Interdisciplinary Team Work in Language Science

Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm

Visiting Assistant Professor
College of Liberal Arts
Language Science Courses
Undergraduate and Graduate, Campus-based Courses

Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm leverages the experiences and backgrounds of her students along with content-specific classroom technologies to engage students with language science concepts. She recognizes that students working together in interdisciplinary teams adds meaningful dimensions for generating ideas for exploring human technology solutions. The individual skills and perspectives her students bring enrich the learning environment while she considers herself their guide through the process. Not only does Cecilia integrate active learning teamwork activities, but she also uses computational analysis as well as educational technology tools in the classroom to help students develop theoretical and applied concepts in tandem.

Teaching and Learning

As an example, in a course with the title Language Technology students examine language-centered technology developments from writing systems (as precursors) to modern human technologies such as natural language and speech processing systems. Students develop a conceptual understanding of both the methods behind these technologies and their affordances and limitations. Students also study the relationship between language, technology, computer-mediated communication practices, and socio-cultural implications.

Teaching Strategies and Tools

In her Language Technology course, Cecilia uses a combination of peer activities and content-specific technologies and lab activities to help facilitate the learning experience in the classroom:

Interdisciplinary Group Work: At the beginning of the course, students complete a survey to assess their background knowledge, their motivations for attending the course, and their special interests in the area of human language technology, as well as their background knowledge and practical skills with using different writing systems and computer programming languages. This information helps Cecilia to create teams of students whose disciplinary strengths compliment each other. She has found that this form of interdisciplinary collaboration gives students practice with communicating across the disciplines, helps students with developing solutions as well as with identifying content-relevant research questions, and allows them the opportunity to assume roles within the groups that suit their academic interests and skills as well as broaden their intellectual perspectives.

Professor Alm teaching in TLT Studio

Cecilia often utilizes 3-screen projection during language analysis activities in her language science classes.

Paired Presentations and Project Mini-Reports: For paired presentation assignments, which involve teams of 2-3 students, Cecilia engages students with reviewing, presenting, and facilitating class discussion around two short case-study articles per team. The first article is instructor-assigned for each group.  The second article is chosen based on the group’s interest, but requires instructor approval.  A peer evaluation through the myCourses Survey tool is used to engage students in thinking about effective presentation characteristics. Students also benefit from the experience of presenting in a technologically-enhanced classroom with multiple screen projection. 

These initial case study reviews and presentations can lead to the topics that students are interested in and which culminate in a collaborative or individual project report. The projects can be implementation-based, usability-orientated, or have a theoretical, research literature-oriented nature.  With Cecilia as guide, students are challenged to develop the topics they are interested in and to formulate and explore research questions for their projects.  

Use of a Technology-Enhanced Classroom: Cecilia has requested the use of the Teaching and Learning Technology Studio, supported by The Wallace Center, for several of her courses. She has found this facility useful in allowing her students to engage with course content and language science analysis tools and concepts in varied ways. One of the approaches that she has found helpful in conveying concepts in language science, or linguistics, is to present conceptual materials and A/V or visual media concurrently using multiple screen projection. The students also work, hands-on, with a number of resources in class lab-style activities (such as Praat and Python) as well as web-based resources when exploring and analyzing language science concepts.

Cecilia has found that students working in interdisciplinary teams have yielded innovative projects and problem solving in the intersection of language and technology. Not only has the mixing of disciplines been a factor in contributing to this richness, but so has the diversity of students. For example, in her Evolving English Language course, students who are native as well as non-native to English, or who have experience with signed language, have contributed valuable insights, knowledge, and topics to the course.

Experience and Results

Some of the challenges that Cecilia has faced are in striking the right balance to effectively convey concepts to all students. With the use of the TLT Studio capabilities, she has increased opportunities to visualize materials to students. In order to maintain an inclusive, interdisciplinary classroom experience for all students, Cecilia has found the ability to present the material in both textual and visual ways via the multiple screen projection useful. In addition, students having the option to use computer-mediated communication tools during pair or group activities (for example with instant messaging or a word processing software) has helped effective communication in diverse student teams.