To start, I’d like to thank Barbara for the invitation to join the Language Lab Unleashed family. The opportunity comes at a particularly good time for me, since I am starting to feel like I’m getting a good hold on my professional direction.In fact, what I thought I’d write about for my first post is a reflection on migrating from a support-focused mindset toward becoming a partner in language education. (For some more erudite words than mine on that topic, see Bethany Nowviskie’s Eternal Sunshine of the Digital Humanities and David Wedaman’s Look Like Your People.)
Until recently, my jobs have all been supporting roles, or at least that’s how I saw them. As a legal assistant, editorial assistant, programmer, database administrator, sysadmin, even as a technical manager, I always worked reactively. We could spin that better and say I was service-oriented, but a spade’s a spade. Since being moved to my current position as an academic technologist, I’ve been part of conversations nominally about others but that collectively lifted the scales from my eyes about a career in language education.
The primary notable group of these conversations are the ones we have in planning meetings at my center about language instructors. As part of our programming, we try to provide opportunities for their professional development and to make them aware of other opportunities. Very cleverly, I noticed that these conversations applied to my career as well, only there was no group at a table anywhere thinking of ways to help me.
The second notable group of these conversations were during the IALLT 2010 Summer Leadership Meeting. In a very contemporary form of participation, I was able to watch and listen on UStream while putting in my options via UStream chat. Interestingly enough, my realization above was narrated there in other forms by several people in multiple settings. Here, though, I heard the additional resonance that language instructors themselves at other institutions lacked professional development support.
For those of us on staff and those instructors not benefiting from institutional support, the response to “What do you do?” too often becomes a listing of supported players — people, tech, courses, institutional entities — rather than an affirmation of the meaningfulness and significance of teaching language, culture, and identity. (For an #alt-ac perspective on this, I recommend Miriam Posner’s recent post.) We too often focus, in other words, on who we help rather than our own intellectual pursuits. In doing so, we both reflect and further the instrumentalist view of language education.
As a way forward, I’ll be identifying open-minded language instructors for tactical collaboration, somewhat as discussed recently by Mark Sample. I’m happy to have some fruit borne of this plan already, a presentation proposal collaboration in progress with an instructor. (Turns out this instructor welcomed my overtures, having hesitated to suggest the same.) More importantly, the proposal is based on our work introducing blogging into her language’s curriculum on a trial basis, that is, on a project of multiple benefits to the instructor, to me, to the students, to my center.