"Ielts Essay Writing Guide"
Providing online provision for an IELTS preparation course through a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) Richard Gresswell August 2003 1. INTRODUCTION The project below looks at the steps taken in order to provide online support for students undertaking an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) preparation course at The Brudenell Centre, Park Lane College in Leeds. In particular it looks at the course design and the online support structure provided to meet the needs of the students. 1.1 Background to the project Having taught three IELTS preparation courses at the Brudenell Centre, Park Lane College in Leeds it became apparent that there were common obstacles to students reaching their objectives. Their objectives being either: o To gain at least a grade 6 in IELTS to enter university or o To gain at least a grade 7 IELTS in order to register with the General Medical Council. N.B. IELTS is an exam in which the four language skills are assesses i.e. reading, writing, listening and speaking. The mark ranges from 0 (non-user) to 9 (native speaker standard user). The grades required by the students equate to at least ESOL core curriculum level 2. (N.B. based on personal experience as opposed to official research). For further information have a look at the official IELTS website http://www.ielts.org/ Through feedback from students the main concerns raised were that: o Out of the four academic skills areas (reading, writing, speaking and listening) students struggled most with academic reading. o In the speaking and writing papers students often felt that they had the necessary linguistic and communicative skills but they found themselves achieving lower marks because they didn’t know WHAT to talk or write about i.e. language itself wasn’t a problem but subject matter was. o General lack of writing practice on the course. 1 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc To help students overcome these obstacles the following have been considered as possible solutions: o Design a thematic course in order to cover subject matter e.g. health, environment, science and technology etc and integrating exam technique and practice into each thematic unit. o Provide online provision through the college MLE to mirror the new thematically designed course. Such online provision could: o Help encourage students to develop a reading habit by guiding them to appropriate academic reading resources. o Make available further practice materials related to IELTS such as essay writing tasks and vocabulary exercises. o Help encourage more peer support, as students on the course will be able to use the MLE communication facility to email messages to each other and their tutor. o Guide students to particularly good English learning websites e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/ 1.2 Background to MLEs and VLEs What are VLEs and MLEs? The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) define VLEs and MLEs in a briefing paper as follows “while recognising that the world at large will continue to use terminology in different and often ambiguous ways the term Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is used to refer to the “online” interactions of various kinds which take place between learners and tutors. The JISC Steering Group has said that the term Managed Learning Environment (MLE) is used to include the whole range of information systems and processes of a college (including a VLE if it has one) that contribute directly, or indirectly, to learning and the management of that learning. At Park Lane College the system being used is known as an MLE as the online learning provision known as “The Learning Line” is connected to the college management information systems. Therefore students wishing to use the The Learning Line have to be enrolled on courses in order to be issued with a password. The Learning Line is accessed through the college website at www.parklanecoll.ac.uk Further information on MLEs and VLEs can be obtained from the JISC website www.jisc.ac.uk 2 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc 2.0 AIMS OF THE PROJECT To provide access to further suitable material to enable IELTS students enrolled on a course at the Brudenell Centre to further practice their language skills and read around topical issues. The online materials will be set up in order to mirror the newly designed thematic course on a weekly basis. 3.0 DEVELOPMENT OF THE MLE o Identifying student needs. o Designing a new course on a thematic basis. o Producing materials e.g. using Microsoft word, Hot Potatoes etc and identifying useful websites for students. o Learning how to upload materials to the MLE system and organise the materials into directories. o Testing to see that materials and links can be downloaded. o Evaluation of online materials by allowing students to access MLE and write their comments on a questionnaire. 3.1 Identifying student needs As outlined in the introduction the main concerns of the students have been: o Inability to cope with academic reading. o General lack of writing practice. o Lack of subject matter for the speaking and writing paper. These needs were evident through feedback from students (informal, class discussions etc) and from IELTS test results. 3.2 Designing a new thematic course (See appendix 1 for sample of course design) The new course was designed according to: o The students needs (focusing on a thematic basis to give students more ideas for speaking and writing) and focusing more on reading. o Number of hours and weeks (based on previous success of earlier courses) (11 weeks including one week for screening, enrolment and diagnostic testing and negotiation of learning plans, 9 hours per week). o Coursebook to be used – In this case Sue O’Connell – “Focus on IELTS”. I chose this book having worked with units from the book on previous course. Finding it to work well, suitable length to match course and set out thematically. 3 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc 3.3 Producing materials e.g. using Microsoft word, authoring software etc and identifying useful web links for students. After the course syllabus had been put together I could start producing materials to be put later on the MLE bearing in mind the syllabus and course design. The MLE was to be set up to mirror the course so that students could continue to work on further suitable materials after class which they can access from any computer connected to the Internet. The vast majority of the time was spent researching suitable websites. The web has a vast amount of potential material on it but finding appropriate websites can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. One reason why I feel the Internet is underused by students and tutors alike is due to the bewildering amount of material available and the time it takes to find something really useful. Therefore a lot of time was spent exploring possible websites for the MLE in order to save students’ time in the future. To do this I first established criteria in which those websites needed to meet to be deemed “suitable.” The following criteria was used: 1. How often is the website updated? Students need to keep having new material to read, work on etc. 2. How long is a typical text on the website? This is important as it is good practice for the students to read texts of about 2000 words (as in the IELTS exam). 