New publication: Problem-Based Learning in TESOL

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) has become a popular educational approach and now has a global, multidisciplinary scope of influence. This experiential, student-centered learning approach was first piloted and developed by Dr. Howard Barrows in medical education for physicians at McMasters University in Canada from the 1960s onward. Over time, the methodology has also been adopted by other disciplines in the medical sciences, such as nursing and pharmacology. It spread further in the social sciences to programmes teaching law, sociology, business, agriculture, information communication technologies, as well as teacher education and regular classes for Grade 8–12 STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and math) courses. It has even been used in police training. To a lesser extent PBL has been used in areas such as the arts, literary studies, theology, and philosophy.

Due to the multidisciplinary expansion of PBL, a variety of modes for delivery have emerged from the initial approach. However, the following factors are common to PBL whether it is used for an individual module, a course, or a programme. PBL uses tutor-facilitated, small group learning to present students with real-world problems, relevant to their disciplines. The problems require critical thinking and collaboration to resolve. In a self-directed manner, examining what information has been made available, students identify what they do and do not know about the current problem; and they focus it to a manageable scope. Then they search for additional resources and interpret them. As the PBL cycle progresses, they integrate individual knowledge into the group’s final solution to the problem. The tutor will assist with this integration and / or provide feedback on the collaborative efforts, closing off the cycle with reflective activities. In course-based PBL, several cycles will contribute to knowledge creation over the duration of the course. That knowledge will be evaluated in discipline specific ways but preferably with authentic, professionally-oriented assessments that are in harmony with the learning process.

You are encouraged to discover how PBL has been used in an MA TESOL context. Cynthia Caswell is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Linguistics by distance learning, in the School of Languages and Social Sciences. She has recently published research on the topic of PBL and TESOL. The title, abstract, and an active link to her article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning (Vol.11, Issue 1, Article 6) follows:


Design and Facilitation of Problem-Based Learning in Graduate Teacher Education: An MA TESOL Case
(Cynthia Ann Caswell, Aston University)


This exploratory, evaluative case study introduces a new context for problem-based learning (PBL) involving an iterative, modular approach to curriculum-wide delivery of PBL in an MA TESOL program. The introduction to the curriculum context provides an overview of the design and delivery features particular to the situation. The delivery approach has established multiple roles that contribute to the design and facilitation of the learning environment: lead instructors, collaborating instructors, and students as peer teachers. These roles also identify milestones on a collaborative instructional skills trajectory for professional development. In this mixed methods study, qualitative data were collected from collaborating instructors (the majority of whom were alumni) in order to illuminate the nature of successful PBL cycles and quality peer teaching, as experienced in the program. Their perspectives were also elicited on their position in the trajectory, highlighting current professional development benefits and future needs. Quantitative data on student demographics and mean GPA for coursework triangulate the qualitative results. Implications and recommendations for further research are explained.

Keywords:  teacher education, TESOL, problem-based learning (PBL), knowledge creation, collaboration, diversitz

Available at:

New Publication: Linguistic Ethnography

CLERA Director Dr Fiona Copland has co-authored an engaging interdisciplinary guide to the unique role of language within ethnography.Copland & Creese Linguistic Ethnography from SAGE

From the publisher:

The book provides a philosophical overview of the field alongside practical support for designing and developing your own ethnographic research. It demonstrates how to build and develop arguments and engages with practical issues such as ethics, transcription and impact.

There are chapter-long case studies based on real research that will explain key themes and help you create and analyse your own linguistic data. Drawing on the authors’ experience they outline the practical, epistemological and theoretical decisions that researchers must take when planning and carrying out their studies.

For more information, go to the publisher’s website.


This was ICLHE 2013: Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education, at Maastricht University


The international conference “Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education” took place at the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, on 11-13 April, 2013.

This was the third conference of its kind (after previous events held in 2003 and 2006) and, like its predecessors, it focused on how the integration of specialist content learning and language learning affect universities and other institutes of higher education worldwide.

In the years since the Bologna Declaration of June 1999, there has been a surge in undergraduate and graduate degrees offered in other languages – most notably English but also, if to a lesser degree, other languages. The findings presented at this conference are a reflection of the growing research interest in how the integration of discipline-specific content and (second or foreign) language learning is achieved in practice and what the implementation of ICLHE means in terms of education policy (on the international, national, regional, local and institutional level), theoretical and research frameworks, discipline and language pedagogy, teacher training, and student experience.

