Research-Oriented Teaching of English Sociolinguistics at the Graduate Level:
A Case Study from the University of Mannheim
Julia Davydova (Mannheim, Germany)
This paper addresses the questions of how research-oriented teaching in the field of linguistics can be conducted at the university level and what ensures a successful implementation of a research-oriented teaching method. In so doing, it reports on the development and implementation of a teaching concept in the field of sociolinguistics conducted at the University of Mannheim (Germany) in the summer term 2015. The paper is rounded off with a discussion of methodological strategies ensuring a success of a research-oriented teaching concept in class.
Keywords: Research-oriented teaching, methodological implementation, sociolinguistic fieldwork
In diesem Aufsatz wird erläutert, wie die Universitätslehre im Bereich der Linguistik forschungsorientiert gestaltet werden kann. Ferner wird untersucht, welche didaktischen Methoden für diesen Einsatz am besten geeignet sind. Vorgestellt wird ein soziolinguistisches Unterrichtskonzept, das im Sommersemester 2015 an der Universität Mannheim (Deutschland) entwickelt und implementiert wurde. Es ergibt sich darüber hinaus eine Diskussion über Methoden, die sich im Unterricht als erfolgreich und für Studierende gut geeignet bewährt haben.
Stichwörter: Forschungsorientierte Lehre, didaktische Implementierung, soziolinguistische Feldforschung
Research-oriented teaching has become an essential strategy pursued in the system of higher education in Germany (Langemeyer & Rohrdantz-Herrmann 2014) and elsewhere in the world (e.g. Jiang & Luo 2011). More and more German universities offer research-oriented programmes providing students with an opportunity to acquire the essentials of conducting scientific research, thereby preparing them for a career in academia.1 Such programmes already exist at the University of Munich, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Bochum, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (all located in Germany). State-of-the-art examples from current research are used to familiarise students with the fundamental principles of the scientific method. Research-oriented teaching is furthermore viewed as a basic strategy to accelerate students’ learning curve.2 That said, the question arises how research-oriented teaching in the field of linguistics can be conducted at the university level and, more importantly, what ensures a successful implementation of a research-oriented teaching method?
The main goal of this article is to present a research-oriented concept of teaching English linguistics at the graduate level. More specifically, a description of and reflexions on the graduate level course titled Mastering the art of doing sociolinguistic fieldwork taught in the summer term 2015 at the University of Mannheim (Germany), are made. The course was primarily motivated by the need to develop a teaching concept that would allow graduate-level students to become actively engaged in a research project and, thus, to learn how to conduct independent empirical research in the field of sociolinguistics. The topic of sociolinguistic fieldwork offered a remarkable opportunity to achieve that goal. In what follows, a case study illustrating a development and a subsequent implementation of a research-oriented teaching concept in the field of sociolinguistics is presented.
2 Postdoc Project
The author of this paper is a linguist trained in the field of variationist sociolinguistics. In the framework of a current research project, the use and perception of linguistic innovative features by two distinctive types of non-native speakers, i.e. those speaking English as a second language (ESL) and those speaking English as a foreign language (EFL), is explored. The language features in question are located within the system of English quotative marking and are illustrated in the examples (1) to (4):
(1) She said, ‘We’re gonna be late!’
(2) And we were like, ‘That’s not our problem!’
(3) And I thought, ‘My God, I am never gonna finish this!’
(4) And we were standing there and she (zero marker),
‘Have you bought the tickets?’
The system of quotative marking has been described as the one undergoing rapid real-time change in native-speaker English, particularly as a result of incremental, yet fairly swift expansion of the innovative quotative marker be like, which is perhaps best described as a youthful feature, an under-forty phenomenon, originating from the United States, that is now in wide currency in the English-speaking world. Much is known about the way in which quotative be like is put to use and perceived by native speakers of English (see Buchstaller 2014 for a comprehensive overview). Extensive previous research prompts the following questions:
- How is this innovative feature appropriated on the level of language use and language perception by non-native speakers?
