ARCHIVED - 2. Methodology

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2.1 Advisory Committee

At the outset of the study, an advisory committee was established to provide overall guidance and advice. The Committee was co-chaired by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, and the then President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), Claire Morris.

Members of the Advisory Committee included senior representatives from universities, education and research organizations, the private sector, and the federal and provincial/territorial governments (see the Appendix for the list of members). Members brought to the Committee their own knowledge and experience in the language-learning area as well as the perspective of their organization.

The Advisory Committee met three times between March 2008 and April 2009. The Committee discussed the overall objectives, scope and methodology of the study, and provided input and advice on the development of the survey of institutions and the planning of the focus groups and key-informant interviews. It examined the results and findings from the study and discussed possible next steps and ways to move forward.

2.2 Survey of institutions

The study was undertaken in two phases.

In the first phase, a survey was conducted by the firm Ipsos Reid to gather information and data on the nature and extent of current opportunities for second-language learning in Canadian universities.

A detailed questionnaire was developed seeking information on the following:

  • university programs and courses to learn the second language; 
  • second-language courses that are linked to specific academic disciplines;
  • the availability of courses in academic areas, other than language and literature, taught in the second language;
  • language-learning supports and assistance, including exchanges; 
  • collaboration between institutions; and
  • university second-language learning policies, requirements and current initiatives.

The survey was sent to all 96 members of the AUCC, and was in the field between June 5 and September 22, 2008. A total of 84 institutions completed and returned the questionnaire, which represents an excellent response rate.

A few caveats should be pointed out regarding the data collected through the survey.

First, it should be noted that the survey contained a relatively large number of questions and dealt with issues that were often complex in nature—for example, making distinctions between courses for the teaching and learning of the second language, courses taught in the second language, immersion-type programs and second-language courses linked to specific academic subject areas.

Institutions therefore responded to the survey questions according to their own understanding and definition of these and other terms—for example, whether their programs and courses were at the beginner, intermediate or more advanced levels; or what constituted a second-language learning policy.

Nonetheless, within these limitations, the survey results provide an overall portrait of current second-language learning opportunities at universities in Canada and a wealth of information about them and related supports and activities.

2.3 Focus groups and key-informant interviews

The second phase of the study consisted of focus groups and key-informant interviews. The objective was to complement the quantitative data and information from the survey with more qualitative information based on the hands-on experience of students and university faculty and staff and the knowledge and perspective of language experts and other key persons and organizations.

Focus groups

OCOL contracted the firm Goss Gilroy to plan, organize and conduct the focus groups. A total of 15 focus groups were held in late fall 2008 and winter 2009. The focus groups were conducted separately with students and with university professors and administrators.

The focus groups included a mix of students, with a wide variety of experiences in second-language learning at the elementary and secondary levels and in the type of program or course they were taking or had taken at university. Separate interviews were also held with students who had dropped out of second-language programs at university. The faculty focus groups included second-language teachers, professors from different disciplines and program administrators.

A protocol was developed for use in the focus groups, with questions seeking information on factors motivating students to pursue second-language learning, what was effective in second-language programs, how they could be improved and related supports and activities.

The focus groups were held at eight institutions in different locations across Canada, selected to provide information from a variety of regional, linguistic and institutional perspectives and experiences. The eight institutions can be categorized as follows:

  • Bilingual institution (1): University of Ottawa / Université d’Ottawa
  • English-language institutions outside Quebec (4): Memorial University, Simon Fraser University, University of Alberta, University of Toronto
  • English-language institution in Quebec (1): McGill University
  • French-language institution in Quebec (1): Université Laval
  • French-language institution in Alberta (1): Campus Saint-Jean

Key-informant interviews

During the same period, over 25 interviews were held with senior university officials, second-language learning experts, federal and provincial/territorial officials, and representatives from education and other relevant organizations.

An interview questionnaire was developed and shared with participants prior to the interview, identifying key areas of interest and concern. A set of general questions were asked of all persons being interviewed, and more specific questions were asked according to the responsibilities, knowledge or experience of the individual.

2.4 Structure of the report

The report is organized as follows:

  • First, the report outlines the current opportunities for second- language learning offered at Canadian universities, and identifies gaps and shortcomings.
  • It then looks at the demand and need for increased and improved opportunities.
  • The report goes on to examine what is known about what works in second-language programs, how current programs could be improved, and key issues and challenges.
  • It then considers ways to move forward, proposing broad directions and areas for attention, identifying potential models and approaches, and summarizing suggestions that were put forward in the course of the study as to next steps and possible future action by different parties.
  • The report concludes with a series of recommendations by the Commissioner of Official Languages addressed to institutions, governments and other relevant parties.


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