition, and b) square with ideas of polysemy, heteroglossia, ELF without a common grammatical core, and so on. I think we could take Berry to say that "Standard" language should actually be rooted in its attachment to communities and local ways of being, and merely lament that strong communities are rare in many of the situations where we live and work.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The accountability of language

“Any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God’s presence.”

George SteinerReal Presences

"The author of the utterance, with greater or lesser awareness, presupposes a higher superaddressee ...whose absolutely just responsive understanding is presumed, either in some metaphysical distance or in distant historical time. In various ages and with various understandings of the world, this superaddressee and his ideally responsive understanding assume various ideological expressions (God, absolute truth, the court of dispassionate human conscience, the people, the court of history, science, and so forth)."

M.M. Bakhtin, Speech Genres

"My concern is for the accountability of language -- hence for the accountability of the users of language.  To deal with this matter I will use a pair of economic concepts: internal accounting, which considers costs and benefits in reference only to the interest of the money-making enterprise itself, and external accounting, which considers the costs and benefits to the 'larger community.' ...One of the primary obligations of language is to connect and balance the two kinds of accounting....A reliable account is personal at the beginning and religious at the end.

Wendell Berry, Standing By Words