And more importantly:
- What is possible in the L2 acquisition of language variation in terms of language production and language perceptions?
While addressing these issues, two academic communities are explored: students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and students from the University of Mannheim (Germany). The main research goal of the project is to establish similarities and differences in the use of innovative features, such as quotative be like, by speakers of indigenised and learner English and to ascertain how these relate to the patterns attested in native-speaker English. Furthermore, speakers’ perceptions of the innovative variant are explored, as these have been shown to determine the mechanism that governs language variation and, ultimately, language change (Labov 1966: 2001, Labov et al. 2011, Campbell-Kibler 2005 / 2006, Fridland et al. 2005).
Throughout her sociolinguistic career, the author has gained a fairly extensive experience of conducting sociolinguistic fieldwork documented through three data collection trips to Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), collecting sociolinguistic data on learner English in Hamburg (Germany) and in Bryansk (Russia). Furthermore, she collected sociolinguistic data at the University of Mannheim (Germany). The central idea was, then, to introduce course participants into the current research project and to demonstrate the techniques of conducting sociolinguistic fieldwork. In so doing, students were shown how empirical research in the given field can be conducted, their role as collaborators rather than mere student participants being highlighted.
3 A Research-Oriented Course in Conducting Sociolinguistic Fieldwork
3.1 Sociolinguistic Fieldwork as a Topic for University-Level Teaching
Gathering empirical data on language is the key ingredient in doing (variationist) sociolinguistics. At the same time, the sociolinguistic field methods and data-related technologies have become more and more sophisticated (Schilling 2013: 1). It is therefore no surprise that a lot of effort has been undertaken by sociolinguists to document these technologies, thereby uncovering the mysteries of conducting sociolinguistic fieldwork to students of linguistics. Schilling (2013) is one admirable example. The textbook provides an overview of the major data-collection methods (surveys, interviews and participant observation), while at the same time giving the reader a plethora of practical advice on how to become integrated in the community one studies. This book turned out to be a very useful reading assignment, which helped students become more aware of the issues discussed in the classroom and practised outside of it.
An exercise-based course in conducting sociolinguistic fieldwork is not an entirely new enterprise. Similar courses have been conducted at other universities world-wide. A course in linguistics titled Research Excursion / Experiential Learning Course taught by Sali A. Tagliamonte at the University of Toronto (Canada) is a notable illustration. The major idea of this course is to familiarise students with the major sociolinguistic tool of data collection, i.e. the sociolinguistic interview, through participation in a fieldtrip to a rural area in Ontario. The course engages students “in work that is firmly rooted in the community, and embeds learning in an optimal synthesis of teaching and research”.3 The course thus provided students with an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing project on language variation and change in Canadian English conducted at the University of Toronto.
The course in sociolinguistic fieldwork conducted at the University of Mannheim (Germany) was broader in its focus as it allowed students to practise the wider spectrum of sociolinguistic data-collection methods: (i) participant observation, (ii) sociolinguistic interviews and (iii) sociolinguistic surveys. While responding to the major current needs of the field, the course thus aimed at making a contribution to research-oriented concepts in higher education teaching.
3.2 The Target Audience
The course titled The target audience was designed for students enrolled in Master and Bachelor programmes, and required some preliminary knowledge of linguistics. However, because of its explicit focus on practical tasks and learning-by-doing activities, knowledge of linguistics was not as stringent a requirement as it would have been for other courses in sociolinguistics. The main theoretical concepts students needed to follow this course were discussed in class. These were motivated young people interested in learning more about language and in doing linguistics. This circumstance contributed to establishing very positive in-group dynamics right from the start and seemed to have a beneficial effect on other students who were still unfamiliar to the instructor.
