This paper discusses the potential of language centres in higher education as laboratories for innovation. Despite their hybrid character as central service providers that are also defined by their teaching, their positioning at the academic periphery, and the lack of a mandate to do academic research, language centres still have an obligation to conduct research as a means of promoting innovation. The design-based research (DBR) approach in learning and teaching, in which teaching stakeholders examine learning processes in real situation, offers a suitable opportunity for language centres to overcome the restrictions placed upon them. DBR can be done using existing resources and the innovation potential of a language centre’s teaching staff. The leadership and management of the language centre must be made responsible for providing and/or enabling the necessary structural, material, and cultural conditions for such research. This paper discusses the DBR approach at language centres in higher education and its impact on leadership. It then gives two examples of the successful implementation of DBR at the Language Center of UZH and ETH Zurich.
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