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Blending the English Programme for Sports Science Students: a Win-win Situation for Engagement?

La mise en place d’un dispositif hybride en Licence STAPS : une situation gagnante en terme d’engagement ?
Susan Birch-Bécaas, Laüra Hoskins et Melanie White

Résumés

Cet article décrit la transformation en un dispositif hybride d’un cours d’anglais pour des étudiants de 3e année de Licence STAPS qui fait partie du Collège Sciences de l’Homme à l’université de Bordeaux. Des modules en ligne permettent aux étudiants de préparer en amont les séances en présentiel en petits groupes qui sont consacrées à l’interaction orale, par le biais d’activités d’apprentissage par la tâche. Nous décrivons ici les raisons qui ont justifié la transformation du cours, la structure du dispositif hybride mis en place et les activités proposées, avant d’analyser le feedback fourni par les étudiants et les enseignants. L’objectif de notre étude est d’examiner l’impact qu’a eu la transformation du cours sur l’apprenant. Nous évaluons notamment l’influence de cette transformation sur l’engagement des étudiants et tentons de définir si le nouveau format du cours encourage ces derniers à devenir plus responsables de leur apprentissage. Nous abordons aussi les réactions des enseignants et la façon dont ce nouveau cours a modifié leur rôle dans la classe.

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1. Introduction

1The Département Langues et Cultures (DLC) at the University of Bordeaux provides specialised language courses for students in the Health Sciences and Human Sciences. Research in the domain of languages for specialists of other disciplines in France has tended to focus more on English for medical purposes (EMP), legal English and English for science and technology (EST) rather than human sciences. In our language department, it would also be true to say that courses in the health sciences are traditionally more established and attract more permanent teaching staff compared to courses in psychology, sociology and sports science for example. These courses have been harder to implement for several reasons (large numbers of students, heterogeneous language levels, diverse student needs, timetabling constraints, reliance on temporary teaching staff…). However, the course for first-year undergraduates in psychology, sociology and sports science was recently overhauled (Hoskins).

2In this article we aim to analyse the necessary transformation that was put in place for a third‑year course in sports science and the way it exemplifies the challenges of teaching English to students who are specialists of other disciplines in human and social sciences. Indeed, while English courses were first implemented in sports sciences at the same time as in other human and social sciences specialties, such as sociology or psychology, the specific needs of sports science students and the exact nature of the languages-cultures concerned were not thoroughly investigated. Our redesign of the course and its transformation into a blended learning system have been a response to this need to formalize the languages-cultures that sports science students need to apprehend in their English course, and how the latter meets some of the challenges faced by the teaching of English for specialists of other disciplines of human and social sciences.

3This article will explore the recent transformation of the English programme with a special focus on the third‑year course. The whole programme needed to be modified because it was proving unsatisfactory for both teachers and students. The previous format consisted of a total of 12h of face‑to‑face instruction per semester, spread over six two-hour sessions, with groups of some 40 students. The teaching and learning activities consisted mainly of listening and reading comprehension tasks, with some communicative activities. The large group sizes had made it difficult to incentivise attendance through quality oral interaction and continuous assessment. Evaluation was based entirely on a final exam that bore little relation to the work completed in class. Teachers of the 2016-17 cohort reported difficulties getting students to focus on the receptive tasks offered and implementing communicative activities because “there were too many students and too much noise”. They also encountered recurring classroom management issues (students chatting, looking at their phones and a general lack of participation). There was no differentiation, with some students understanding very little and others finding the materials too easy. Amid these conditions, students turned away from classes and levels of absenteeism were high – often less than 10 students present on a regular basis in 2017-18. Furthermore, relying heavily on temporary staff meant that it was difficult to harmonise the curriculum with teachers staying rarely longer than one semester. As a department, we felt that staff resources and student experience were not meeting satisfactory standards and that a new system should be put into place.

  • 1 Our proposed translation for : “Dans la définition que je retiens pour la formation hybride en lang (...)
  • 2 Our proposed translation for : “Cela grâce à l’inscription de ces séances dans un scénario pédagogi (...)