The course consisted of three main parts; the course syllabus is presented in Figure 1:
Fig. 1: The structure of the course: Mastering the art of doing sociolinguistic
fieldwork (University of Mannheim, spring 2015)
In the first step, students were introduced into sociolinguistics as a field of study and familiarised with the major data collection techniques. They learned to assume different perspectives on the object of sociolinguistic inquiry and to differentiate between speech communities, social networks and communities of practice. Students were also introduced into the major ethical criteria guiding sociolinguistic fieldwork. Finally, they received a comprehensive overview of the chief data collection method employed within sociolinguistics, i.e. the sociolinguistic interview.
In the second step, they were asked to complete two main fieldwork assignments, which consisted in (i) carrying out four sociolinguistic interviews and (ii) recruiting ten participants for an online survey. Both assignments provided students with an opportunity to gain practical experience in doing sociolinguistic work. All these fieldwork tasks were subsequently discussed in class. Students’ shared their experiences with each other, first in groups and then in plenary. They were encouraged to talk not only about their successful moments but also about their failures. Their task was to discuss and critically assess all of their experiences, good or bad, and to try to understand how things could be done better next time.
The third part of the course focused on data-preparation and data-processing techniques. On the one hand, students learned how to extract tokens from spontaneous speech data, relying on the system of English quotative marking for illustration. On the other hand, they gained insights into constructing an online survey tapping into learners’ perceptions of quotative be like.
3.3 Sociolinguistic interviews
Since conducting sociolinguistic interviews was the major fieldwork assignment in this course, an explanation is necessary here. A sociolinguistic interview is a mode of spontaneous data elicitation that provides the analyst with a unique opportunity to observe community members. Its major goal is to produce large quantities of speech data rather than the use of specific linguistic forms. The sociolinguistic interview is a special technique aiming at steering informants’ attention away from language and placing emphasis on their involvement with a story (Schilling 2013: 93). As such sociolinguistic interviews approximate natural conversations, they may involve either one participant (one-on-one interviews) or two participants (dyadic or peer-group interviews). Yet, the crucial difference between sociolinguistic interviews and natural interactions is that the former lack very long pauses and sporadic conversation. Sociolinguistic interviews are typically centred on specific topics called conversation modules. Some of these topics are of universal interest, whereas others are pertinent to the community studied. It is important for the interviewer to be able to offer topics for conversation that would be of genuine interest to his or her informants. Selecting appropriate topics for the sociolinguistic interview is therefore a complex task. A lot of preliminary research into the community, including participant observation, is necessary in order to understand which topics would bring the sparkle into the informant’s eyes and which topics should be avoided at all cost so as not to provoke any inappropriate reactions. Informants are generally encouraged to tell stories and even “to go off on tangents of their own” (Schilling 2013: 94). It is believed that animated narratives eliminate, or at least minimize, the so-called observer’s paradox, a sociolinguistic concept used to describe informants’ persistent focus on their own speech once the recording device has been turned on.
Conversation modules consist of a series of questions, some of them more general and all-inclusive, whereas others are more specific and experience-related, as demonstrated in Chapter 5 (also Tagliamonte 2006: 37-49). The task of the researcher is to determine in the course of the data collection which questions work best, i.e. evoke most interest and thus elicit the most spontaneous responses from the informants.
(5) Conversation module: Family
- Do you generally feel that your family have influenced your life?
- Have you ever played tricks on your brothers / sisters? Do you have a story to tell?
- Has your brother / sister made you laugh till you ‘drop dead’?
- Do you have a fun story to tell from one of the last family celebrations?
The researcher also needs to make sure that he or she contributes to the conversation only minimally and yet do so in a manner that is natural and polite. The reason why the interviewing sociolinguist should aim for a very modest contribution to the overall interaction is because (i) he or she might inadvertently provoke informants’ beginning to use specific linguistic features that they would not normally produce and (ii) his or her own speech cannot be further evaluated; in other words, it is useless to the analysis of data.
It must have become clear by now that conducting a sociolinguistic interview is a fairly complex task, requiring a lot of careful planning, close attention to details as well as constant practice. One of the main goals of this course was to familiarise participants with this major sociolinguistic data collection method, thereby allowing them not only to master their knowledge of sociolinguistics but also, more importantly, to hone their sociolinguistic skills and wisdom.
