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The University of New England, Australia
Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics (Online)
Today we are talking to Dr. Nick Reid, the coordinator in the 100% online Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics program at the School of Behavioral, Cognitive and Social Sciences, The University of New England, Australia.
MATESOL.info: Could you please briefly introduce the program?
NR: Hi, and thanks for the opportunity to share the MAAL story with
you. The University of New England (Australia) began the Master of
Arts (Applied Linguistics) (aka 'the MAAL') back in 2001. We'd taught
Linguistics subjects via distance education for 12 years, and we had a
lot of experience in catering to the educational needs of off-campus
students. Around about 2000, we were struck by the nexus between two
opportunities: on the one hand we had a lot of students wanting to go
on and undertake postgraduate studies, and on the other we were
witnessing the emergence of the internet and escalating possibilities
for students to be working overseas and at the same time furthering
their postgraduate studies. We came to realise that there was a
genuine need for a fully online degree in applied linguistics, and no-
one else was filling this market. We commenced the degree in 2001 and
quickly attracted students from about 30 countries, most of them
teaching English in places such as Korea, Japan, China, and the Middle
East. It's easy enough to find work as a teacher in such countries
without tertiary qualifications, but most people quickly appreciate
that to get better jobs, especially within universities, then a
postgraduate degree is essential.
The University of New England, like all Australian universities, is
funded by the Federal Australian Government and is tightly regulated
by them through the Department of Education, Science and Training. UNE
meets all the standards and requirements of DEST, and it enjoys an
excellent reputation in Australia and overseas. The MAAL degree was
also fully accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the US-based
Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) in 2004, but we later
chose to de-subscribe (see http://www.une.edu.au/bcss/linguistics/faqs.php#f4
for the reasons).
MATESOL.info: What makes UNE's MA in Applied Linguistics program truly unique?
NR: Two things: firstly the MAAL is fully online, with no on-campus
residency requirements. You can be traveling the whole semester, but
if you have good internet access, then there is no reason why you
cannot stay closely engaged with your unit. What do we mean by 'fully
online'? Apart from buying a textbook, every other aspect of the unit
will be mediated through the internet. You'll download readings as
pdfs, access interactive study notes, interact with staff and students
through online discussions boards, complete online assessments tasks
and submit essays - all mediated through a learning management system
(currently Blackboard). Still today in 2009, despite the large number
of universities touting 'online masters degrees', no other degree is
so richly developed for exclusive internet-mediated learning.
Secondly, staff within our group are not only internationally
experts in their discipline area, but they also have extensive
experience in curriculum development. The typical MAAL lecturer writes
html, produces their own content, creates enhanced podcasts, and
generally operates with a level of technical skill that is rare in
academia. This combination has kept the MAAL consistently at the
forefront of online applied linguistics teaching across the last 8
MATESOL.info: According to your website, applicants do not need to have a background in theoretical or applied linguistics, and yet the coursework seems to emphasize such fairly advanced topics as current issues in sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, and second language acquisition theories. Why is a background in linguistics not required?
NR: Of course it is always helpful to have formal undergraduate
qualifications in linguistics! However we found that our typical MAAL
student had done their undergraduate studies in some other area,
somewhere along the line become interested in ESL, had picked up a lot
of linguistics indirectly through both their own interests and their
teaching, and could launch into a linguistics degree on that basis. To
best help them we strongly advise our students to undertake
introductory level units first (the LING450s), before going on to the
electives (LING460s). It's been our experience that people enrolling
in the MAAL have a love of language, are widely read, come to us with
a strong sense of purpose, and bring the focus and discipline
particular to mature age postgraduate students. Armed with all this,
they generally not only survive but thrive without a formal background
MATESOL.info: How does this program prepare applied linguistics specialists such as second language teachers for future work with disadvantaged groups such as refugees and minorities?
NR: We have several units which explicitly address such interests. In
LING452 Intercultural Communication, MAAL students explore theoretical
approaches and practical applications in the study of communication
between people of differing cultural backgrounds. They examine the
nature and development of the communicative styles and practices of
diverse cultural groups, and their impact on interpersonal
communication within and between groups. This unit uses case studies
from Asia, Europe, Australia and the US, and focuses on practical
strategies for recognising and overcoming intercultural
miscommunication, and for improving communication in situations of
EDLA419 English as a World Language: Challenges for NESB Students and
their Teachers explores the various roles that English now has in the
world and the different attitudes that it evokes. Students taking this
unit will be given the tools to examine the language ecology of a
country or community familiar to them and they will be given the
opportunity to explore some of the challenges which have accompanied
the emergence of New Englishes and the status of English as a global
MATESOL.info: What types of research are taught in the program, such as qualitative and quantitative research, empirical and theoretical research, action research, ethnographic research (as it applies to ESL/EFL contexts, in particular), and so on? Are any specific types of research emphasized by the professors?