4The entire English programme for second and third‑year sport science students was redesigned in a blended learning format, combining face‑to‑face sessions with computer-mediated activities. Following Nissen’s definition of the specificity of blended learning language courses, the online modules and the face‑to‑face classes follow a common pedagogical scenario: “ In the definition that I retain for blended language courses, the articulation between the in-class and distance modes within a common pedagogical scenario is a fundamental aspect, because it is this articulation that brings coherence to the whole programme.1 (Nissen 4); with the face‑to‑face one-hour sessions devoted to oral interaction: “This, thanks to the insertion of the sessions within a global pedagogical scenario where, for instance, online preparations before class can be done, and individual work partly transferred as distance work, which makes it possible to dedicate more in-class time to collective interactive activities.2 (Nissen 2).

  • 3 Our proposed translation for : “L’impact est d’autant plus fort que la tâche nécessite une interdép (...)

5A team of four permanent teachers worked together to re-design the second and third‑year programme. The idea was to maintain the number of hours per student but to blend the face‑to‑face sessions with modules on the Moodle learning platform, making it possible to halve the number of students in class to groups of 20 and therefore facilitating interaction in these smaller groups. The classes and online units were organized in parallel so that receptive skills could be targeted online via text and video input and productive skills could be developed in class, via collaborative communication tasks. Flipping the classroom in this way could enable the students to prepare for the “in-class” tasks. It also means that students can repeat the activities as many times as they wish and paves the way for more student-centred learning as they deconstruct elements to re-construct meaning. The individual activities are designed to draw students’ attention to certain grammatical and lexical features. A task-based approach in third‑year classes led to student production of a podcast in semester 1 and a capsule video in semester 2. Encouraging them to work in groups of 2 or 3 for these final tasks leads to the emergence of a community of learning, while creating an interdependence that reinforces collaboration and interaction: “The impact is all the more important when the task requires interdependency, that is to say an interaction between the members of the group to make decisions, evaluate work accomplished, and define the roles to be shared”3 (Cosnefoy and Jézégou 3). The final exam was replaced by continuous assessment. Table 1 provides and overview of the English programme for Sports Science students from 1st to 3rd year.

Table 1. Overview of the English for Sports Science Programme

1st Year

2nd Year

3rd Year

Skills

Learning to learn, receptive skills, writing skills

Learning to learn,
receptive skills, writing, oral interaction skills

Learning to learn,
receptive skills, writing, oral interaction skills, oral expression skills

Organisation

Semester 2
Level 1 – (A1) 20h face‑to‑face sessions, 10 x 2h sessions
Level 2 – (A2/B1) 20h online learning, 5 x 4h-modules
Level 3 – (B2/C1/C2) idem
Optional face‑to‑face sessions for A1/A2 (10 x 1-3h per for each semester)

Semester 1 & 2
12h per semester, 6 x 2h modules – 1h online, 1h face‑to‑face

Semester 1 & 2
12h per semester, 6 x 2h modules – 1h online, 1h face‑to‑face

Learning activities

Reading, listening, grammar, vocabulary and phonology activities online.
Learning diary.

Reading, listening, grammar, vocabulary, phonology activities online.
Learning diary.
Communicative activities and oral interaction in class.

Reading, listening, grammar, vocabulary, phonology activities online.
Learning diary.
Communicative activities, oral interaction and task preparation in class.

Assessment

Semester 2
Continuous Assessment:
40% online activity completion
60% learning diary

Semester 1 & 2
Continuous Assessment:
40% online activity completion and class attendance
60% quality of oral interaction in class and of learning diary

Semester 1 & 2
Continuous Assessment:
40% online activity completion and class attendance
60% final task (podcast in S1, video in S2)

  • 4 Our proposed translation for : “ des enseignants qui n’ont pas participé à la conception de la form (...)

6Specific attention will be given to the third‑year programme for which student and teacher feedback was gathered after the first semester of its implementation. We will further describe our rationale in re-designing this new course, then detail the course architecture and activities, before finally analysing feedback from students gathered by way of a questionnaire and teacher perceptions from a semi-structured interview. This feedback will also allow us to analyse the user-friendliness of the course from a teacher point of view, since one of the teachers interviewed took no part in the actual designing of the course. She is therefore what Nissen calls a second-generation tutor (“teachers who haven’t participated in the conception of the course but who are taking part in it, and about how they make the course theirs4) and has had to familiarize herself with the blended format and course material without having had a hand in its creation.

