Motivate students via the introduction of fee exemption and ECTS credit award for language modules at the Language Centre of the University of Lausanne

Author(s): Brigitte Forster Vosicki
Institution/Organisation: Université de Lausanne, Centre de langues (CH)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of the initiative

 

Since academic year 2005-06, the University of Lausanne has rendered free of charge all courses offered by its Language Centre (http://www.unil.ch/cdl). Previously, language courses were fee-based, entirely optional, and extracurricular for the 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd- cycle students regardless of discipline. The change has permitted all students to have access to formal language and communication study free of charge, and has allowed students of some faculties (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Business, and Faculty of Theology and Religious Sciences) to receive ECTS credits in recognition of their efforts in language and communication training. Approximately 2500 students per year (out of 11,000 in the entire student body at the University of Lausanne) benefit from this offer.

1.2 Range of languages studied

 

The Language Centre offers various types of accompanied learning (group modules, guided autonomy, guided Tandem) for seven languages, as follows: Chinese, English, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swiss-German. These are either Swiss national languages and/or languages of global importance.

Students are free to choose the languages that they wish to study. ECTS credits may be earned for all languages, all types of competences developed and all levels. The accent is therefore placed not on attaining a homogeneous level but rather on building plurilingual competence, that is to say a differentiated profile for a specific student and thus for individualised paths; this is based on the reasoning that each individual, our general society and the economy all benefit from multiple and varied resources.

In principle, with the addition of the Tandem programme, which was organised by the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lausanne (http://www.unil.ch/tandem), the students have access to the ensemble of languages present at the University, which has a large percentage of international students. Courses in French, the local language, are also free, but are handled by another department (the School of French as a Foreign Language, which is under the auspices of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Lausanne, and thus subject to different regulations.

1.3 Learning outcomes

 

The Language Centre training applies an action-oriented approach of integrating practical language use situations relevant to the context of higher education, taking into consideration the specific communication needs of the academic domain (support teaching in L2 within the various subject areas and support of the development of academic expertise: access, critical treatment, and professional communication of knowledge), of mobility, of social and professional integration, and of employability within a multilingual and multicultural context. This training aims to develop knowledge, know-how, and attitudes which allow a person to act competently with her/his plurilingual repertoire in a multilingual and multicultural environment, in diverse contexts and for various reasons; they explicitly bring together the interpersonal, methodological, and strategic aspects related to academic and professional domains. Cultural and intercultural aspects are emphasized, as is the ability to learn independently, thus promoting the idea of lifelong learning.

The targeted learning outcomes are defined in accordance with Bologna requirements. Each module has an elaborate syllabus which clearly defines the mastery level expected, expressed in terms of competencies and related to the reference levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFRL) of the Council of Europe, in order to be understood and easy comparable all across Europe. The assessment criteria, as well as the number of credits attributable to each module (according to the length and workload it represents) are equally systematic and clearly defined.

The freedom to choose one’s own module allows for the differentiation of learning objectives according to the context, needs and preliminary paths of various target groups as well as the personal preferences and needs at a given moment. Hence, it is in recognition of the existence of these heterogeneous individual profiles that the University of Lausanne aims to promote plurilingualism. Obtaining ECTS credits corresponds with the attainment of pre-defined learning outcomes, fixed with regard to each student’s starting level (determined by a placement test).

1.4 Practical realisation

 

The Language Centre proposes a plurality of forms and approaches of learning experiences:

 

A. Semester-based group modules

 

Specific skills modules – generally, 2 periods of group modules: for the development of specific competences for academic needs, especially for English (for example, academic writing, conference skills, seminar skills, etc.), to support students whose studies will involve a language other than the local language or who will eventually leave to study abroad. Other needs for these modules may be workplace-related, discipline-specific, thematic, or for the development of partial competences.

Integrated skills modules


For German, English, Spanish and Italian, the structurally-integrated periods in the multimedia are monitored by teachers of each target language; although a certain number of periods are dedicated to each of these languages, the students may register for any timeslot which is convenient for them (regardless of level or language). In addition, they are accompanied by an online tutor who introduces them to their virtual personal work space. This device aims to promote the acquisition of independent learning competences through a combination of pedagogical support, distance communication activities, and access to a rich selection of learning materials offering numerous language learning activities. This concept of differentiated learning also aims to promote the flexibility and individualisation of learning. It offers a significant number of possible schedule combinations for students. It permits a greater number of learning periods while assuring professional monitoring of the participant. The structurally integrated work in the multimedia centre for levels A0 through B2 represents approximately 600 students per semester (1,213 for the 2006/07 school year).

For Russian and Swiss-German, the periods in the multimedia centre are carried out and monitored during the free-access periods and with the assistance of a program conceived by the teachers. For technical reasons, there is not yet an online monitoring device in place for these languages.