The conference brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world whose presentations addressed key themes such as:

  • policy: how local, regional, national and supra-national policies shape the design and implementation of the integration of content and language in higher education.
  • linguistic strains: the impact of the rise of English-medium instruction on the role of other languages and cultures in the higher education landscape
  • content: ICL and the access to content knowledge
  • language: the evolution of language competencies in ICLHE programmes
  • theory: theoretical frameworks for underpinning the integration of content and language

Two fascinating keynote speeches set the tone of the conference:

Cecilia JacobsOn Thursday, Prof Cecilia Jacobs (Stellenbosch University, South Africa) talked about “Mapping the terrains of ICLHE: a view from the south”: After setting the scene by discussing frameworks, key concepts and contextual agendas of ICLHE, she called for the abolishment of what she called ‘the dichotomy of language and culture’; instead, she proposed to put knowledge – and the knower – at the centre of ICL pedagogy.

Francois GrinOn Friday, economist Prof Franҫois Grin (University of Geneva, Switzerland) spoke about “Foreign language skills, ‘linguistic work’ and the economic theorie of value”. First, he discussed the personal, social and national value added by multilingualism based on the example of Switzerland before turning to issues of internationalisation in HE. Specifically, he expressed concern about the unquestioned dominance of certain languages (often English, but not always) as medium of instruction, the possibility of ‘deliberate linguistic imperialism’, and some of the ‘negative value of internationalisation’. In his view, world language governance is needed, and he called for a ‘Linguistic Kyoto’ to be established.

??????????At the conference dinner on Friday, April 12, Prof em. Geerd Hofstede (right), who has a long affiliation with the ICLHE conference series, gave a talk about the “Seven Deadly Sins in a Multicultural World”.

A long list of speakers from Europe and beyond – early-career researchers, practicioners, and leading experts in the field – presented insightful papers about a wide range of issues relating to the integration of content and language at tertiary level. For a full list of abstracts, click here.

CLERA member and postgraduate researcher at Aston, Elisabeth Wielander, presented a paper titled ‘CLIL in UK Higher Education: Converging with and diverging from European models’ (abstract).

And finally, on April 11, 2013, the ICLHE Association was officially founded and its constitutive board elected.

Two fully funded PhD Studentships in Aston’s School of Languages and Social Sciences

Aston LSS logo smallTwo fully funded PhD Studentships in the School of Languages and Social Sciences
Reference Number: R130092

The School of Languages and Social Sciences (LSS), invites applications for two fully funded PhD studentships from strong candidates in any of the research areas covered by the School. The studentship is for full-time study over three years, commencing in October 2013.

LSS is a multi-disciplinary research-focused School which brings together researchers in the areas of Languages (French, German, Spanish), Translation Studies, Politics and International Relations, Sociology and Public Policy, and English Language. Further information on the School’s research areas can be found here.
(For a list of possible CLERA supervisors, please go the Centre website!)

1 October 2013 start date with completion date of 30 September 2016

Financial Support

Will be provided to the successful applicant to cover the Home/EU fees rate (£3,900 in academic year 2013/14) plus a maintenance grant at the standard AHRC/ESRC rate (£13,590 in academic year 2012/13) with the corresponding standard increases in subsequent years. Applicants from outside the EU may apply for this studentship but will need to pay the difference between the ‘Home/EU’ and the ‘Overseas’ tuition fees (Overseas tuition fees will be £12,075 in academic year 2013/14, so a difference of £8,175).

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have a first class or good upper second class honours degree or equivalent qualification in a relevant subject area. They should have, or be near to completing, a postgraduate qualification such as a Masters or equivalent. An overall merit or equivalent, with merit in the dissertation is normally required.

The application form and details of entry requirements, including English language are available at

For more details on how to apply please contact: Dan Thomson, LSS Research Officer


Tel: ++44 (0)121 204 3972

Please note that there is no deadline for this call and applications will be considered on a rolling basis.

Interview dates to be confirmed.

Regional accents in UK thriving, according to new research from Aston

It has long been thought that the modern-day increase in social mobility would lead to a flattening and, ultimately, the death of regional accents. A research team at Aston University, led by Dr Urszula Clark, has found just the opposite: When people move away, they tend to maintain their familiar accent to show allegiance to where they come from.

In their project West Midlands English: Speech and Society, the researchers “investigate and describe the range of accents and dialects of the West Midlands today” by looking at how performers use accent as a way of identifying with a specific place. Their findings indicate that “drawing upon linguistic features of a particular variety, such as Black Country English, cuts across ethnicity, gender and class boundaries”.

To learn more about this project, read the full article in the Daily Mail or visit the project website.

