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Excerpt from Traditions and Transitions: Curricula for German Studies edited by John L. Plews and Barbara Schmenk

From the Introduction

Traditions and Transitions: Curricula for German Studies is a unique and timely collection of essays by Canadian and international experts in the field of German as a foreign or second language and culture education. It is devoted to wide-ranging discussions on why and how curricula for post-secondary German should evolve. The genesis of the book was the similarly titled conference “Traditions and Transitions: German Curricula,” held at the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, University of Waterloo, on 26—28 August 2010. The first of its kind ever to be held in Canada, this conference provided a unique opportunity to gather an emerging network of scholars for a focused exchange of ideas and to examine critically both long-standing and innovative approaches to curriculum thinking and program design for teaching German at the tertiary level in Canada and elsewhere. The conference aimed to broaden the visibility and scope of scholarship on curriculum for post-secondary German, particularly in Canada, by emphasizing the fundamental importance of curriculum development and curriculum understanding. Taking up the challenge set by the conference to mark a juncture in the field’s previously limited scholarly attention to curriculum, the contributors to the present collection explore various aspects of the conceptual or material foundations of traditional or new curriculum goals and orientations; content and materials selection and sequencing; syllabus or course design; curriculum enactment in the disciplinary interrelations between teachers and students; language, culture, and place; classroom pedagogy, interaction, and activities; and program evaluation and promotion.

Of Pastimes and Past Times
This collection of essays is unique, since curriculum, as a fundamental object of professional activity and academic study, remains under-researched, undertheorized, under-reported, often unacknowledged, and frequently even neglected in the field of German Studies. Most curriculum work in the field takes place informally in collegial conversation in department corridors, in the form of new course proposals based on a professor’s area of research specialization, or as revisions to the syllabuses of language classes made on the initiative of a ”language program coordinator” attentive to the reconfigurations of new textbooks or new editions of old textbooks; of course, some colleagues also dedicate a considerable amount of time to authoring textbooks. This everyday curriculum work concerns the development of a single course or a brief series of courses; attention to intra-program articulation guarantees that the respective contents of existing and proposed courses do not overlap too much and that planned language acquisition proceeds according to distinct steps.

A broader consideration of curriculum development occurs when departments introduce specialized or alternative major or minor programs—something that has become a slight trend in recent decades (see Guse, 2010; Prokop, 1996; Schmenk, 2010; and below); here, various existing courses are grouped into particular academic trajectories, perhaps with the addition of an introductory course and specialized seminar or in combination with courses appropriated from neighbouring disciplines, or the language of the instruction and study materials is switched from German to English while the courses are made more broadly thematic and for general interest (see below). The planning and implementation of such development occur within the single departmental unit or language program and are tracked statistically, while critical evaluation is rare. Although this kind of curriculum—or, rather, course—development is often mirrored across institutions, any trans-institutional discussion and coordinated action would be unusual.

Meanwhile, curriculum scholarship is, on occasion, formally presented at national and international conferences, mostly in the form of overviews and reports. Some discussions are published in journals for teaching German or modern languages, albeit usually as solitary articles. Again, the focus tends to be on a single course, with outlines of classroom activities and assignments. The articulation of the course in the program, the program as a whole, student perspectives, experiences, and interpretations, and the theoretical, pedagogical, and critical underpinnings, are less explored in this scholarship. On the whole, more critical understandings of curriculum do not feature in the everyday operations of, program development in, or academic scholarship from the field.