2. Rationale

7One of our objectives in re-designing the course was to encourage greater student engagement with resources and more active participation in the classroom with communicative tasks related to the students’ disciplinary and professional needs. The course materials (face‑to‑face and online) were designed to appeal to the students’ disciplinary knowledge, interests and skills (Little, Dam, Legenhausen) and enable all students, whatever their language proficiency, to bring something to the classroom. The new course also attempts to cover Little’s three interacting principles for success in language teaching “learner involvement; learner reflection and target language use” (Little 23). This approach also makes it possible to shift the teacher’s role to that of facilitator. The student feedback on the face‑to‑face element of the course will be analysed in this light. A further aim was to create content and teaching and learning activities that would be perceived as pertinent and useful by the students. The students’ perceptions will depend, of course, on “quality of particular resources and the degree to which they promise to fulfil individual learning aims” (Trinder 98). This aspect will also be examined in the students’ responses to the questionnaire.

8We also wanted to encourage students to take on more responsibility for their learning (Holec). As Little reminds us, this means working “not necessarily on their own but for themselves” (Little 14). With the blended learning course, students are given more flexibility on when and how they engage and a chance to reflect on their learning process. There is thus a complementarity between online, individual exercises and collaborative group tasks in class which means that students are both engaging in “meaningful social activities” and also reflecting on the language and practicing individually (Narcy-Combes and McAllister 4). The idea was to foster a community of practice in order to increase student engagement, thanks to “multiple forms of linguistic scaffolding” (Little, Dam, Legenhausen 51) online, “simple, non-threatening tasks to perform in pairs” in class (53) and “an understanding that language use is the only path to success in language learning” (52).

9In this study we take an action research approach to analyse the outcomes of the course redesign. User data concerning activity completion was extracted from the Moodle platform and an evaluation questionnaire was administered digitally to the learners. Finally, we gathered the teachers’ perspectives through email exchanges. These data enable us to examine to what degree some of the above objectives were met. Here, we would like then to focus on the following research questions:

  1. What was the impact of the course redesign on the learners? Did it result in greater engagement and encourage them to take responsibility for their learning? Did it help them make language learning gains?

  2. What was the impact of the redesign on the teachers? How did they perceive the change and impact of the new format? How did their teaching role change?

3. Course description

3.1. Context

10As outlined above, the previous version of the English course consisted of 24 hours of face‑to‑face teaching per academic year, spread over two semesters (12h semester 1 and 12h semester 2). The students were evaluated entirely by a final exam, the mark being combined with that of statistics and informatics. There was no continuous assessment, and as mentioned before, the coordinator reported high absenteeism, little motivation and low engagement among the students. After discussions with the sports science faculty, the language department suggested splitting the groups in two and blending the course without reducing the total hours in order to make active learning possible and increase student engagement. The whole architecture of the course was transformed as follows: students still have 24 hours of English instruction in total, with 12h in semester 1 and 12h in semester 2. In practice, they attend 6 face‑to‑face sessions in groups of 20 students maximum, and have 6 online activities to complete ahead of each class. Relying on this flipped classroom system increases the coherence of the blended learning format since students understand that they have to complete the modules online before coming to class. It also necessarily reinforces student engagement, thanks to the inclusion of a reflection on their learning, both online and in class. The course redesign into a blended learning format aimed not only at improving the quality of the teaching and learning conditions of our colleagues and students, but also at emphasizing active learning in the very architecture of the course. In this sense, we agree with Norman D. Vaughan when he writes: “At the heart of blended learning redesign is the goal to engage students in critical discourse and reflection. The objective is to create dynamic and vital communities of inquiry where students take responsibility to construct meaning and confirm understanding through active participation in the inquiry process.” (Vaughan 61)

3.2. Content and structure

3.2.1. The online modules

11All the teachers involved in the redesign of this course are experienced in teaching English for students in Human Sciences, whether sports sciences or other subjects (psychology, sociology, education sciences, etc.) at undergraduate or post-graduate level. It was therefore agreed that we needed to choose topics relating to students’ interests and needs, while creating a course that could in its structure and learning objectives be a cross-disciplinary format adaptable to other human sciences courses in other faculties. The 6‑week course of each semester is divided into three themes that cover 2 weeks each. For third‑year, some of the themes chosen were: Doping in Sport, Victory and Defeat, Sports Education and Sports Management. Each topic comprises two online modules (reading, and then listening) and two face‑to‑face sessions.