CLERA to host two workshops in HEA series: Video in MFL classroom; CLIL in HE

In the current academic year, two workshops in the HEA Discipline Workshop and Seminar Series will be held by CLERA members at Aston University:

9 January 2013: Using digital video in the Modern Languages classroom. A practical workshop
organised by Dr Claudia Gremler
This workshop provides language teachers in higher education with the opportunity to explore a wide range of uses for digital video in the MFL classroom, including practical exercises. The event introduces participants to a variety of video-based learner activities and offers a forum for an exchange of existing good practice.
Click here to learn more and to book a place.

11 June, 2013: Something to talk about: Integrating content and language study in higher education
organised by Elisabeth Wielander
This workshop draws on international research to outline the benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in MFL degrees in UK Higher Education. It provides a platform for sharing practice in subject-specific content teaching through the target language and discussing implications for curriculum design and teacher training.
Click here to learn more about this event.

GeWiss: multilingual corpus of spoken academic discourse

The project ‘‘Gesprochene Wissenschaftssprache kontrastiv – Spoken academic discourse in contrast’’ (GeWiss) is an international research cooperation between British, German and Polish partners funded by the Volkswagen Foundation for a period of three years between 2009 and 2012. The research organizations involved
were the Herder Institute (University of Leipzig, Germany), Aston University in
Birmingham (UK), and Wroclaw University (Poland). As part of the project a corpus of spoken academic language was built which consists of 80 hours (300,000 tokens) of spoken academic discourse concentrating on three genres: specialist research presentation, student presentation, and oral examination. The corpus will be made available to the general public via the Internet by the end of 2012.

The project teams in all three countries are currently publishing the first results of a corpus-based contrastive analysis which combines qualitative and quantitative approaches, e.g. G. Reershemius (2012) ‘Research cultures and the pragmatic functions of humor in academic research presentations: A corpus-assisted analysis’,
Journal of Pragmatics 44, 863-875.

A number of PhD projects are based on the corpus data; at Aston, for example, doctoral researcher Klaus Thiele is working on “The distribution and function of metaphors in German and English research presentations”, due to be submitted in 2013.

To view a poster describing the project, click here: GeWiss poster

If you are interested in working with or learning more about the corpus, please contact Prof Gertrud Reershemius.

CLERA project: Transitions between Primary and Secondary Schools for Young Learners of English

CLERA researchers Prof Anne Burns, Dr Fiona Copland, Dr Sue Garton and Dr Muna Morris-Adams are currently involved in the ELTRP British Council grant-funded study Transitions between Primary and Secondary Schools for Young Learners of English which examines the issues that arise when learners move up the educational system and how curriculum policy and teaching practice can bridge any potential gaps.

They invite anybody who teaches young learners at the transition levels to share their experiences by completing the Transition in ELT Survey.

The results will be published to inform good practice in ELT teaching. If you wish to receive the results of the study, please indicate at the end of the survey.


‘Tings a gwan’: Linguistic Superdiversity in Contemporary Minority Ethnic Artistic Performances

As part of the Aston English Research Seminar Series, InterLanD invites you to a presentation on ‘Tings a gwan’: Linguistic Superdiversity in Contemporary Minority Ethnic Artistic Performances on Wednesday, 24 October 2012 from 4.00 to 5.30 pm in Room MB 404c at Aston University.  This presentation considers patterns of language identification and identity construction conveyed in two performances given by young minority ethnic performers in Birmingham.  This event is free and open to all.  No booking is required.

Seminar and play: ‘Critical Perspectives on Urban Disorder in Britain’ and ‘RIOT!’

Aston Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into Languages and Diversity (InterLanD) is hosting a seminar on ‘Critical Perspectives on Urban Disorder in Britain’ on Wednesday, 31st October 2012 from 2.00 to 5.30 pm. The seminar will take place in Room MB568, 5th Floor, Main Building, Aston University, Birmingham.

The seminar is organised around empirical work carried out by scholars and activists on urban disorder in Britain.  Speakers at the seminar will be:

  • Roger Ball, Independent Scholar
  • Aisha Gill, Roehampton University
  • Adam Ellis-Cooper, Community Activist & Co-Editor of ‘Ceasefire Magazine’
  • Karim Murji, Open University

The seminar will be hosted by Dr Steve Garner from Aston University. After the seminar you will have a chance to see the play ‘RIOT!’, written by Richard Green and performed by Studio 3 Theatre Company at the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham from 7.00 to 8.00 pm followed by an Q & A with writer, Richard Green and cast.

This event is free to attend and open to all but registration is required.  Please email to book a place on the seminar and play.