I attended the conference “Exploring Approaches to Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum”, March 9-10, 2012, at the University of Minnesota. CLAC (Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum) is a relatively new movement. The 2012 meeting was CLAC’s seventh conference after the initial launching in 2004. This “across the curriculum” movement aims to “promote language use and international cultural awareness throughout the undergraduate curriculum,” and, thus, to “enable students to function professionally in an international context” (Program, p.2). (For more information regarding CLAC you can visit the website: http://clacconsortium.org/)
The conference, although short (only one and half days), consisted of many interesting presentations. Three keynote addresses referred to the main issues of the CLAC movement. The first presentation “CLAC in a Nutshell” offered an overview of the history, characteristics, practices and aims, as well as the future of the CLAC movement. The second keynote address compared reading in different pedagogical cultures, and emphasized the advantages of using CLAC methodologies in order to create and foster the student’s analytical mindset. The third closing plenary was dedicated to the connection between language instruction and sciences, and focused on a particular project on collaboration between foreign language teaching and sustainability studies.
Fifteen presentations, structured around three general themes (CLAC challenges, CLAC programs, and Technology & CLAC) covered a variety of topics. I review here one of each category. I enjoyed the paper “Moving Beyond the Departmental Box of Foreign Language Teaching” by Cecelia Lawless. She spoke about the “delicate balance” between perfect language use and losing control of speaking. According to Lawless, language instruction is not teaching, it should look more like a “dinner party”. I also liked the presentation “Ethnographic Interviews in an Intensive Asian Studies Course in Japan and China” by Rika Ito. The presenter described in detail a program where ethnographic interviews were integrated into an intensive interdisciplinary off-campus non-language course. The presentation “A CLAC Mentorship. Collective in Practice: Bringing Students and Faculty Together across Twelve Time Zones” by Jan Marston described online video conferences in a non-traditional content-focused class between Russian and American students in order to discover cultural assumptions and contrasts of the respective culture.
Additionally, three preconference workshops (Fostering Critical Thinking and Academic Language through Visual Images; How to Design and Implement a CLAC Program that Works for Your Campus; and Preparing Graduate Students to Teach CLAC) offered more hands-on experience about CLAC and its implementation in the classroom. Moreover, eleven poster presentations offered a broader spectrum to participants of the use of CLAC principles by various departments. (To mention a few poster topics: Culture and Language for Business; International Visitor Leadership Program: A Resource for CLAC; Tandem Plus: Developing Translingual Competence and Transcultural Awareness through Guided Conversation; Using e-portfolios to Document CLAC Experiences, and others).
I believe that many of us already use the CLAC ideas in our classes. Yale University especially offers many of the programs that CLACkers suggested, such as a very well organized Study Abroad program which fosters the internationalization of our students. This makes me reflect on what exactly is new that CLAC has to offer. Undoubtedly for some institutions a CLAC umbrella can be very beneficial. As the organizers repeatedly noted, CLAC is not a one-size-fits-all program, and every institution has to adapt or rearrange its principles. In this case, CLAC needs to be defined more clearly, and to distinguish itself from other concepts such as Content Based Instruction (CBI) and others.
In general, it was very worthwhile attending this conference, and I learned a lot!