The School Of Languages, Cultures And Linguistics: Why The Changes?

Ni hao! Ogenki desuka? Oui, ça va, ça va. Come ti chiami? The school of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics (LCL) is one of the cornerstones of the Faculty of Arts at Monash Clayton. Thousands of students across all faculties choose to study in LCL, which encompasses units on 11 languages, linguistics, cultural studies and translation, and employs over 60 fulltime staff. Therefore, any changes made to the school affect a significant number of people, students and staff alike. In the last year many changes have been made that have gone largely unexplained by the school; many students have found themselves asking questions such as: Where have all my culture electives gone? Why is my culture component now worth 50% of my mark? Why have my assessments changed? What the hell has happened here?!

According to Rita Wilson, the head of the LCL school, LCL has enacted changes in hope of becoming “the best language school in the country” and improving the output of its students and enhancing their employability. Changes include the introduction of the Common European Frame of Reference (CFR), an internationally recognised system that ensures that courses match the outcomes stipulated by course guides. It is believed that these changes will make it easier for employers to identify whether potential employees have the requisite capabilities, and will place Monash at the international benchmark for language education.

The CRF has been contextualized for Australians, and will ideally guarantee that, for example, French Studies Advanced 4 students reach the requirement of “advanced knowledge and understanding of modern and contemporary France and its culture” as detailed in the course guide. Certain areas of assessment have been altered to ensure that these outcomes are met. Culture components in many language units are now worth 50% of the final mark and the courses are “less passive” and “less information driven now”, with increased emphasis on skills and concepts. Students can also expect a heavier focus on technology in the classroom, with the introduction of e-seminars with other universities which allow language students across Australia and the world to interact and learn together. From 2013, students will be able to enroll in new ‘Connecting Communities’ units which aim to make courses more interactive using free and accessible tools. This is known as the international at-home experience, and is designed for those who are unable or unwilling to go on exchange. The overall desired effect is a “richer offering” for students.

Evidently, many changes to LCL have been implemented very quickly. Surprisingly, despite the haste with which the school made the changes, students’ reactions have been considered. Every unit evaluation submitted by LCL students in 2011 was read by the school, and this is a process that they intend to continue in 2013. However, given that many students do not understand the reasons behind the changes to the department, many have been confused and angered by the sudden transformations.

Dr. Wilson openly admits that the school has not been as forthcoming with information to students as it perhaps needed to be, and asserts that being explicit with students is one of the many “teething problems” of the changes that requires ironing out. Whilst the department understands why the changes are occurring, they “cannot make assumptions as to what students know” and aim to create more visibility. Even LCL staff have had difficulties with the adjustments, with many finding the rapidity tough and anxiety inducing. Despite the issues, Dr. Wilson affirms that the department is “pretty happy” with the rollout thus far, and anticipates further success with the alterations.

According to the LCL website, the study of second or even third or fourth languages is important because “knowing other languages is a way of respecting other peoples and cultures and being a good citizen of our many-cultured world”.

Dr Wilson asserts that the school treats any student under their umbrella as a possible major student, and attempts to engage every individual from the beginning. She states that the new framework of the LCL school is designed to reiterate the “employability benefits of sticking with a language to the end”, to give Monash students a competitive edge in the global marketplace. Essentially, in the race for the decreasing number of jobs for university graduates, having a second or third language at a professional level can increase chances of employment. Although the endgame is not their only focus, the new CFR-aligned courses aim to tell students exactly what they can do with the language level they achieve.

As a student who has been directly affected by the chaos in LCL I am still a little unsure of the changes. However, it is comforting to know some of the rationale behind them, and that the changes are not as haphazard and impulsive as they initially appeared. It will be interesting to see how the university conveys this information to students, and whether the changes will produce the desired outcomes.

Olivia Tolich

The author Olivia Tolich

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