NR: Although the MAAL is primarily a coursework degree, we offer a
research methods unit, LING 461, which will help students to acquire
research literacy with regard to the basic principles of both
qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Students develop an
ability to understand and assess actual research studies (especially
in Applied Linguistics) by becoming aware of the strengths and
weaknesses of various research-model options. Some of the issues
considered include the basic principles of research design and
statistical analysis, theory-testing and model building, and basic
principles of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.
MATESOL.info: What are the assessment criteria used by the faculty specifically when it comes to research projects and assignments?
NR: Across the entire degree, MAAL students undertake a wide range of
assessment task types including; essays, problem based worksheets,
automated Quizzes, biographical journal keeping, literature reviews,
and more. The criteria used in assessment will vary across these
types, but generally students are expected to show that they have
worked through the appropriate readings and notes, display evidence of
required learning in the topic, show an appreciation for how the topic
goals relate to the assessment tasks. We think an essential component
of assessment is feedback. We take care to provide our students with
clear criteria against which to judge any comments we provide, and we
ensure that feedback is 'improvement focused'. Some units also assess
students on their online interactions - so for example you might be
asked to self-select your best 5 postings for assessment purposes at
the end of the semester. These should be carefully composed,
demonstrate familiarity with the issues covered in the relevant topic,
and take account of other students contributions on the same topic.
MATESOL.info: Why is intercultural communication a required course?
NR: In 2009 few people live lives that do not involve contact with other
cultures. MAAL students in particular tend to be interested in either
languages other than English, and thus living in other cultures, or
teaching English in non-English speaking countries. Even students
whose interests are clearly in English only, find the 'communicative
styles' part of the unit highly instructional because of the normal
failure to recognise aspects of your own style until they are
contrasted with others. For all these people we view this unit as a
essential part of their linguistic education.
MATESOL.info: According to your website, students can write a thesis/dissertation, yet this is merely an option. Why is a masters thesis/dissertation not required? As a well-published linguist with a PhD, would you personally recommend doing a thesis/dissertation even though it is not formally required by the program?
NR: This is a coursework degree, not a research degree, so students who
come to us without a strong linguistics background need to complete
the 8 units of coursework before they have the depth in the discipline
that would allow them to consider postgraduate-level research in it.
However we are also keen to make provisions for those students who
have the inclination and the skills to go on to further research, and
we have had several MAAL students go on to PhD programs. Up until 2010
we've handled this through the LING490 unit, which allowed MAAL
students to include a 12 credit point research thesis within the MAAL.
However this was not ideal for two reasons: it prevented students from
doing all the 8 units of coursework they generally needed; and the
'25% of degree by research' was not enough to make our students highly
competitive for higher research degree scholarships. So we are
currently rebuilding the MAAL degree structure to address both these
issues. From 2010 you can either do the MAAL (8 units, all coursework,
two semesters fulltime), or the MAAL (Hons) (8 units, all coursework,
plus a 24 credit point thesis, 3 semesters fulltime). You can start
with the MAAL, then add on the Hons component once you have completed
the coursework. Or you can begin enrolled in MAAL (Hons), then exit
early with just the MAAL if you change your mind about the thesis. Our
belief is that a MAAL (Hons) will help more of our students gain
access to PhD programs.
MATESOL.info: What collaborative work opportunities do you provide your students with, and how are such collaborative projects supervised and assessed?
NR: The scope for collaborative projects varies from unit to unit. In some
units the class will be divided into small groups who have to devise
amongst themselves a single solution to some problem, before posting
it publicly to Discussions. Generally marks for such tasks are shared
across all members of the group, though this works best where the
nature of the project facilitates equal input from all group members.
MAAL students also tend to organically form study groups of their own
accord, and this is facilitated by the 'common MAAL site' where
students arrange get-togethers at critical points in the semester. So
for example in just the last semester, the 8 MAAL students living in
the Osaka/Kyoto region decided to have a study session to develop
projects for a looming assessment task.
MATESOL.info: What financial aid opportunities exist for your international MA-level students, such as fellowships, grants, merit-based scholarships, and so on? What types of student travel support, if any, can be provided to your students presenting at conferences?
NR: In Australia it is generally hard for citizens to get financial
support for coursework degrees, and even more so for international
students, so we are not in a position to offer our students MAAL-
targeted scholarships. Most of our international students get a
financial boost through the relative cheapness for them of the
Australian dollar (in 2009 the MAAL costs AUD$12,000, which is just US
$7,800), and some find grants from their own country. We generally try
and help research students presenting at conferences, so we'd expect
to support MAAL (Hons) students financially where we can.
Thanks for chance to meet your readers! If you have any further
questions about the MAAL, we'd be delighted to hear from you. Have a
look at our website http://www.une.edu.au/bcss/linguistics/maal.php,
or email us at ma.online(AT)une.edu.au
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