Methods in Linguistics: The course I recall every day

The course gave me a good foundation for my job (Photographer: Sundaralakshmi Kannan)

After an excellent start to the “English as a Global Language” module in the Winter Semester of 2017/2018, I was counting the days until the registration for the Master’s course Qualitative and Quantitative Digital Research Methods taught by Dr Matthias Hofmann. A year and a half later, I want to share what made the Methods course so special.

This course was the first I thought of when I heard about the Gute Lehre (Good Teaching Practice) series because I have been using the skills we acquired in it on a daily basis. I recall it when I am transcribing and annotating interviews or computing statistical tests in R for my job as a scientific assistant; I think about what we learned when I read the research questions and design of a paper; I can never fill out a questionnaire online without contemplating the underlying thought process (or the lack thereof); and I it’s thanks to this course that I am able to understand data science jokes on Twitter.

The seminar was pleasantly challenging as it involved weekly homework readings and discussions and exercises in class where the students first had the chance to digest the materials on their own and then received expert input. The reading materials and class notes (presentations) were conveniently made available on the course website, and I have returned to it several times afterwards to find texts we have discussed. This makes the course an example of the “blended learning” model, which is considered very efficient, since it delivers part of the content online before the class and saves more in-class time for practice, discussions and questions. Although at some points we were struggling to grasp and explain concepts like “ethnographic linguistics”, Dr Hofmann managed to guide us through the theoretical sources in our group discussion. His connection to the students was how I would imagine a good university lecturer to be – neither trying to be too relatable or “one of us”, nor detached and unsympathetic. He effortlessly gained our respect and made us care about the course, our responsibilities and performance – one of the most demanding tasks for every teacher.

A highlight of the course was the examination because it consisted of five homework assignments during the semester, which saved us time during the exam/paper period and allowed us to practice more of the skills demanded in the field. In English Studies, we mostly write term papers and homework assignments instead of sitting exams because many of the future jobs for which we are qualified are related to academia (e.g. education, research) and content creation (e.g. translation, copywriting), where we need to be able to develop and carry out such projects. The assignments we had were thus very suitable for the course format and involved tasks that each one of us would face in the development of our Master’s theses and in a wide range of professions. We were thus prepared for planning a research project and describing and analysing data (amongst other things).

Dr. Hofmann’s Methods course allows students to find answers to the difficult questions “Where do I start?” and “How do I proceed?” It also combines well with the other two additional seminars in the Linguistics specialisation (English Variation World-Wide and English Language Systems) and I would definitely recommend the whole module.

 

Marina

(Master English & American Studies, 5th semester)

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