Innovative language teaching and learning at university: enhancing employability

I recently had the pleasure of co-editing (alongside Carmen Alvarez-Mayo, University of York and Franck Michel, Newcastle University) a new book on enhancing employability in language teaching. This edited collection includes numerous case studies involving university languages practitioners who have integrated employability projects into their teaching. There is some really great advice here for language teachers.

The book is fully open access and available here.

This collection follows on from an earlier employability handbook published in 2016.



Writing a Master’s Dissertation – useful resources

I’ve been looking around for useful websites for Masters students which include some nice tips for writing the dissertation. There is lots of stuff out there – the resources below all look helpful to me.

Guest Post: CALL to MALL: OpenExam linking the Past to the Future in Languages

By Peter Smith, Secretary of OpenExam

Barack Obama’s recent speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was a potent reminder of the importance and power of language. Young people can be in no doubt that verbal communication skills have the power to change the course of history and can make an impact on their lives. Today’s students are keen to acquire language skills but are also worldly and quick to understand the barriers to competence and fluency in a foreign language. In the 21st century it is the job of language teachers to remove those barriers and put their students in the driving seat.

The Language Teacher’s role
Today’s students are often ahead of their teachers in the realm of technology, but their greater facility with technology is not exploited with many current teaching methodologies. The traditional classroom with the teacher as the ‘sage on the stage’ is in decline. Traditional hierarchical and authoritative education methods are on the wane, giving way to enlightened styles of instruction, such as the ‘flipped classroom’, and more constructive evaluation procedures, such as formative assessment. Teachers are increasingly adopting a more oblique, understated, yet supporting role as a guide and coach in their students’ education.

The Technology

MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning) is fast becoming as accepted today as its
predecessor, CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) in the 1980s and 90s.
Geographical and physical borders are being transcended by technology. Apps may replace textbooks at some point in the future.

Recognition of Achievement
Success or failure in language learning is no longer wholly dependent on vocabulary acquisition, grammar learning and classroom tests. Students can use language and cultural knowledge as a means to communicate at their own level with others around the globe. Student portfolios, for example, demonstrate success, and provide a means of assessment using an asset-based approach. This replaces the old models of evaluation based on student deficiencies. The emphasis in schools is moving away from achieving grades. It is more on learning processes and self-improvement. Frequent, ongoing assessment allows for the fine-tuning of instruction and student focus on progress. By helping students to improve their metacognitive awareness of how they learn, teachers can help them acquire the skills they need in a rapidly changing world.

The Transition
These changes will not occur overnight. Accepted practice in education has always evolved over long periods. Whilst methods of teaching, learning and classroom assessment are developing pragmatically to embrace the new technologies, government departments, educational institutions and examination boards will not necessarily keep pace. Traditional summative examinations and qualification procedures will remain. A proper match between new classroom policies, the criteria of the examination room, and the demands of employers may well become harder to maintain in the future.


OpenExam is a teacher-led association of educators aiming to provide a mechanism for
matching the changes offered by the new technologies to the demands of existing examinations and qualifications. It provides a base for formative assessment together with online versions of current examinations. Teachers and students have access to a useful library of language examination practice examination materials for French and Spanish. Materials are regularly updated to the latest question styles. There are clearly defined assessment levels, recognition and assessment of collaboration between students across borders, and conversion of qualifications such as AP/IB/GCSE/iGCSE/A Levels/PreU/
Matric/SSCE. Materials can be used on iPads, Android, a web browser, within Schoolshape’s Language Lab software or in a web browser. They also include automated assessment (except for speaking and ‘free form’ answers), performance tracking, integration of speaking, listening, reading and writing, video assessment as required for practical skills, and emphasis on flexibility, accessibility, adaptability, accuracy of assessment and availability on phones and tablets.

Access to OpenExam
If you would like more information about joining OpenExam  or contributing materials, you can register your interest here.

Reflections on Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning

This last week I spent two days at the Higher Education Academy’s Arts & Humanities Conference, Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning in a rather damp and murky Brighton.


I was presenting a paper with my colleague, Kate Borthwick on a research study that we carried out recently which looked at language teacher professional development. Below are a few highlights of sessions I attended:

1              The tall tales we tell about teaching (Vicky Gunn, University of Glasgow)

Vicky used her background as a medievalist to examine how collective memories about teaching and learning are made. For me, most interesting was how Vicky encouraged us to think about how we bring our memories to our teaching. She also talked about some recent research with humanities academics who have reported themselves to be very suspicious of the HE buzzword concepts of entrepreneurialism, work-related learning and global citizenship.

2              Write here Write now (Jac Cattaneo, Northbrook College and University of Chichester)

This workshop introduced a project which set out to encourage Art, Design and Media Studies students to engage with academic writing through the use of creative writing practices. After the preliminaries, Jac got us all writing using a series of visual prompts – in one example we drew a map to represent a childhood place of personal significance and another one of a place in the here and now. We were then asked to do a piece of free writing and to link the two maps. This was a really enjoyable and thought-provoking session. I could imagine using some of the ideas here in professional development workshops for teachers.

