Language Learning in the Digital Era:               Challenges and Opportunities for Global Universities


Universities, whether private or public, are neither impervious nor immune to the disruptions and changes that have affected modern society over the past twenty to thirty years. Accordingly, and faced with the emergence of disruptive social, economic, political, and technological forces, universities around the globe are under pressure to embrace – or at least consider embracing – a set of purposes, policies, and practices that would more closely align their mission and the nature and types of knowledge they produce and value with the demands of today’s knowledge-based economy and of a multicultural, internationally connected, and urban society. In essence, what they are being asked to reexamine is both the way a university should be conceptualized as an institution and how critical knowledge production is to be conceived and positioned within its multiple structures.

 

 

In many cases universities have used this as an opportunity to not only fundamentally rethink how they deploy existing resources to support a new set of strategic priorities, but also how they can aggressively introduce and sustain new models of teaching and learning that integrate technology in a more systematic way and that support enhanced student participation in the learning process and foreground pedagogical practices that encourage learner autonomy and the development of critical thinking skills and habits.

 

One disciplinary area in particular has come to crystallize many of the complex challenges that confront institutions with global aspirations – namely, language education. Globalized (and globalizing) institutions envision their mission as one that inherently transcends the boundaries of the nation-state, advances the frontiers of knowledge worldwide, and educates for global perspective. Yet, at this critical juncture, few (if any) universities have articulated a coherent strategy on the role foreign languages should play in framing global engagement. Nor have they considered how language education fits within the new global academic structures they envision or given any sustained thought to what should (could) be the relationship of foreign languages to English as the de facto lingua franca of instruction and research of global institutions.

 

Language Centers (in whatever form they may take) are institutional units uniquely positioned to promote and support the teaching and learning of languages across the curriculum at global and globalizing institutions. Usually decentered with respect to language departments, they typically occupy a transversal position at the level of the institution and of the classroom and are called to play an active role in shaping pedagogical practices, formulating policy, and leveraging technology in support of language instruction.

 

Yet, the role of Language Centers has been changing. In part, this change is simply a structural adjustment in reaction to the transformative power of the global forces that are reshaping the overall landscape of higher education, but it may also reflect an adaptation to the more narrow institutional choices and policies that universities have put in place in response to these changes.

Both these types of changes can permanently unsettle and transform what had hitherto been considered as institutional certainties and can - and should - lead to an extensive reconceptualization of the future role and place of Language Centers.

 

This symposium brings together a select number of scholars, language center directors, administrators, and language experts from leading global universities to reflect on new approaches to language learning in this context of institutional globalization, societal multilingualism and digital transformation. It aims to identify shared priorities and compare perspectives on new challenges and opportunities for foreign language education.

 

The symposium will be organized around 4 panels and each panel will be structured around a theme.