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:

Call for Papers: Birmingham English Language Postgraduate Conference 2014


The theme of this year’s conference is:  “Researching Language and Linguistics: Bridging Gaps

The organisers invite contributions from postgraduate researchers from any institution who would like to share which research gaps are being narrowed through their research. They are particularly interested in topics which try to bridge gaps between two (or more) branches of linguistic research, such as discourse analysis, pragmatics, corpus linguistics and multi-modality or any other areas in language research.

Key dates:
2 February – deadline for abstract submission
21 February – notification of submission outcome
7 March – conference day

For more information, please go to the conference website.

Call for Papers: Newcastle and Northumbria Working Papers in Linguistics 20

NWPLLOGONWPL is a yearly journal chiefly managed by postgraduate students at the Centre for Research in Linguistics and Language Studies at Newcastle University. It is a continuation of Newcastle and Durham Working Papers in Linguistics.

For this issue, submissions are solicited from all areas of linguistics, including the following but not limited to them:

Applied Linguistics, Bilingualism & Multilingualism, Clinical Linguistics, Conversational Analysis, Corpus Linguistics, Discourse Analysis, Forensic Linguistics, Historical Linguistics, Language Acquisition, Language and Communication, Language and Culture, Language and Education, Morphology, Neurolinguistics, Phonetics, Pragmatics, Psycholinguistics, Semantics, Semiotics, Sociolinguistics, Stylistics, Syntax

All submissions should be in accordance with the journal guidelines which can be downloaded from the website.

Submissions & Queries:

CALL DEADLINE: 10 January 2014

Aston PhD student wins two research grants

Suzanne BonnAston PhD student Suzanne Bonn has been awarded two research grants by the Japanese Association of Language Teachers (JALT). The first, for 40,000 yen is a research grant from the JALT College and University Educators Special Interest Group, and the second, for 100,000 yen, is a national JALT grant. The latter will be awarded publicly at the JALT international conference in a few weeks time and Suzanne will then give a paper on her research at JALT 2015.

Suzanne’s research, supervised by Dr Sue Garton, looks at teachers’ use of personal narratives in the language classroom.

CLERA Researcher of the Month: Kristjan Seferaj

CLERA has a broad range of researchers and research candidates working in many different areas of language education. Each month, we feature one of our researchers to learn more about them, their work and their interests.

Kristjan SeferajOur Researcher of the Month for September is Kristjan Seferaj,  a DELTA-qualified teacher who holds a MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL (University of Leicester). As a PhD student, Kristjan began his academic studies at Aston University in 2010. His research interests lie in ELF Methodology, Language Attrition, Teacher Training, and Systemic Functional Genre Studies. One of his studies was published in The Asian EFL journal (link: and he continues to work on the area of LI attrition as well as his PhD project that aims to investigate how and why six East-European EFL teachers use Western teaching resources in their classes.

Click here to read his profile.

CLIL in HE workshop sparks fascinating discussion between experts, practitioners and newcomers

On June 11, almost 30 delegates from British universities came together at the one-day workshop “Something to talk about: Integrating content and language study in higher education”, organised by Elisabeth Wielander on behalf of the Centre for Language Education Research at Aston (CLERA) and hosted by the School of Languages and Social Science (LSS) at Aston University. The event was funded by the Higher Education Academy as part of the discipline workshop and seminar series, in association with the AHRC.

©Jordina Sala-Branchadell

©Jordina Sala-Branchadell

The aim of the workshop was to disseminate findings from the organiser’s own PhD research, based on results from international research efforts, to outline the possible benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in MFL degrees in UK Higher Education. It provided a platform for sharing practice in subject-specific content teaching through the target language and discussing implications for curriculum design and teacher training.

In the morning session, Elisabeth introduced the participants to CLIL, building on findings from its predecessor, Canadian immersion, and tracing the development of this European form of bilingual education since the term was coined in the mid-1990s. After presenting some European research investigating the gains and losses of content instruction in a second language (L2) as perceived by university students and instructors, Elisabeth then shared some findings of her own PhD research into the use of German as a medium of instruction in UK undergraduate programmes and showed how Aston University is implementing this teaching approach, which has been in use since the 1970s.

After lunch, two colleagues from each of the languages offered at degree level at Aston – French, German and Spanish – talked about their experience with L2 content teaching and shared examples from their teaching practice. The subsequent Q&A discussion raised some intriguing questions regarding the reasons why some universities embrace L2 content teaching, while others remain reluctant.

The Powerpoint presentations and handouts used on the day will shortly be made available on the HEA website and blog.

New British Council Award for ELT Masters Dissertations

British CouncilThe British Council has announced the recipients of the newly created ELT Masters Dissertation Award for work with the best potential for impact on ELT practice. This award recognises and promotes the achievements of Masters students on UK universities Masters programmes. The scheme is an opportunity for institutions to promote their programmes and for recent graduates to establish themselves in the field.

The dissertations under consideration covered a  wide variety of topics and research methods, including studies of collaborative practice in EFL classrooms, investigations of varieties of English used across different parts of the world and how non-sighted students might be given greater access to undergraduate programmes in ELT.

Find out more about the winning dissertations here.

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.

CLERA Researcher of the Month: Cynthia Caswell

Cynthia CaswellCLERA has a broad range of researchers and research candidates working in many different areas of language education. Each month, we feature one of our researchers to learn more about them, their work and their interests.

Our Researcher of the Month for February is postgraduate researcher Cynthia
Caswell. Cynthia has taught in diverse contexts which include general literacy, ESOL, and individual education programming for special needs and diversity, and has been a teacher educator with the MA TESOL programme at
Trinity Western University (TWU) since 2004. Her PhD project involves developing a generic evaluation model for the context of second language teacher
education (SLTE).

Click here to read her profile.

CLERA Researcher of the Month: Andy Boon

Andy BoonCLERA has a broad range of researchers and research candidates working in many different areas of language education. Each month, we feature one of our researchers to learn more about them, their work and their interests.

Our Researcher of the Month for December is postgraduate researcher Andrew Boon, associate professor in the faculty of humanities at Toyo Gakuen University. His PhD explores the ways that teacher-researchers make use of online tool Instant Messenger Cooperative Development (IMCD).

Click here to read his profile.