THEORY into PRACTICE
Institutional implementation of the CHAGAL Guidelines for preparatory institutions
Report on the project “CHAGAL Working Group at the VGU (University Preparation Programme of the Graz Universities)” by Wilfried KRENN (for the project team)
The VGU was a project partner of the Grundtvig CHAGAL project. A draft version of the Curriculum Guidelines was evaluated by the VGU during the project phase by implementing pilot projects and linking guideline targets to the practical experience of VGU teaching staff:
- Language awareness and grammar learning / pilot project No. 2
- Implementation of a learner-centred curriculum in different subjects with the exception of German as a foreign language – analysis of requirements / pilot project No. 10
- Evaluation of the VGU by former participants, who currently study at one of the Graz Universities / pilot project No. 13.
After completion of the Curriculum Guidelines and the conclusion of the project in Autumn 2004, a VGU working group was set up, which was to explore the possibilities for implementing the Guidelines. For this purpose, the Guidelines were evaluated with regard to their relevance to the VGU, a list of activities and measures was drawn up, which could be interpreted as representing implementation of the guidelines by the VGU, and a description was provided of which measures could be taken in the future in order to fulfil the targets of the Curriculum Guidelines. Responsibilities and a rough time schedule were also defined for the future implementation.
The following report will first outline the tasks of the VGU and then represent the most significant results of the CHAGAL working group in summary form.
Tasks of the VGU
According to its statute, the VGU has the task of preparing international students (taking particular account of students from developing countries) for a university course in Austria. International students who have been admitted to a university course in Austria must take supplementary examinations before start of their normal course. These examinations serve to provide evidence of linguistic proficiency and of knowledge of other subjects, which will be specified for the international students on an individual basis. The VGU currently looks after 400-500 students, who are enrolled at the four Graz Universities.
Results of the CHAGAL working group
The following report will describe only the most significant results of the
working group and planned priority measures.
Guideline one describes the necessity for conveying externally, as well as
within an institution, the positive contribution that international students
can make. The VGU has tried over and over again in the past, via various public
appearances, to make the public aware of the positive contribution that international
students make and can make in Austria (exhibition about the work of the VGU
at the Graz Universities, visits by students to schools, readings in bookshops,
etc.). One of the lecturers in the VGU is also a member of the advisory council
on development policy for the Steiermark Land, and the VGU works intensively
as an educational institution together with the teachers of the Germanistische
Institut in the teaching of German as a foreign language; all facts which
contribute to public awareness of the situation of international students
The CHAGAL working group has considered additional activities, which take a similar direction, including the following: in the future the public relations work of the VGU shall be intensified, so, for example, opinions on current discussions regarding the situation of international students will be issued, the appearance of the institution on the Internet will be improved, or the VGU will present itself more noticeably and more actively at the universities.
Guidelines two to five describe the process of the formulation of course content, teaching methods and evaluation instruments for course curricula. Currently valid VGU syllabuses take account of the requirements of the CHAGAL Guidelines by trying to determine the content of courses on the basis of an analysis of the “objective requirements” of the students. Hence, in language teaching, for example, the preparation of text types specific to the course of study, as well as of language structures and vocabulary specific to the course of study at beginner and intermediate level, is already being emphasised.
However, it is above all the fact that only limited resources are available for the implementation of the curriculum content that makes it necessary to have more precise knowledge of relevant competences for successful study in certain courses. With this in mind, the working group has formulated proposals, which should help to create a clearer picture of the actual problem areas encountered by students during their study. In the future, information about both the previous learning approach taken by students and about their educational background, as well as experiences of graduates, shall be collected more consistently and systematically evaluated. The data obtained will then have to be allocated to learning objectives “capable of being put into operation”, which could then subsequently be considered in more depth in the work in the courses.
From the point of view of the working group, guideline five above all, which specifies the need to negotiate teaching syllabuses with the universities in order to define meaningful and realistic course content, ought to be given a lot more attention in the future. However, implementation of this guideline appears to be particularly difficult in the current situation. The lack of resources in the university sphere and increasing international competition between educational institutions increases the pressure on all students (for example, please note the admission restrictions in certain subjects). The potential for taking account of the particular situation of international students during their first semester at the University is becoming increasingly limited. The major challenge for the VGU consists of defining, together with the universities, achievable teaching and learning objectives for VGU courses, which will subsequently make it possible for the international students to complete their course successfully. To this end, representatives from all courses must be encouraged to be partners.
Guidelines six to nine describe the process of implementing a learner-centred curriculum. The important elements of a learner-centred curriculum, which also relate to the conversion into the courses, are also already described in the valid VGU syllabuses. Not least the increasing number of students makes it necessary, however, to develop more appropriate instruments for the implementation of the curriculum content. As the number of “contact hours” in the courses is relatively low and currently the individual student has to be responsible for carrying out a large proportion of the study alone, it is necessary to define objectives even more precisely, to propose and promote intensified learning strategies in the courses and to give intensive, significant feedback in the form of “study advice” which can be accepted and implemented by the students. In order to be able to accomplish this, the working group has assembled or, where applicable, formulated, proposals which are now, already, being partially implemented in VGU teaching practice. Concentration on the definition of quantifiable teaching objective areas (preferably formulated together with students), which can be easily understood by the students, has proved to be helpful in language courses: hence, for example, in the language courses, a clear high priority area as regards expressional and structural competence appears as a possibility for redistributing global, comprehensive descriptions of competences, as can also be found in the CHAGAL texts (please see “Guidelines” - CHAPTER 3: DIDACTIC FOUNDATIONS – especially 3.3: “Competences as learning objectives” and 3.4: “Development and implementation of student-centred curricula”), into teaching and learning objectives which are capable of being put into operation.
Guidelines ten to twelve describe the consequences which an implementation of guidelines one to nine has for the organisational framework of the preparatory institution itself. The CHAGAL working group looked into which measures had already been or were to be carried out on the VGU in this area, but was, however, able to formulate a series of further concrete proposals in addition to these, which shall ensure more efficient implementation of the guidelines and consequently guarantee a learning environment in which the international student can develop his or her full potential. This includes proposals such as setting up self-study centres, more concentrated incorporation of e-learning and more intensive cooperation with university institutions on teaching research. Having said this, most of these proposals require an improved administrative and organisational framework, which will still need to be defined in detail by the VGU in the future.
Vorstudienlehrgang der Grazer Universitäten