(Concrete) Pieces of the Puzzle: Instruments and Procedures for the Evaluation of the Effects of Immersion Learning

William P. Rivers, Bryn Mawr College and The National Foreign Language Center

Immersion learning environments, whether study abroad, summer intensive, short-term, community-based, or even campus language tables and residences, are a familiar and indispensable part of post-secondary language learning programs in the United States. However, the value, real or perceived, of immersion varies widely according to the type of immersion and the quality of the program. The Immersion Training Evaluation Kit, developed by the National Foreign Language Center and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, provides a framework to evaluate and design programs, based on the type of immersion and the expected benefit from the immersion. Those benefits include: changes in interlanguage, including gains in proficiency (Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg, 1993; Liskin-Gasparro, Wunnava, and Henry, 1991; Davidson, Rivers, and Marshall, forthcoming) as well as fluency, sociolinguistic competence (Frank, 1998), and vocabulary; changes in learning behaviors (Brecht, Frank, Keesling, and Rivers, 1997); changes in affective behaviors (ibid., Frank, 1997; Pellegrino, 1998; Blender, 1997); and changes in language use behaviors (Blender, 1997; Chao, 1998).

This paper details the multiple approaches required to document the effects of immersion training. Results of quantitative, qualitative, and ethnographic procedures and instruments are detailed, including: proficiency tests, self-assessment instruments for proficiency (Oscarson, 1984, 1989; Clark, 1981); and instruments and procedures for gathering data on behavioral changes. The ITEK provides a set of surveys for learners, teachers, and program administrators to assess changes in learning behaviors, affective behaviors, and language use behaviors. As well, an array of qualitative data collection instruments for self report of learner behaviors is included, as is a set of ethnographic procedures for external researchers and evaluators of immersion programs. The use of these instruments by immersion programs in the U.S. and abroad, including US Government programs in several languages and academic programs in Russia, is described. The results obtained include notable increases in learner autonomy and self-managed learning, particularly among experienced learners; mixed linguistic gains and losses and correspondingly mixed affective behaviors in homestay environments abroad; and positive affective results from short-term community-based immersions in Brighton Beach.