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National Science Foundation grants build capacity for scholarly teaching in linguistics

Faculty Learning Community for Linguistics group
Michal Temkin Martinez (top right) and Kazuko Hiramatsu (middle; holding laptop) and the 2020 Faculty Learning Community for Linguistics

Our favorite teachers tend to be the ones who are passionate about the subjects they teach and also that they have a way of teaching that brings us into some personal connection with the subject so we understand it differently, more deeply. Michal Temkin Martinez, a professor and chair of the Department of Linguistics at Boise State, is passionate about linguistics and teaching—and she leverages both as an instructor and a scholar of teaching and learning in her field.

Temkin Martinez, along with Kazuko Hiramatsu, an associate professor of English at the University of Michigan-Flint, recently received their third grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build capacity for the scholarship of teaching and learning in linguistics. They encourage and contribute to research, publishing on how best to teach linguistics to undergraduate students.

Temkin Martinez and Hiramatsu teamed up in 2017 as associate co-editors of the Teaching Linguistics section of Language, the flagship journal published by the Linguistic Society of America. The journal publishes academic articles on linguistics and the section they edit publishes research that investigates the effectiveness of teaching methods and techniques. Research like this, about how a discipline is taught, is called scholarship of teaching and learning, often seen as “SoTL.”

In 2019, Temkin Martinez and Hiramatsu wrote and received a grant from the National Science Foundation on behalf of the Linguistic Society of America to create a faculty learning community to build capacity in the scholarship of teaching and learning in linguistics. Universities typically create faculty learning communities that include faculty from many different disciplines to solve issues or investigate new ideas surrounding teaching and student success on campuses. What Temkin Martinez and Hiramatsu proposed, and what the NSF funded, was to create a faculty learning community to focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning of linguistics during the 2019-2020 academic year—but with a twist.

“We flipped it upside down,” Temkin Martinez said. “We said we want it to be one discipline, but with people from different campuses.” This first grant of $66,780 from the National Science Foundation provided funding to organize their “flipped” faculty learning community. The main idea was to create a community where faculty could share and develop ideas together that they could publish in the journal in order to help linguistics faculty across the country become better at teaching linguistics. The group met every other week to learn about the scholarship of teaching and learning and begin work on individual projects.

And then the pandemic hit…

Many of the proposed projects and publications from the community were immediately put on hold. The group decided to begin meeting weekly to support one another through the emergency move to remote teaching and learning. And then a question emerged in relation to the work they were addressing: what is needed right now from a group of us who have been thinking critically about the teaching of linguistics?

So their faculty learning community produced a discipline-wide survey to linguistics students and faculty on their experience of the immediate move to remote teaching and learning. “Most of the complaints that students had about their learning experience during COVID really had to do with outdated teaching practices in our field – not just in our use of technology – but also the disparity of inclusive and accessible teaching and learning spaces,” Temkin Martinez said.

The survey results indicated that while students appreciated the flexibility and reduction of assessments during the spring 2020 term, faculty members who had not considered issues of accessibility and inclusivity prior to the pandemic struggled most to accommodate students during the emergency shift to remote learning. The group published the results of the survey to the Linguistic Society of America website to provide resources to help faculty start thinking about teaching linguistics in new ways.

At the following annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, the group organized  a session on what the teaching of linguistics should look like in the age of COVID and beyond.

“We wanted to model how to be inclusive and accessible in our teaching,” Temkin Martinez said. The session was presented remotely so they pre-recorded segments and provided transcripts and captions, and the synchronous sessions provided American Sign Language interpretation. Temkin Martinez said that, “everybody who attended was like, ‘We need to do this on a regular basis.’”

Providing crucial resources for instructors

Following the positive reception of these sessions, Temkin Martinez and Hiramatsu applied for and received a second grant of $49,830 from the NSF for the faculty learning community to organize a conference on the scholarship of teaching and learning for linguistics for the Linguistic Society of America. The conference was held this past summer at the University of Massachusetts during the Society’s Linguistic Institute.

Following the conference, the faculty learning community recognized a need for additional gatherings for linguists engaged in scholarly teaching, and also for teaching resources for faculty in their discipline like materials and “how to” documentation for teaching linguistics to undergraduate students.

In fall 2023, the two professors received their third NSF grant for $41,250 to host online gatherings of linguists to create an online library of resources for the Linguistic Society of America so that all members will have access to vetted examples of syllabi, lesson plans and other resources that faculty will be able to use to enhance their teaching, which will bring a broader understanding of linguistics.

Linguistic library in the works

They expect to launch the resource library for linguistic faculty in January 2025. Temkin Martinez said that she is grateful that, largely because of the influence of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Boise State, that “this work is considered my scholarship and counts toward my fulfilling my research obligations. Our institutional culture and policies have made it so that I’ve been empowered to do this work – to do what I perceive to be important work for the future of my discipline.”

Just five years ago, the Linguistic Society of America published two or three articles per year on the scholarship of teaching and learning and now, “we looked at our dashboard and there are 11 articles in the queue. And there is a lot more work in the pipeline by folks who attended the summer conference. So it feels like the capacity-building piece has really been realized,” she said.