English Language Studies joins Comparative Media Studies/Writing

The move places all of MIT’s Institute-wide writing and communications instruction under one academic roof.

English Language Studies (ELS), MIT’s unit for supporting the language needs of the Institute’s large bilingual and international populations, has officially moved to be under the umbrella of Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W). With this addition, all of MIT’s Institute-wide writing and communications instruction are now under one academic roof.

Professor Eric Klopfer, head of Comparative Media Studies/Writing, says he was “delighted to welcome the ELS program,” adding: “I see this as a useful expansion of our program, which helps consolidate these related programs in one place.”

Created over 40 years ago and until now part of the Global Languages section in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, ELS has been critical to the success of undergraduates and graduate students whose first language is not English. Rather than the typical university model of simply providing tutors to students still developing their college-level English, ELS is integrated into MIT’s education more broadly. It offers credit-bearing subjects targeting skills like expository writing, public speaking, pronunciation, and field-specific communication, and students taking three of these or related subjects can craft a HASS concentration. It administers the English Evaluation Test, a pre-semester assessment of roughly 300 incoming international graduate students, to appraise their written and spoken English and recommend appropriate ELS subjects.

Similarly, ELS plays a role in CMS/W’s First-Year Essay Evaluation, which places new MIT undergraduates in communication-intensive writing classes, including ELS’s 21G.222 (Expository Writing for Bilingual Students).

The integration of language instruction into MIT education generally — and ELS into CMS/W specifically — is fairly unique: unlike most colleges’ approaches, ELS classes are offered for credit in parallel with, rather than as prerequisites for, major coursework, and CMS/W facilitates this by overseeing MIT’s communication requirement. Global Languages has recently refocused on non-English language education and travel abroad, making it an apt time for ELS’s English-focused work to switch homes.

Lecturer Eric Grunwald is the interim head of ELS. “It’s an exciting move for us,” he says. “We’ll miss the camaraderie and constant pedagogical cross-pollination we shared with the other language groups in Global Languages, but like CMS/W we care about communication, particularly academic and professional English and helping students deploy those well, so it’s a great fit in that way. We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.”

Grunwald developed a background in STEM as an undergraduate and afterward lived in Germany. In addition to his interests in academic and second-language writing and reading, he has a strong interest in creative writing and worked as managing editor at the esteemed Boston-based literary magazine AGNI. A published author of short stories and translation, Grunwald developed the ELS subject 21G.240 (Imagining English: Creative Writing for Bilingual Students).

The other lecturer making the move from Global Languages to CMS/W is A. C. Kemp, whose interests are in academic and professional writing, teacher training, academic integrity, and vocabulary acquisition. She has written over 300 columns on slang and colloquial language for the Slang City website since 2002, and in 2008 published a humor book on obscure vocabulary, “The Perfect Insult for Every Occasion: Lady Snark’s Guide to Common Discourtesy.” Kemp agreed with Grunwald, saying “This is a terrific fit for us. We and CMS/W have a lot of common interests, especially with the Writing and Communication Center and Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication.”

The Writing and Communication Center Kemp mentions is a CMS/W unit led by Elena Kallestinova that hosts one-on-one consultations, workshops, and online resources for MIT community members. Kallestinova says the incorporation of ELS into CMS/W means they can “learn from each other, share effective strategies and resources, and come up with joint initiatives to engage the vast multilingual and international community of MIT students and scholars.”

ELS has already had a long-running collaboration with another CMS/W group: Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP), which teaches MIT’s foundational writing subjects and partners with MIT faculty and departments to teach written, oral, and visual communication. Like Kallestinova, WRAP Director Suzanne Lane is excited about the chance to work more closely with ELS colleagues. “WRAP and the ELS program have a long history of collaborating and learning from each other. ELS plays a role in the First-year Essay Evaluation, which WRAP administers, and both programs offer communications-intensive humanities and writing subjects, so we’ve often collaborated about pedagogy as well. We expect to find more ways to work together to enrich the communication instruction we provide to MIT students at all levels.”

Even beyond its departmental spaces, Grunwald and Kemp have found ways to connect ELS to other parts of MIT. They have worked with the International Scholars Office and OpenCourseWare (with Kemp’s course RES.21G-001(The User-friendly Classroom), and ELS has supported teacher training capacities, such as Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science in MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.

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