Learning through interaction in synchronous and asynchronous modes.
The Heriot-Watt Pre-sessional English (PSE) Online programmes are almost finished for 2020 with materials delivery and assessment now complete. In migrating the campus-based programmes online, we used a flipped learning approach. Bishop & Verleger (2013) provide a working definition of this concept by contrasting activities which require human interaction with activities which can be automated using technology. (see image) For programmes delivered wholly online the contrast would be synchronous versus asynchronous activities.
Interpreting candidates beliefs about EAP
I’ve just completed my last round of recruitment for Pre-sessional English (PSE) teachers, who will start teaching the final PSE Online programme 2020 from this week. We’ve taken them through a week of induction, which has allowed me to assess whether I made the right decisions in appointing them. The first week of teaching coming up will also be a good test of their ability to deliver the programme as it is designed, rather than as they imagine it should be designed. This final programme is so short (5 weeks of teaching and three days of assessment) that I really need teachers to quickly get to grips with the underlying principles and be able to deliver them.
Challenging negative evaluations of EAP & EAP practitioners
I read the abstract of a recently published article posted to the BALEAP discussion list, which contained the sentence: ‘Although EAP has traditionally been blind to knowledge, focusing instead on language and skills development (Monbec, 2018), EAP courses are well placed to make explicit to students legitimated language practice AND legitimated knowledge practice.’ It made my blood boil – always a good trigger for a blog post.
It is an example of an argument that was traditionally – i.e. in the dark ages before enlightenment – called ‘strawman’, I guess now called strawperson. In this type of argument, the writer sets up a spurious claim, ‘EAP focuses on language and skills development’, weakly supported (Monbec, 2018 – who?) in order to knock it over with their own superior position. This same strawperson argument was levelled at EAP as an ‘academic socialisation’ model in the early days of Academic Literacies (Lea and Street, 1998). It was critiqued by Wingate & Tribble (2012), who noted that criticisms of EAP refer to ‘practices which might still have been in place at the time of the authors’ seminal publication (1998) [but] do not take into account Genre/EAP’s founding principles, recent literature and innovation in current instructional practice’ (p.488). I would suggest that the writer cited above is guilty of exactly the same thing as Lea and Street in 1998.
Reflecting on what counts as authentic listening in online teaching
In migrating Pre-sessional English (PSE) online, we’ve come up against the notion of authenticity and in particular what it means to say a listening is authentic. In the on-campus version of the programme, we had regular live lectures, delivered by PhD students sharing their research, together with a number of lessons formed around a video-recorded lecture, perhaps a TED Talk or an inaugural lecture given by a newly ‘enobled’ professor. In the online version of the programme, we’ve adhered more closely to the coursebook, Access EAP: Frameworks, which contains a variety of scripted audio lessons (no video), often divided into short preparatory extracts before a longer (5-10 minute) stretch of uninterrupted speech. To what extent can any of these listenings be considered to be authentic?
Understanding the metaphorical nature of teaching.
During this Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve been managing the migration of our Pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes online. I’ve been extremely busy – busier than a one-armed paper hanger with the itch. In order to make you understand just how busy I’ve been, I have to link this general adjective to a contextualised image that I expect you to recognise as an example of exceptional busyness. In other words, I’m using a metaphor to link a general concept to a real world instance. In their seminal work, Lakoff & Johnson (1980). pointed out that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, in language, thought and action. Our conceptual system, i.e. how we make sense of the world and relate to other people in it, is fundamentally metaphorical. The key to becoming aware of the system is through language.
Working in partnerhsip with students to enable them to show their performance through assessment.
Lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been in place for three weeks in the UK with no prospect of it ending anytime soon. At my institution, we are now planning to move our three summer pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes entirely online and to assess them there as well. In the early days of lockdown, there were many useful exchanges on the BALEAP Jiscmail discussion list with colleagues sharing their experience of delivering online teaching & assessment for pre-sessional programmes. At the same time my institution was going into overdrive to reformat end of semester degree-level assessments, for delivery in the May-June assessment diet. There was much sharing of good practice and principles for secure and reliable assessments that were fair to students and maintained the quality of degree qualifications. Last week Advance HE, the professional body that supports academic excellence in the UK, ran a webinar: Moving assessment on-line: Key principles for inclusion, pedagogy and practice. It was a model of good practice in hosting webinars and delivered clear messages about assessing online.
The pleasures and benefits of living a life of the mind.
Statistics on the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19 are rising inexorably in the UK as front line health workers struggle to secure enough personal protective equipment and to be tested to determine whether they have had the virus and can go back to work. However, the statistics remained just that, impossibly large numbers, until one day the number of deaths was 208 + one person I had worked with professionally over many years. Suddenly, this death was no longer a statistic but a very real loss of someone whose professionalism and friendship I have valued enormously. It’s not too strong to say I am professionally diminished by this loss.
This a guest post from Jenifer Spencer, co-author of EAP Essentials.
In January, I signed on to the Coventry University FutureLearn MOOC Understanding Dictionaries just as the corona storm started to develop. It has been an enriching experience to me as a teacher and a student of the language. The course was excellent and informative, but added to this, I gained first-hand experience of acquiring knowledge and developing my own skills through this mode of learning. As departments and staff join the rush to put courses online, this was a timely reminder of the potential value of online study, from a student perspective. Despite having researched, developed and delivered a range of online courses over my teaching career, I realised I had never actually undertaken a course of online study myself!
Opportunities and experiences of moving to online pre-sessional teaching.
The Covid-19 pandemic has the UK in lockdown with the cancellation of sporting and cultural events and the closure of schools, sports facilities, museums and art galleries. Those with desk-based jobs at the university have been asked to work from home, the library is shut and the campus may soon close completely. It would be easy to panic in these extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, supermarket shelves are empty of products such as toilet rolls and pasta, and shoppers are being restricted in the amount of some products they can buy. However frightening the situation feels, it is still possible to see opportunities that would not otherwise be available. Focusing on these helps me to stay positive and deal more easily with the prescribed social isolation.
Helping students to gain confidence to move away from close paraphrasing of sources.
I teach a class to Foundation students called Text Practices, which is designed to move students from focusing on what a text is about, the topic, to understanding what a text is doing, which is how lecturers and researchers at university view texts. I’ve just marked the first assignment and it has made me realise how little impact I’ve actually had on helping students to escape from the prison of the texts they want to use. With one or two exceptions, the students ignored my advice to write more simply than the sources they read in order to show what they have understood. When they borrowed ideas from sources, these were often ’patchwritten’ or ‘plagiphrased’ by copying sentences and substituting synonyms for some words.