3.4 Changes Introduced in the Course of the Teaching Experiment
The original structure envisaged for the course seemed to have worked out quite well. There were two main adjustments that had to be introduced in order to give the course a sharper focus. It had initially been planned to introduce students to the statistical analysis of language data but it had then been decided against it as this would have taken too much time. In fact, one could teach an entire course on this topic and, indeed, such a course is a logical next step in constructing a curriculum for teaching English sociolinguistics.
The second change that was introduced in this course was to invite Sarah Maurer, one of the instructor’s former students, to report on her Masters’ thesis (Maurer 2014), focusing on the data collection techniques she had implemented in her project. The main idea behind this adjustment was to let students learn not only from their instructor, but from one of their peers, who had just successfully accomplished a fairly sophisticated research project. Titled Investigating non-native speakers’ cognitive and affective reactions toward World Englishes in a business context, Maurer’s project was very much in line with one of the key themes of this course – language attitudes and perceptions. Maurer brought in a superb knowledge of the subject, coupled with an acute interest in the topic she had been researching. More importantly still, Maurer showed the students attending the course (i) how to plan, organise and carry out a pre-study for a sociolinguistic experiment and (ii) how to construct a sociolinguistic experiment, using an online survey platform. Her talk was filled with a plethora of useful tips and examples, and students were encouraged to ask her questions fostering their understanding of the main practical steps involved in conducting a sociolinguistic experiment. Maurer’s presentation was a great success.
3.5 Focus on Practice
The major innovative benefit offered by this course was its explicit focus on hands-on exercises rather than on theoretical discussions. Students thus had an opportunity to practise participant observation, an important data collection method that allows a researcher to gain “an insider perspective while preserving a measure of outsider detachment through long-term involvement in the community of study” (Schilling 2013: 113). They furthermore practised how to introduce themselves into the community of study by writing up introduction speeches and preparing introduction flyers. This exercise prepared them for a main activity during which students ventured out into the community. Their task was to go to a designated café in small groups, immerse, observe the situation for a while, and then approach a person whom they considered a suitable informant (i.e. a student from the University of Mannheim), strike up a conversation and secure an appointment for a sociolinguistic interview. They learned how to write their own schedule guides and how to construct questions for a sociolinguistic interview. They conducted their own sociolinguistic interviews and subsequently learnt how to extract data from them. Last but not least, they practised constructing their own short online surveys, using the limeservice platform4 as an example.
3.6 Credit Point Requirements and Learning Goals
The course described was an innovative format. Thus, coming up with a set of credible evaluation requirements and explaining those to students was a main key to success. As courses of this type had not been taught before at our department, it was essential to make very clear to students at the very outset of the course what exactly was expected from them. That said, the instructor came up with a very detailed list of explanations for the credit requirements for this course which included
- recruiting ten participants for the online-survey;
- conducting four sociolinguistic interviews;
- writing an anthropological diary, and
- making a presentation of the anthropological diary at the end of the term.
The first two assignments gave students an opportunity to gain some experience in conducting sociolinguistic fieldwork. The main purpose of the last two assignments was to make students assess their own work by reflecting on their fieldwork performance. They were encouraged to think about successful aspects of their sociolinguistic experience. Moreover, they had to analyse those aspects of their work that went wrong or needed improvement. It had been made very clear from the start that negative experiences would not result in a downgraded assessment of their performance as the process of learning and accumulating experience was the focus of this course. Students were thus instructed to provide a critical assessment of the situation in which they found themselves as researchers. The questions that students used as a heuristic device for the assessment of the successfulness of their fieldwork assignment were the following ones:
1. What did I Iearn from this fieldwork assignment?
2. Is there anything that went wrong during the
3. Is there anything I could have done at that moment to
prevent it and how can I do better next time?
