by Sharday Mosurinjohn
8th March 2012
Christine Doe’s love of travel has taken her to the other side of the world, exposing her to new languages, and ultimately, to Queen’s for a PhD in Education (major in Cognitive Studies, minor in Curriculum Studies). During her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Biology at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Christine spent a summer in Germany where she worked in a factory and strengthened the language skills she’d gained from taking several undergraduate German courses. After earning her B.A.Sc., Doe knew she wanted to keep travelling so she moved to South Korea to teach English. “I went to teach at a private language school where I got two days of training,” says Doe, “and on the third day, I was given a daily kindergarten class with students ranging from four to seven years old. I learned a lot. Quickly.” The new teacher wound up staying in the country for three years, becoming conversational in Korean and moving from teaching youngsters to holding a position as a “visiting professor” at Yeungnam University. There, she taught everything from technical writing, to credit English, to English for Biology. These teaching experiences plus Doe’s time in Germany sensitized her to the challenges and rewards of teaching and learning new languages.
“It was hard to come back,” Doe remembers, but after two years at Yeungnam, she returned to Canada for an MA in Applied Language Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University. She was thrilled to find her enthusiasm matched by her MA supervisor Dr. Janna Fox, who introduced her to an academic, professional, and social community that eventually led to her PhD research at Queen’s.
Here, Doe is close to finishing a project focusing on the validation of a large-scale assessment used for diagnostic purposes. In her research she considers three key stakeholder perspectives of the rater, teacher, and student. Once Doe realized “that tests can be a mediator for language learning,” she designed a project with the help of supervisor Dr. Liying Cheng that would ask how the results of English language tests, adapted for diagnostic purposes, like the CAEL (Canadian Academic English Language Assessment) can be used to foster students’ learning. Traditional approaches to assessment only consider how much a student has learned and whether or not they will succeed in Canadian universities, says Doe, “so my dissertation offers a way of addressing gaps in students’ ability and an individual teacher’s curriculum.” Importantly, her project also adds an in-depth student perspective to the teacher perspective that’s already been explored. Doe says this theme of inclusion and collaboration has been mirrored in her own grad school experience at Queen’s.
“My supervisor, Dr. Cheng, has been a great mentor,” says Doe. And mentorship has been at the heart of this degree path. “There is a ton of faculty support here. But also, as you progress, you support the newer Education PhDs and Master’s students. It helps to feel like there’s less of a distinction between MA and PhD students.” Some of these connections are more on the professional development side of things, like weekly discussion groups, or like the student association, GRAPEs (Graduate Research in Assessment and Program Evaluation), that Doe and a colleague helped to set up. Some connections are made through social events, like potlucks and holiday dinners. And sometimes community-building spans the professional and the social, like attending conferences and symposia. Last summer, Doe traveled to China with her supervisor’s other students for a symposium arranged by Dr. Cheng on the impact of test use on students. In addition to fostering international linkages, Doe had the opportunity to spend a week of quality time with a fellow Education student’s family in northern China.
Doe also recalls fond memories of traveling to an annual conference in San Antonio as a bloc of 8 former and current students: “other schools recognize the Queen’s presence because we always come together!” Sometimes, she laughs, other students can hardly believe the way that the Queen’s Education students collaborate. At a national education conference, where Doe and her co-presenters opted to list their authorship alphabetically to keep things egalitarian, other presenters were shocked to see so little rivalry between them.
When asked where she sees herself post-defence (planned for this summer!) Doe says she hopes to take this ethic of collaboration into an academic position. “I’m looking for a faculty position that will support my research but that will also recognize the value of teaching. I want to inspire other people about language testing, help improve language testing, and make it more fruitful for students’ learning.”