Teaching, Learning and Assessing Linguistics

Date: 4 May, 2001
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Seminar

Past Event Summary

The Subject Centre has identified, in its initial needs survey, a number of key activities for learning and teaching that are seen as highly desirable by our constituent community. These include the development of a bank of downloadable teaching resources for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies; more information on e-learning and the sharing of expertise between colleagues in different institutions. We are keen to explore ways in which these ideas can be taken forward in the area of Linguistics. The aim of this seminar, therefore, was to disseminate current practice in the learning, teaching and assessment of Linguistics as well as to showcase both work in progress and present projects that are still in the planning stages. This was intended to encourage the collaboration and participation of colleagues in a range of resource-based initiatives and projects that will enable us to take steps towards meeting the perceived needs of the sector. The day included presentations by invited speakers, time for questions and discussion and participants were invited to contribute their own ideas on any of the topics covered.

The programme for the day was as follows and we have included links to speakers’ notes and relevant web addresses where available:

  1. Investigating the effectiveness of www-based Stylistics Teaching
    Mick Short (Lancaster)
  2. An item bank for linguistics
    Paul Meara (Swansea)
  3. Using Data Sets for Linguistics Teaching
    Jim Miller (Edinburgh)
  4. Using Corpora for Teaching Linguistics
    Tony McEnery (Lancaster)
  5. A web-based System for Interactive Phonetic Training & Assessment (Siphtra)
    John Maidment (UCL)


Session 1
Investigating the effectiveness of www-based Stylistics Teaching
Mick Short (Lancaster)

This ILT Fellowship project aims to:

  • develop web-based materials for use in Stylistics teaching
  • test their effectiveness via a controlled teaching experiment comparing learning outcomes and student responses to web-based and more traditional teaching modes
  • disseminate the results of the experiment and the materials produced to the international academic community.

Mick outlined the methodological and technological approach to his online course and the outcomes he hopes to achieve through its implementation at Lancaster and in the wider academic community. He is very keen to involve as many institutions in the delivery and evaluation of his materials as possible in order to obtain data on the effectiveness of the web version of the course.

An additional aspect of his project has been the compilation of a self-assessment package that consists of a collection of graded essays against which students can predict their own performance on stylistic analysis tasks and measure their self-assessment against the graded work of other students. In order to achieve this Mick is seeking volunteers (hopefully among those who are piloting his course) to assist with the task of moderating and grading the essays that are to be used for the question bank.

For more information on the project contact Mick Short or to view the project materials contact Dawn Archer

To read full details of the project (powerpoint 97, 1.37MB)

Mick also mentioned a current project for language testing in 14 European languages. More information can be found at: http://www.dialang.org/english/index.html


Session 2
An item bank for linguistics
Paul Meara (University of Wales, Swansea)

Some 69 HEIs currently offer courses which include Linguistics as a named portion of an undergraduate degree, and most of these run a general introductory course - often called An Introduction to Language and Linguistics, or some variation on this theme. These course attract large numbers of students, and therefore represent a significant marking burden for first year teachers. At the same time, these introductory courses often cover much the same ground in different institutions. These factors suggest that there is a strong case for sharing examination questions at this level.

The fact that many institutions now use multiple choice questions in first year examinations opens up the possibility of establishing a national item bank for linguistics. A bank of this sort would allow institutions to set first year examinations with formally defined characteristics, and thus help to standardise achievement at this level.

Paul has already begun looking into the processes involved in compiling such a question bank, at a local level, and is keen to obtain funding and collaboration in order to produce a question bank that can be made accessible via the Subject Centre website and will be of use and more importantly or relevance to level 1 courses in Linguistics such as the one described above.

In his talk he outlined the need for judicious selection of questions as his investigations to date have revealed that devising ‘good’ questions is by no means straightforward.