B. Individual learning with tutoring (= guided

 

autonomy) involving study at the multimedia centre or via a guided Tandem
To render the offer more flexible and to permit independent learning adapted to each individual’s needs and rhythm, the Language Centre proposes a certain number of possibilities for independent language learning with the guidance of a tutor. In this way, it may satisfy the needs of certain people in domains for which there is not enough mass interest to justify organising group modules. Individualised learning with a tutor also permits students who are not placed in group modules due to scheduling problems to pursue the enlargement of their plurilingual repertoire. A concept of accompaniment exists (introduction course to learner autonomy, individual meetings, virtual accompaniment in a learning platform).


C. Unaccompanied individual learning, involving

 

free-access periods at the multimedia centre and Tandem learning – in order to continue one’s education independent of group modules.

The pedagogical approach fully integrates the utilisation of the European Language Portfolio (ELP) of the Council of Europe, Higher Education version, edited by the ELC/CEL. Each educational unit (group or individual learning) is granted 3 ECTS credits. For the obtainment of credits, the student builds his/her own European Language Portfolio (ELP) containing a mandatory number of different types of work samples which are evaluated in a continuous manner. The Centre applies an enlarged assessment (including the assessment of mandatory tasks, tests, self-assessment and reflexion tasks in order to evaluate intercultural competence and learning capacity).

Faculty recognition of ECTS credits is optional, and each faculty has different regulations; regarding the faculties which attribute credits to Language Centre modules, each one nevertheless recognises the ensemble of languages, levels and types of training (group modules as well as guided autonomy at the multimedia centre and guided tandem). In the Business Faculty, Bachelor students may earn 12 language credits, but only a maximum of 6 per language in order to encourage them to learn several languages. The Social and Political Sciences Faculty accords 6 credits to Bachelor or Master students.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

Switzerland is a country with four official languages; at the institutional level of the University of Lausanne, the Winter 2006 student population was composed of 20.21% of international students, to which we must still add the Swiss students whose mother tongue is other than the local language (French), which raises this figure to 25 to 30%; The personnel of the University is also very international. This state of affairs creates a highly multi-lingual and multicultural context with an environment of openness towards other languages and cultures and a willingness to continue progress in languages learned at school as well as to learn new languages. There is also a consciousness among a certain number of the stakeholders (students, certain faculties, decision makers) of the importance of languages for collaboration between national and international universities as well as for the employability and success in a multilingual and multicultural national and international labour market. Furthermore, during secondary school, local students have learned at least two foreign languages and already possess a significant plurilingual repertoire.

To this we must add that, in the context of Bologna reforms, along with the transformation of higher education objectives in general, and in relation to the effects of internationalisation, the University of Lausanne has begun to put into motion a language policy for the whole of its institution by the creation, in 2003, of a Language Policy Commission of the Rectorate of the University; thus the question of plurilingualism was no longer merely a concern of individual faculties, but rather a university-wide concern. This Commission is composed of representatives from every faculty and other bodies and has for its objective to promote and valorise plurilingualism at the University of Lausanne. Through diverse actions (inventories of available language resources at UNIL; comparison with devices in other Swiss universities; the draft of a reference document entitled « Bologna and Languages » upon consultation with the faculties, whose input was solicited in order to deepen understanding of the role of plurilingualism in the realisation of Bologna objectives; diverse demonstrations; language policy advocacy within faculty decision makers), this Commission has succeeded to create a sensibility and to raise consciousness in certain faculties about the importance of an adequate plurilingual and pluricultural repertoire and of the necessity of offering language learning opportunities which are free of charge and recognisable by credits. It supports informed choices in language policy matters.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

The strategic goal of this initiative is to specify the plurilingual and pluricultural repertoire of the students in order to respond to the various needs created by their studies, by mobility, and by the Swiss, European and global labour markets, with regard to the fundamental and transversal role that plurilingualism plays in academic life, employability, and citizenship, as well as for the personal development of students. With this role, languages enter the 2006-2011 strategic plan of the Administration of the University of Lausanne, dated 20 December 2006 – point 3 Objectives, sub-point 9 "To reinforce the acquisition of transversal competences and to prepare for the use of acquired skills in diverse contexts".

In addition, this initiative aims to:

 

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS


The following indicators attest to the success of this project:

 

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

There are numerous success factors on diverse levels.

During the implementation stage:


Framework conditions


Training offered


Initiators et project managers


Timely sensibilisation actions
Decision-makers


Students

 

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at the institutional level

Significant aspects of the policy changes have been:


At the Language Centre of the University of Lausanne, continuous action is necessary to advance the systematic development of the multilingual repertoire of each student.
We must still:

 

5.2 Broader implications