Figure 1. Screen Capture of the Moodle Interface for the English for 3rd-year Sports Sciences

Figure 1. Screen Capture of the Moodle Interface for the English for 3rd-year Sports Sciences

Figure 2. Screen Capture of an Online Module

Figure 2. Screen Capture of an Online Module

12Online, the way the activities are structured caters for a range of levels: each online session is composed of three steps with some compulsory tasks and some optional work as well. The three steps – “start here”, “go further” and “keep a trace” – are thus repeated for each theme twice, both for “reading” and for “listening”, as shown on the screen capture above. The “start here” section is the compulsory part of the module where students are invited to complete a series of activities that vary depending on the authentic documents used (press articles, video documentaries, etc). These activities always include a pre-focusing activity, different types of written and oral comprehension activities in the form of a quiz, and a grammar and pronunciation part, with points always linked to the documents studied and the in-class activities to come. We tried as much as possible to vary the types of activities proposed, using the full range of options of quiz questions available in Moodle (matching, fill in the blanks, true or false, re-ordering, etc…). Students can do and redo these quizzes as many times as they want. They must achieve 60% correct answers to “validate” the quiz as completed.

13They can also choose the amount of work and time they want to or can devote to these modules: while the “start here” section is compulsory, the “go further” section is optional. This flexibility and individualisation were very important aspects of the redesign. Indeed, the high absenteeism prevalent in the previous course format was due mainly to the lack of incentivisation for students to attend classes: there was no continuous assessment. At the same time, introducing continuous assessment and encouraging oral interaction while the groups remained large seemed impossible. Pragmatic reasons such as timetable difficulties also explained low student engagement, with some English classes placed on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings when a lot of sports sciences students who are professional athletes are often travelling to and back from sports events and competitions. Keeping this in mind, it was primordial for us to create a course that could adapt to students’ needs in terms of flexibility and also cater for students who could not come to class at all because of health-related issues, disability, or working life. The in-class activities represent half of the allocated hours and add an invaluable face‑to‑face interaction and active learning activation of knowledge acquired online. They also provide a much-needed teacher / facilitator presence that students seek and appreciate. Nevertheless, such interactions could potentially be re-created online via virtual exchange forms such as wikis, forums, chatrooms or virtual classrooms and facilitated dialogue, if the current blended course were to be adapted into a completely online course aimed at students who cannot come to class, or if we wanted to include online interactions for all students enrolled in the course.

14In the optional “go further” section, students are invited to delve deeper into the selected two-week theme and read and listen to more documents. This section is less standardized than the “start here” one: sometimes the “go further” consists of a series of general questions for students to think about after reading a text or watching a video, other times the work takes the form of a quiz. The idea is to propose more work for students who want to do more and provide resources that require a higher level of proficiency. Whether students do the compulsory part only or both “start here” and “go further” doesn’t have an impact on their ability to participate in class. The “start here” section gives them the tools and enough scaffolding activities to prepare them for the face‑to‑face sessions.

15The “keep a trace” section is also compulsory; it promotes metacognition, encourages students to become aware of what they have learnt and thus prepares them for the face‑to‑face session. We decided that one of the requirements of the course was for all students to use a paper learning diary where they would have to take notes to bring to class. This learning diary facilitates the transition between the online work and the in-class interactions. Some examples of the “keep a trace” section are shown in figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3. Screen Capture of a “Keep a Trace” Section (1)

Figure 3. Screen Capture of a “Keep a Trace” Section (1)

Figure 4. Screen Capture of a “Keep a Trace” section (2)

Figure 4. Screen Capture of a “Keep a Trace” section (2)

3.2.2. The in-class sessions

16As mentioned before, the online modules and the face‑to‑face sessions follow a common pedagogical scenario. Thanks to varied communication activities, each class is an opportunity for the students to use the vocabulary they learnt online through real-life interactions with their peers and their teacher. Classes are structured around different activities where students need to collaborate and interact. For instance, quizzes played in teams testing students’ knowledge of a topic related to the online theme are used as starting points for further discussion. Information-sharing activities and jigsaw reading are also used, making students work on different texts and sharing the information they have gathered, allowing for in-class differentiation as well with the use of texts that vary in difficulty and length. Vocabulary games and ranking activities also provide opportunities to re-use the vocabulary learnt online. As often as possible, students’ personal experiences are also shared in the class interactions. At the end of each face‑to‑face session, students are finally asked to reflect on what they have learnt in class and to write some notes about it in their learning diary.

3.2.3. The student handbook and the learning diary

17A student handbook that summarizes the way the course functions and all other important information is available for them to download from the Moodle page of the course. In it they will also find a learning log where they can keep track of the activities they have completed. The student handbook is provided in a paper format for each student and is available as a pdf on the course page to help students navigate the blended learning format and make the course as user-friendly as possible.