3. Is the subject matter academic enough in content? – Important as the texts the students meet in the exam are taken from journals such as e.g. New Scientist. 4. How quickly does the website download? Very important as slow websites can easily frustrate and discourage students. 5. Is the website easy and clear to navigate? Well designed websites are easy to navigate and have clear links. 6. Is the language level of the texts suitable? Students at this level should be able to read most authentic texts, however some are overly academic and verbose and others badly written with inappropriate language. 3.4 Learning how to upload materials to the MLE system and organise the materials into directories In order to learn how to upload materials to the MLE I first had to be issued with passwords to have access the system. I then simply taught myself how to use the system using a tutorial produced by the college. After gaining access to the MLE and learning how to use the system I designed a tree structure that reflected the class course syllabus. (See appendix 2) Files were then uploaded from a computer on to the server. The files being materials I had created or simply hyperlinks to chosen websites. (See appendix 3) 4 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc Once on the server the files could be attached to any part of the tree directory I had set up earlier. (See appendix 4) 3.5 Testing to see that files can be downloaded Having uploaded the materials on to the server and attached them to the appropriate part of the tree directory I then entered “student view” and tested the links to see if the files downloaded. As previously mentioned the students access the materials on the MLE by going to the Park Lane website www.parklanecoll.ac.uk from there, they go to the “virtual campus” where they can log on. I discovered that on average files took 3-5 seconds to download. 3.6 Evaluating the MLE materials As the system is only at a developmental stage students do not have passwords and will only have so after they have enrolled or re-enrolled on an IELTS preparation course. For evaluation purposes I asked previous students and students who are going to reenrol for IELTS courses to evaluate the materials. I logged the students on and allowed them to navigate the IELTS MLE materials to see what their thoughts were about it and if they felt it had potential use. They recorded their responses on a questionnaire. (See appendix 5) 3.61 Evaluation Results 12 students helped evaluate the materials. The following responses were of most interest: o All the students have access to the Internet. o Most of the students though only have access to the Internet through the local library or at college. o All the students use a computer on a regular basis. o Most the students use the Internet often and some sometimes. o All the students said they would find the materials interesting. Most expressed an interest in the reading and writing links and felt it would be useful for exam preparation. o No comments were made about least useful areas except that some were concerned about having to wait for a password. o All students expect to use the communications facility that comes with the MLE system. (See appendix 6) o Students felt that the system could be improved with the addition of more materials. 5 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc 4.0 CONCLUSION Unfortunately at this stage the system has only been set up and piloted and obviously hasn’t had the chance to be fully tested. However many conclusions and hopes can be drawn from the work already done. These are: o The students expressed a strong interest in using the MLE and felt that it would help them with their studies. o From the evaluation it would seem that I could expect most of the students to have access to the Internet and use it on a regular basis. If I take this particular group of students as a representative sample. o Using a criteria can help to find appropriate websites o Uploading materials to an MLE will not take a tutor a great deal of time and could be worth the time. o Materials that have already been made for use in the classroom can be uploaded e.g. files made in Microsoft Word, Excel, Hot Potatoes etc. 5.0 RECOMMENDATIONS Online materials can be changed and edited on a daily / weekly basis. Once familiar with the MLE / VLE system creating a directory and uploading materials needn’t take up too much of a tutor’s time. Many FE colleges have some form of MLE or VLE system. Based on the work I’ve done and the time it has taken I would fully recommend tutors in ESOL taking advantage of the facilities they may have. Materials can be prepared using software familiar to many tutors such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Hot Potatoes etc. In addition the materials and links can be developed over a period of time taking into account materials that are popular / unpopular, useful etc. Also links that fail are no longer active can be removed. Students will come to you with websites that they like and you can add them to your MLE. Furthermore materials can be prepared for any ESOL core curriculum level. You may wish to read further about MLEs / VLEs. I have provided a list of further links below that I hope you will find useful. 6 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc FURTHER LINKS http://ferl.becta.org.uk Ferl is an information service for all staff working within the Post Compulsory Education sector. It aims to support individuals and organisations in making effective use of ILT (Information Learning Technologies). Ferl does this through a web based information service, conferences, publications and other events. Ferl is funded by the Learning and Skills Council and managed by Becta. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/ The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) supports further and higher education by providing strategic guidance, advice and opportunities to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to support teaching, learning, research and administration. JISC is funded by all the UK post-16 and higher education funding councils. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=mle_home Page from the above website focusing on MLEs and VLEs 7 D:\Docstoc\Working\pdf\9d3ee64f-3f4f-4fe1-9645-4926e29816dc.doc