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SA Language survey seeks student input for changes

By Andrew Ta and Jieya Wen     4/9/14 12:47pm

The Student Association is looking for student feedback on upcoming changes to the language curriculum. A survey was sent out through college listservs and advertised on Facebook March 30.

The Student Association is looking for student feedback on upcoming changes to the language curriculum. A survey was sent out through college listservs and advertised on Facebook March 30.

The current sequence for language courses consists of two five-credit 100-level courses and two four-credit 200-level courses followed by three-credit 300-or-higher-level courses. Only courses at the 200-level or greater provide distribution credit.

According to material from the Center for Languages and Intercultural Communication, in fall 2014, the 200-level courses will decrease from four credit hours to three. In spring 2015, the second-semester five-credit 100-level course will be replaced by a six-credit 200-level course that will provide distribution credit. In fall 2015, the first-semester five-credit 100-level course will increase to six credits hours. Additional changes will take place for 300-level spanish courses beginning in fall 2014 that will allow for more specialized professional topics such as medicine, business and intercultural communication.

Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway said distinguished scholars from other universities reviewed the CLIC in February 2011 as part of routine external evaluations.

“The review committee was headed by Elizabeth Bernhardt, who heads the Stanford Language Center,” Shumway said. “The review team commented on the overall quality of the program, the faculty, the curriculum, the facilities, our assessment procedures and a great deal else. The review of the [CLIC] was particularly thorough and has been great in helping improve our language programs.”

According to CLIC Director Rafael Salaberry, the review committee recommended the change for first-year language courses from their current five credit, one hour a day, five days a week structure to six credit hours, two hours a day, three days a week.

“The previous curricular sequence of credits (5-5-4-4 credits) had important logistical problems with regards to the increased course workload assigned to faculty, in some cases up to 24 hours per year,” Salaberry said. “Furthermore, the new curriculum will give the students the opportunity to study abroad right after they have taken two semesters of study in any given language. This is an important objective of the [CLIC] and Rice that, along with the increased opportunities for scholarships offered by the [CLIC], will promote study abroad opportunities for our students.”

SA Academics Committee Chair Nicole Zhao said the survey will ensure student input is accounted for in future changes to the language curriculum.

“For those students that have taken a language course, the survey asks for their opinions on the quality of their ... experience,” Zhao said. “For those who haven’t taken any language courses at Rice, the survey asks them what reasons led them not to take a language course at Rice.”

Zhao said the survey also asks for student evaluation on the language program and ideas to improve it.

“For everyone taking the survey, it asks for input on the proposed curriculum changes, such as what times would work best for students to schedule language classes and thoughts on making the second introductory semester worth distribution credit,” Zhao said.

According to SA President Ravi Sheth, the SA began tackling the issue last December.

“We have been hearing feedback from students [about] proposed changes to the language curriculum,” Sheth, a Martel College junior, said. “Dean Shumway and Dr. Salaberry were scheduled to talk at the SA meeting on March 17, but due to our timing changes for the meetings, they will now talk at the meeting on April 23. This delay has given us a chance to gather student opinion and further investigate the issue.”

According to Sheth, the SA wants to learn what students most want from the language program so that the SA can be more explicit in their communication with the administration.

“We are trying to understand what students would like to see in an ideal language program and communicate that data with the administration so that our language curriculum can be closely aligned with student needs and provide a world-class language education,” Sheth said.

Sheth and SA External Vice President Amritha Kanakamedala met with Salaberry and Shumway on April 1 to discuss preliminary results of the survey; 190 students had responded at that time.

“After the meeting, I personally was convinced of the administration and CLIC’s dedication to increasing undergraduate teaching excellence and quality in these proposed changes,” Sheth said. “However, we believe that student input is integral to the nature of these changes, and the lack of student involvement in these changes plays a large role in the negative response to the changes.”

To ensure the student voice is heard in future language curriculum changes, the SA will introduce legislation on April 9 recommending that the CLIC form a student advisory board with members appointed by the SA president, Sheth said.

“Moving forward, we will be working with the CLIC to form a CLIC Student Advisory Board that will serve to gather student input and share changes with the student body,” Sheth said. “This will ensure that the language curriculum is better aligned with student needs in a sustainable manner. Furthermore, the discussion with Dean Shumway and Dr. Salaberry will be an avenue for student input and thoughts on proposed changes.”

According to Sheth, the student advisory board is integral in maintaining communication between the CLIC and students.

“We are working our best to make sure the administration understands student priorities and students fully understand the changes the administration [is] making,” Sheth said. “The survey and creation of a sustainable advisory board are tangible steps towards this goal. [Shumway] and [Salaberry] agreed to form this board in our meeting with them. The SA will select and appoint members but, structurally, this needs to be part of CLIC for sustainability.”

Wiess College freshman Yichuan Ma said she thinks the survey will allow the CLIC to make more informed decisions on future changes to language courses.

“I think I would appreciate changing [first-year language courses] to six credits if I were a freshman, since learning a language needs concentrated practice,” Ma said. “If they are combining 101 and 102, it shortens my time to get to 200 level courses for distribution. Also, I have friends complaining that they can’t take the language course because they don’t want to spend 10 credits on courses that won’t give them distribution credits. If [the second semester] counts as distribution, I think it will definitely encourage them to take language courses.”

Martel freshmen Catherine Miller, who is taking GERM 102: Beginning German II, said she thinks the credit hour increase, as well as curriculum changes, will prevent students who are currently taking the first introductory language course from taking the next level class. 

“Making the intro language classes six credit hours instead of the previous five will make it more difficult for students to fit the classes into their schedules and will serve to discourage students from learning a new language,” Miller said.

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