Students were also specifically instructed to document the insights they obtained from a specific field assignment (e.g. language use, people’s behaviour, data-collection related stories or fun episodes) and to comment how this insight might be helpful to them in the future. The reason why such observations are crucially important is that they help the analyst to understand the community members and the kind of language that they speak. This, in turn, allows the researcher to refine the research question and the ensuing hypotheses. It may also help him or her understand the sociolinguistic profiles of speakers living in the community and the kind of data that the researcher needs to procure. Overall, these four term assignments aimed at honing students’ sociolinguistic skills (i.e. the know-how of collecting data) and abilities (i.e. strategic thinking). Last, but perhaps not least, one of the learning goals of this course was to let students work on and, if necessary improve, their social skills, which are of direct value in a job-related context.
As writing an anthropological diary was an innovative task that students had never been assigned to before, special care was taken to ensure that students could exchange their preliminary results in class with their fellow students and receive the instructor’s feedback. This procedure reassured students and also gave them a chance to ask all remaining questions they had with regards to writing an anthropological diary.
3.7 Instructor’s Positioning and Students’ Role
Throughout this course the instructor highlighted her role as a senior colleague interested in the professional and personal growth of her junior peers rather than a lecturer supervising the class or fieldwork assignments. She furthermore viewed students as collaborators who contributed to the ongoing research project, emphasizing their collaborators’ role by asking them repeated questions related to their fieldwork assignments, inquiring into their opinions and sharing her own experiences of doing sociolinguistic fieldwork.
4.1 Evaluation of the Course
The effectiveness of this course was measured with the help of two anonymous surveys tapping into students’ general attitudes toward the course and the lecturer (see Kromrey 2001 for a critical discussion of this evaluation method). The surveys were carried out twice: six weeks after the course began (mid-term evaluation) and during the penultimate session (end-term evaluation). The survey employed is an instrument developed at the University of Mannheim that allows for both quantitative and qualitative assessment of a teaching product. Since the summer term 2015, the survey has been an obligatory tool evaluating instructors’ efficiency in class by the School of Humanities at the University of Mannheim. The survey includes questions that inter alia inquired into:
- the instructor’s methodological skills,
- a general rating for the instructor,
- a general rating for the course, and
- how these ratings compare to all other courses at the University of Mannheim. The relevant results of the mid-term evaluation are presented in Figure 2:
Fig. 2: Mid-term evaluations of the course in sociolinguistic fieldwork:
The quantitative evaluations were substantiated by students’ qualitative statements. Students emphasised the usability of the hands-on approach upon which the course hinged (“I like the practical hands-on exercises”, “hands-on exercise very useful”) and commented on the instructor’s personal involvement (“Thanks for sharing your passion for sociolinguistics with us! This is really motivating!”).
The final evaluation provided a further diagnostic tool of the overall usability of this course for students’ academic development (Figure 3):
Fig. 3: Final evaluations of the course in sociolinguistic fieldwork:
These quantitative results indicate students’ overall content with the course, its methodological implementation including the instructor’s performance. The findings are substantiated by students’ personal comments (“Different course format (i.e. fieldwork, focus on practical activities) = good! Very friendly and motivated teacher”, “hands-on exercises were very helpful – learned a lot for other courses. Thank you!”). Many students furthermore commented on the helpfulness of writing an anthropological diary as a global activity for this course (“diary was a good idea”, “I really like the idea of an in-term diary”).
4.2 Students’ Self-Reflections on their overall Progress in the Course
In this course, students were encouraged to reflect on their progress in conducting sociolinguistic fieldwork, to document that progress in their diaries and to present the results of this process in a presentation at the end of the term. The learning goals of these activities were twofold:
They encouraged students’ active engagement with the main course activities through the critical analysis of their sociolinguistic labours.
The tasks students were asked to perform fostered the development of their metalinguistic skills and cognitive thinking as students had to reflect upon the sociolinguistic interviews that they conducted, including a general analysis of the informants’ speech. More specifically, they were instructed to pay close attention to the linguistic features that the informants used in their speech, including the innovative quotatives be like, e.g. And I am like, ‘What are you doing here?’.
