Language Centers in the Age of Ubiquitous Technology and Eclectic Methodology

Language Centers in the Age of Ubiquitous Technology and Eclectic Methodology

Paul Sebastian (Appalachian State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2020070105


This study was conducted in order to better understand how, if at all, language centers (LCs) are relevant in current technological and methodological contexts of second language education. Five language centers housed by four different institutions of higher education in the western United States were examined. Two representatives from each of the five centers were interviewed either in-person or over the phone (N = 10). Data was collected in the form of semi-structured interviews and on-site visits. The data was analyzed using a flexible combination of multi-level qualitative coding, descriptive statistics, and narrative analysis. This study confirms recent findings that have shown LCs to be a highly diverse group of institutions, particularly with respect to form and function. With respect to relevance, a common framework for discussing different language centers is outlined in the form of three paradigms: center/department, center/institution, and center/community.
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The history of language centers (LCs), commonly known as language laboratories throughout much of the 20th century, is intricately intertwined with the histories of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) and second language teaching methodology (Hocking, 1964; Kronenberg, 2017; Roby, 2004). To better understand these relationships, this paper draws on a series of qualitative case studies (Creswell, 2013) focused on five distinct language centers to address one central question: Given that CALL has evolved well beyond neat rows of isolated computer carrels, headsets, and microphones (Levy, 1997; Thorne & Payne, 2005), what place, if any, do contemporary LCs have in the current field of second language teaching and learning? The study focuses on the various spaces occupied by these centers (form) and the plethora of support services they provide to their constituent communities (function). The final conclusions of the study are grounded in a series of three relevance paradigms that offer guidance for further discussion about how these facilities fit within these broader contexts. Use of the term language center throughout the paper is rooted in the kind of facility described by Kraemer and Lavolette (2017) as a “physical and/or virtual space that supports foreign and/or second language learning and/or teaching within a larger educational institution” (p. 149). Such use of the term does not preclude other existing synonyms such as language learning center (Ross, 2013), language resource center, media center, and other similar titles (Tchaïcha, 2003).

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