What do Tokyo Institute of Technology, Ochanomizu Univ., Gakushuin Univ., Tokai Univ., Keio Univ., Ryukyu Univ., and Univ. of Tsukuba all have in common?
Foreign Language Centers (FLCs). FLCs by definition are difficult to pin down. Lacking the formal structure of departments, they often do not offer degrees or tenure, and their position within the university hierarchy is often unclear, although generally they are below departments. However, what FLCs lack in stability, they are able to make up in flexibility. When L2 classes are located in FLCs, students are available for research sampling. Empirical research based in FLCs can then generate new ideas for departments and administrations to implement into programs.
FLC-based research, however, faces two major challenges. One is the process of implementing research results into practical policy within its home institution. This often depends on the internal politics of the institution. Another challenge is reliability of research results coming from disparate centers (albeit in the same country). As in the medical field, the EFL field has a standardized code of “Best Practice” with the Standards for Educational & Psychological Testing. Journals such as the JALT Journal have a peer-review process to ensure methodology is sound. However, these standards are “top down”, and it would be useful if the field here created its own rules for practice to supplement these standards. These rules could strengthen construct validity, and possibly increase the power of experiments in research.
FLCs, if networked effectively between universities, could improve both of these issues. As a model, we could look to Primary Care Practice-based Research Networks (PBRNs) in the medical field. PBRNs, operating in US regions, are volunteer associations of primary care physicians exchanging information and conducting epidemiological studies on local populations (Green, Hickner, & Whitman, 2005). As clinicians become primary stakeholders in research, they find practical use for results bridging the gap between researchers and clinicians (Mold & Peterson, 2005). FLC Networks could operate similarly. Through organizing research between universities and creating standards for best practice in the field, results would be more representative of student populations. In addition, the Network could advocate on behalf of these results for policy implementation.
American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education, Joint Committee on Standards for Educational, & Psychological Testing (US). (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Amer Educational Research Assn.
Green, L. A., Hickner, J., & Whitman, W. (2005). A Short History of Primary Care Practice-based Research Networks: From Concept to Essential Research Laboratories. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 1470, 1–10.
Mold, J. W., & Peterson, K. A. (2005). Primary Care Practice-Based Research Networks: Working at the Interface Between Research and Quality Improvement. Annals of Family Medicine, 3(S1), 12–20.