These tasks yielded some highly interesting qualitative data offering insights into what students thought they learnt from the course, thereby highlighting the main ingredients of doing sociolinguistic work that were meaningful to them. In what follows, the main findings stemming from the descriptive analysis of this data are reported.
To begin with, some students found it useful to create mind maps depicting the social networks in which they were involved and to position themselves within those networks. These reflexions apparently provided them with a better sense of the sociolinguistic structures underpinning their everyday lives and their own place within those structures:
Fig. 4: Social networks. Social networks (Tamara Ivanova, Anthropological
Diary, Diary Entry 01; 20.02.2015)
Many students commented on the importance of the task involving the practice of finding contacts in the community. They felt that the task spurred them to cross their “comfort zone”, contributing to their skills of being an “effective communicator”. Some students also reported that this task taught them “self-confidence”. This task therefore seems to be particularly beneficial for introverted students, helping them to overcome their inner barriers and, as a result, the fear of being rejected. This task also seemed to have taught them spontaneity and personal as well as intellectual flexibility.
One of the fieldwork tasks encouraged students to practice ing their peers spontaneously in the street or in public places in order to secure a sociolinguistic interview. One student came up with a set of rules, a sociolinguistic know-how for making contacts on site, which is listed here:
- Always approach a potential participant with a smile: it will bring you far;
- Stay patient, confident and explain your request several times, if necessary;
- Approach the group slowly, do not interrupt if people talk, smile and listen carefully for a while. On noticing their first response, smile, introduce yourself and explain succinctly but clearly why you have come over;
- Your goal is to communicate that yours is an important project making a contribution to the academic community and the outside world;
- It is furthermore important to communicate that the talk is most likely to become an enjoyable experience. In other words, while contributing to the ongoing sociolinguistic research, the informant will also have a meaningful personal experience;
- Make your potential informant feel respected and appreciated and, perhaps even more importantly, special and wanted;
- It is important to not feel dejected once you get a rejection. Ask a person, if they know someone who might be helpful. Stay open and positive at all times. Do not lose your nerves!
- Change the place of recruitment if necessary.
(Sebastian Hoffmann, Anthropological Diary, Diary Entry 06; 23.03.2015)
Some students mastered the task of participant observation and became quite adept at spotting the ‘right’ people in the community by, for instance singling out group leaders, i.e. people who are likely to provide the researcher with further contacts. The course members came to the conclusion that this is how a group leader can be determined: you approach a group of people and address them with a request for an interview. The person with an immediate reaction is most likely the person who might assist the researcher in securing further informants. It appears that group leaders are the people who are used to being in charge of the situation and feeling a certain amount of responsibility not just for their immediate peers but also for the larger world.
Many students realized by and by what exactly makes a sociolinguistic interview a real success. Some of the students’ observations are presented below:
- Making a joke makes an informant become more relaxed, thereby minimising the observer’s paradox, i.e. a phenomenon of informants’ observing their own speech;
- The observer’s paradox weakens over time of the interview; the longer the interview, the weaker the observer’s paradox is;
- Eliciting stories tapping into informant’s personal experiences, both happy and sad, almost eliminates or at least significantly reduces the observer’s paradox.
Some students also reported that they learnt to be more cognizant of their own body language and their own speech styles as they mastered the task of securing informants for a sociolinguistic project. One cohort of students reported that they had become more attuned to the task of conducting sociolinguistic interviews, having learnt to overcome their exuberant and chatty nature, and actually put informants first, paying close attention to their verbal needs and signals. Others learnt to notice the differences in speech registers produced by different questions. Their observation was that, surprisingly, the most formal responses were elicited by the question inquiring into parents’ influence. Many students learnt to pay close attention to the use of quotative markers, including the use of quotative be like, in their informants’ speech.