Comments from the audience confirmed this and it was agreed that a collective effort may achieve better results and provide a greater degree of quality assurance for this type of exam. It was felt that questions would need to be grouped by topic, e.g. phonetics, semantics etc. in order to allow tutors to select questions most relevant to their students needs. The prospect of having different levels of questions to enable specialists to be tested more rigourously was also deemed important. The issue of how to cater for special or minority interests would, it was felt, be solved by allowing tutors to compile their own exams by selecting from the questions in the item bank. This system is currently in operation in the Web Enhanced Languages Testing Scheme (WELTS) which is part of the FDTL WELL project. A strategy for contributing questions has yet to be finalised but it was proposed that we consider a buy-in process whereby the contribution of 50 questions gains access to the item bank. Questions would likewise need to be peer-evaluated and a system for doing this would have to be worked out among the community of users.

There is every possibility that the Subject Centre will be able to acquire some funding to undertake this project and if anyone is interested in finding out more or contributing questions please contact Alison Dickens at the Subject Centre


Session 3
Using Data Sets for Linguistics Teaching 1
Jim Miller (Edinburgh)

In this session Jim Miller discussed the role of datasets in the teaching of syntax and morphology. Datasets can be used to illustrate the diverse structural patterns that are found in the languages of the world or to explore particular constructions in particular languages. They can be used for general descriptive purposes or to encourage students to develop analyses within a particular formal model. (Datasets are also a standard tool in the teaching of phonology, historical and comparative linguistics and can be applied in the teaching of sociolinguistics.)

He outlined the different types of data – raw, partly-cooked and cooked that might be used for linguistics teaching but highlighted both the labour intensiveness of the compilation of such data and the lack of available (published) data sets. Many Linguists are using data from fairly old coursebooks and to obtain new data sets have to compile their own. The group discussed the pros and cons of setting up an electronic bank of datasets to which colleagues would contribute their materials and it was agreed that a database of colleagues with materials for exchange and a description of those materials would be preferable as issues of electronic and intellectual copyright as will as difficulties of incompatible formats and fonts would thereby be avoided. Again the Subject Centre is seeking ways of implementing a searchable resources database, of which this would be part, and would very much like to hear from colleagues who would be willing to share their data sets and would like details included on the database.


Session 4
Using Corpora for Teaching Linguistics
Tony McEnery (Lancaster)

Tony outlined the many reasons why there is a growing interest in using corpora in linguistics teaching. He emphasised that corpora can be used with students in two main ways - exploiting to teach and teaching to exploit. That is teachers can use corpus data in order to illustrate an aspect of linguistics or to encourage students to make judgements for themselves based on data presented, or students can interact with the corpus and concordancing tools themselves. This last does, of course, present the additional challenge that students need to master the technology and techniques involved in searching large banks of texts and will need to formulate their own queries. Whatever the method adopted the benefit of using corpora were seen to be that students become active learners, that their learning is data-driven (see also Tim John’s Data-Driven Learning pages). One element that Tony emphasised, however, is that the teacher will have less control over the path of learning of their students, but this may not necessarily have a negative outcome as students have the potential to discover things that may be new to their teachers as well as to themselves. Tony demonstrated the power of concordancing using the British National Corpus and gave the addresses of a number of sites containing text suitable for use by students to build their own mini corpora or gain access to corpora in a variety of languages:

Visit Tony’s web pages

More corpus web sites


Session 5
A web-based System for Interactive Phonetic Training & Assessment (Siphtra)
John Maidment (UCL)

An innovative method known as "Analytic Listening" (AL) has been developed at UCL as a tool for auditory training in phonetics. Its analytic approach formalises and sets a standard for good practice in this area. It is a flexible tool which can be adapted to class teaching or self-paced study, and which enables well-defined objective assessment of student attainment. Popular with users, it builds student confidence in an area often considered difficult. A major advance is now in progress as a result of the structured combination of AL with multimedia techniques which will support the incorporation of phonetic symbols and graphical displays.

The project was funded for three years by the HEFCE/DENI FDTL initiative and was designed to ensure wide dissemination of the technique through the collaboration of other HEIs.

John’s presentation demonstrated very effectively how the interactivity of the web can be exploited for phonetics practice (most of his materials are for consolidation and skills development rather than teaching) and that the ability to access sound files along with graphic representations of sound enables tutors to create short and interesting interactive exercises for students.

For all the wonderful links to John (and others’) marvellous material

More information
For more information on the workshop or to contribute to the Subject Centre’s resources database contact Alison Dickens Academic Co-ordinator for Linguistics