Space for Learning Languages in the Institute of Technology Sector
Keywords:teaching and learning of languages, digital technologies
Some years ago, scholars called upon Irish Higher Education Institutions to rethink the positioning of languages in their curricula, nonetheless, today, with a substantial skills shortage in language graduates, and the challenges created by Brexit, this sea change has not taken place. More recently, the government’s Languages Connect Strategy 2017-26 has set an ambitious target for increasing the numbers of students learning modern languages at higher level institutions in Ireland. The goal is to broaden language provision to 20% of the entire student population. This represents a major challenge for policy makers in the IoT sector. Meanwhile, a nationwide investigation of the sector has revealed that there is a disconnect between grassroots demand for language provision and current institutional practices. This multimethod study collected quantitative and qualitative data from both students and lecturers across 14 IoTs. The same study revealed that the resistance to a broadening of provision may be linked to the perceived lack of curricular space for languages. Creating virtual space for language learning, by using digital media, could provide a catalyst for change, while at the same time solving the space problem. A possible model for such a space has been created in Letterkenny Institute of Technology, where students have designed a website and blog to showcase intercultural and linguistic activities. Speakers of different languages have shared experiences, cookery demos and other aspects of cultural interest. This digital space continues to operate, albeit on an informal, extracurricular basis, within and beyond the Institute in the local community, where second level schools have participated on this online platform. Given the success of this informal learning platform, there is a case to be made for creating more structured learning pathways, using learning management systems such as Blackboard/Moodle to develop oral and written linguistic competencies mapped to the Common European Framework.
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