Approximately one third of the population group (N: 4) also figured out their own ways of giving back to the community (Schilling 2013: 268), the principle that requires that the researcher should, in some ways, become involved with the community he or she studies, contributing to its well-being (also Labov 1982). Bearing this in mind, many students followed the principle of mutual assistance by offering their peers participation in future studies or university related projects. Some students offered recordings of the interview as some participants were quite willing to obtain samples of their own speech. Some simply offered sweets and coffee, a strategy that seemed to work remarkably well.
Quite a few students found the data extraction exercise particularly useful as it helped them understand how spontaneous language data can be organised in a sustainable manner. The following excerpt from the anthropological diary briefly illustrates this point:
The excel sheet was really efficient and I have saved the one we used in seminar so that I have a template for designing something similar should I need it. I always think of numbers and money when it comes to excel but it turns out it is great for linguistics too! (Mark Müller, Anthropological Diary, Diary Entry 12, 01.05.2015)
All the students participating in this course learnt about the importance of obtaining an informed consent from their informants. Procuring an informed consent from people who supply researchers with invaluable data is important as it ensures the informants’ anonymity, instructs them about the project and grants them access to the researcher after the interview. Furthermore, students mastered the organisation of something as complex as a sociolinguistic interview, having learnt how to write a schedule guide for an interview, how to choose a place and how to prepare an informed consent.
5 Discussion and Conclusion
A teaching concept that illustrates how research-oriented teaching can be conducted in the field of sociolinguistics at the university level has been presented here. In the following, the methodological strategies that ensure a successful implementation of such a concept in class will be discussed.
First and foremost, the main ingredient of a successful implementation is a clear teaching concept, including teaching goals. The students participating in this course knew right from the very start that they were going to learn how to collect survey data and work with spontaneous speech. They also knew that the classroom discussion of the major data collection techniques was to be grounded in the analysis of the innovative linguistic feature – in this case, quotative be like. The tangible teaching goals thus envisaged a clear direction in which students and the instructor were moving as well as the final destination.
Secondly, it was made explicit at the very beginning of the course that students were to contribute to a genuine sociolinguistic project by securing spontaneous speech and survey data. It could be found that the idea of becoming part of genuine academic research was inspiring to numerous students. Many students seemed to be highly motivated by the idea that they were contributing to an ongoing sociolinguistic research in a meaningful way. Highlighting the importance and value that a researcher attaches to his or her project thus seems to be an important factor that stimulates the students’ degree of involvement with the course and, ultimately, with the project. One of the reasons this course turned out to be a success was that many students were convinced that they were involved in doing something meaningful and of value.
Another reason why this course was very well received by students was that they were the right target audience. Having acquired some knowledge of linguistics, including sociolinguistics, students were looking for ways that would show them how to do sociolinguistics so that they could implement this new knowledge while working on their own projects. This course seems to have come at the right time. That said, students who are just beginning their study of linguistics would most probably have been less suited for this course.
While participating in this course, students were not only accumulating further knowledge; they were learning some practical skills as well. These skills are of two types: technical (they learnt how to extract and code data, and how to construct an online survey) and social (they honed their interactive skills as a result of this course). The strong emphasis on practical application was, indeed, very appealing to many participants.
Overall, this teaching experiment has demonstrated that research-oriented teaching of English sociolinguistics can be conducted quite successfully at the university level provided that the basic methodological prerequisites as specified above are taken into account. More importantly still, a research-oriented teaching concept seems to work out particularly well if instructors not only teach but also try to learn from their students.
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1 See, for instance, http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/research/youngresearchers/research _oriented_teaching/welcome_research/; https://www.en.uni-muenchen.de/stu dents/degree/research_orient_teaching/index.html; 23-09-2016
2 http://www.rd.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/ifsc/teaching/index.html.en; 23-09-2016
3 http://individual.utoronto.ca/tagliamonte/teaching.html; 01-06-2015
4 See https://www.limeservice.com/de/; 22-05-2015