3              Narratives of the future self: a narrative method for researching language learners’ self-concepts (Angela Goddard & Alistair Henry, West University, Sweden)

Angela and Alistair reported on a language learning motivation study in Sweden. This was of particular interest to me as motivation is my main research area. They used a narrative approach to investigate students’ L2 identities at key transition points in an English-mediated university programme (using the concepts of possible and future selves). This is a longitudinal study so they will have more to report as it develops.

4              The OpenLIVES OER oral history experience: rebalancing methodologies, values and identities in Arts & Humanities in HE (Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, University of Leeds)

The OpenLIVES Project collected the oral histories of people who left Spain during the Civil War. Antonio described how the materials gathered during OpenLIVES were developed into a student module at the University of Leeds and how the skills developed by the students during the module form part of an ‘empowerability’ rather than ‘employability’ agenda. All the OpenLIVES materials are openly available in the Humbox

5              Student-led peer mentoring (Gabriele Neher, University of Nottingham)

Gabriele described an initiative at Nottingham where students are invited to apply (through a formal application process) to become mentors to new students. It’s an opt-in scheme for mentees and project activities involve extensive use of social media. The scheme has helped to bridge the transition gap for incoming students.

Other useful presentations included Students as partners: sharing stories (Jenny Lewin, University of Worcester), Academic staff perceptions of I.T. in the Humanities (Pritpal Sembi, University of Wolverhampton) and Pioneers on the frontiers of learning? A narrative inquiry approach to new pedagogical practices using technology in Arts and Humanities learning and teaching (Rosemary Stott, Ravensbourne, Sarah Cousins, University of Bedfordshire & Dounia Bissar, University of Essex)

Overall, an enjoyable couple of days although I would have liked to have seen a greater languages presence on the conference programme.


The latest interesting Open Educational Resources (OERs)

This is a selection of recent OERs from the LanguageBox and Humbox. They cover a variety of themes including plagiarism, open educational resources, open access to languages research and getting employers involved in curriculum design

1             Plagiarism and Referencing

(Richard Galletly, Aston University)

This is a really useful presentation for anyone teaching first-year university students. It explains what plagiarism is, why students sometimes use it and how to avoid it. It also includes good advice for referencing and citing work.

2             Creating and sharing OERs through LanguageBox: a community-based repository

(Bianco Belgiorno-Appleyard, University of Southampton)

This presentation from the LLAS E-learning symposium is a helpful introduction to the FAVOR (Finding a Voice through Open Resources) Project, which provided training for language tutors to publish existing language teaching resources as OERs and to produce new digital materials.

3             No Open Learning without Open Access: a Portal for open access research into teaching modern languages

(John Canning, University of Southampton)

This presentation also comes from the E-learning symposium and is about the author’s journey in setting up an open access database of research articles related to teaching and learning modern languages. It is very useful for people who are interested in this research but who don’t work in universities

4       Piloting employer input into curriculum design

(Antonío Martínez-Arboleda, University of Leeds)

This is a very interesting take on OERs and is a presentation from a recent Higher Education Academy sponsored conference at the University of Leeds: Employability: Addressing the Gulf between Academic, Student and Employer Perspectives. It relates to findings from the OU SCORE Project and for more information on this, see Antonio’s other resource



My favourite Open Educational Resources

1              Enhancing modern language teaching: student participation and motivation – Antonio Martinez-Arboleda

This resource provides advice on motivating language learners (both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are covered) in the higher education classroom as well as tips on managing language anxiety and increasing student involvement in lessons.

2              OERs from OpenLives: Learning insights from the voices of Spanish émigrés – Irina Nelson

The Open Lives project publishes oral testimonies from Spanish émigrés who left Spain during the Civil War and is a great example of how OERs can help to give a voice to people’s experiences.

3              Transition Materials: Moving from A-level to degree level – Kat Stevenson

These resources are designed to help language students make the transition from school/college to university and include coverage of dictionary skills, research skills, reading strategies, academic writing, taking notes and referencing. The materials are available in French, German and Spanish.

4              Language Café Handbook – Alison Dickens

This handbook provides everything you need for setting up a language café or a similar informal language learning group in a library, bookshop, café etc. It includes ideas for getting a group started and also for generating publicity.

5              Short stories for children – Billy Brick

This collection of materials helps undergraduate students plan and create stories for children. Materials cover themes such as plot, character, planning etc.


Open Educational Resources

Images of Haute-Savoie

I’ve uploaded to the Language Box images taken in the Annecy area of France during a very wet holiday last summer:

I’ve also uploaded 2 wordsearches, which are suitable for beginners and younger learners of French and German. Answer sheets are included:

Regions of France wordsearch

German towns wordsearch