Ellen Serafini Receives TOEFL Research Award

Dr. Serafini received a TOEFL research award at the 5th Biennial International Conference on Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) held in Banff Canada this year (Oct 3-5) for her presentation with Julie B. Lake (Georgetown University) and Michael H. Long (University of Maryland). Below is the abstract of the presentation.

A task-based approach recommends identifying learners’ language needs as the crucial starting point in informing the design, implementation, and evaluation of language education programs (Long, 1985, 2005a, b, c; Long & Norris, 2000; Norris, 2009).  Such needs should then reveal what non-native speakers (NNS) of a second language (L2) need to be able to do successfully in the target language.  Not only is this particularly challenging for specialized learner populations who are typically experts in their field of interest, but the methods used to carry out needs analyses (NAs) are still being refined as more programs and institutions identify learner needs through NAs.  The current study reports on the methodology used in a large-scale NA carried out by a team of faculty members and doctoral students from the University of Maryland and Georgetown University with the goal of identifying the language needs of learners working at a national research institution in a highly specialized occupational domain.  In order to reliably identify field and context-specific tasks in the target language (English), the NA followed methodological criteria set forth by Long (2005a, b, c) including (i) stratified random sampling, (ii) insider/domain expert and outsider/non-expert sources, and (iii) use of multiple methods, principally semi-structured interviews and questionnaire surveys, increasing both reliability and validity.  In an effort to increase comparability, the research team consulted a NA conducted by Van Avermaet and Gysen (2006) for Dutch as Foreign Language (DFL) learners at the Centre for Language Education (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven).  Similar methodologies were employed with two major exceptions: (i) interviews were carried out prior to the development of the large-scale questionnaires, in an effort to include insider categories and to inform question content and types that addressed the larger population’s needs and (ii) both native and non-native speakers in this study were consulted as interviewees throughout the development of research instruments. This presentation will review the methodology, development and revision of materials, as well as highlight areas to increase reliability and validity in future NAs, such as sequencing open procedures before closed ones and involving subjects as stakeholders.