3.2.4. Assessment

18In order to foster student engagement, 100% continuous assessment was put into place. Students obtain a mark out of 20 for work completed throughout the semester, with 40% for class attendance and completion of the compulsory online activities and 60% for the quality of the final tasks completed. Third‑year students were asked to record a podcast as their learning artefact in semester 5, and in semester6 to make a capsule video. The assessment criteria for these tasks is given to the students and repeatedly referred to both online and in class as a reminder. The specific guidelines given to students are outlined in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Screen Capture of Student Handbook

Figure 5. Screen Capture of Student Handbook

19To help students throughout the creation of their podcast and video, all the online modules include topics that give them examples of the formats they will have to produce themselves (athlete interviews, promotional videos, sports event commentaries, etc.). Two modules in particular are dedicated to the preparation of the podcast – “Wrap-ups and Interviews” – and of the video – “Teach it or Pitch it”. These include shadowing exercises, intonation practice and signposting strategies. When coming to class, students are therefore equipped to start writing the script for their final tasks and they will receive help and feedback from their teacher. Creating their podcast and video in groups of 2 or 3 students encourages them to interact and collaborate more in class too. For students who cannot come to class because of health-related issues, disability, work commitments or other reasons, the “go further” section becomes compulsory and replaces in-class participation. Their final mark is thus based on their online participation in all the activities proposed and also includes their Learning Diary work.

20The overall organisation of the course could easily be adapted to other English for specific purposes (ESP) or other languages too. The tasks chosen help students develop academic literacy through transferable communication and digital skills that could be useful in many other bachelor degrees.

4. Student Outcomes

21We were keen to get student feedback after the first semester of implementing the new format and chose to focus on the outcomes of the third‑year course for the first semester, as these students had followed the English programme in its previous format and had therefore a point of comparison. Automatically generated user data on activity completion and class attendance were extracted from the Moodle platform and analysed. Completion of the compulsory components of the course was generally high, as shown in Table 2. Just over 78% of students completed all the compulsory online activities (“start here”). As for the classroom sessions, 76% attended all of them (Table 3). This is significant, when compared to the attendance records we have available for 2017-18. Indeed, for the same cohort of students, the course coordinator, who was heavily involved in the redesign, recorded that only 1% of her students attended all the English classes in the previous semester, in their second year. For the same semester in the degree programme, the same teacher recorded that 26% of her third‑year students had attended all the English classes in 2017-18. Class attendance therefore rose dramatically with the changes made to the course.

22Overall, incentivising class participation and online activity completion by introducing continuous assessment reduced absenteeism and encouraged students to actually engage with materials teachers prepared. However, the percentage of students completing the optional activities (“go further”) was much lower: 50% of students did not complete any of these activities and some 25% only completed 1 out of the 5 activities that data is available for. This echoes the experiences of previous years – if grade points are not associated with completing an activity or attending a class, the students are unlikely to buy in. In Starkey-Perrret et al’s evaluation of their blended learning course at Nantes University they also found that activities were underexploited despite being judged positively by students (Starkey-Perret et al. 2015). The evidence that students gained greater autonomy or became more responsible for their learning by “learning for themselves” (Little 2007) is therefore lacking. However, this could partly be due to the very structure of the online modules. With the current binary structure of the course (one online module to prepare ahead of the one-hour face‑to‑face session in class), there is little space for the type of flexibility and choice that could trigger greater autonomy and learner responsibility. Furthermore, only some 30% of students said they had spent longer on each online module than the estimated two hours’ work that was required of them. Even if they completed the majority of compulsory tasks they were assigned and participated willingly in classroom sessions, as we shall see below, they did not for the majority go beyond the minimum requirements of the course. However, we did not investigate how much time and effort the students spent on preparing the podcast outside of class, time during which they could be considered to be “learning for themselves”.

Table 2. Online Activity Completion

Number of online activities

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

Number of students completing obligatory activities

2

2

2

5

5

32

174

Number of students completing optional activities

111

55

8

15

25

8

-

Table 3. Attendance for Classroom Sessions

Number of classes attended

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

Number of 3rd-year students, semester 1 2018-19 (entire cohort of 209 students required to attend)

4

2

4

1

13

31

158

% of 3rd-year students, semester 1 2018-19 (entire cohort of 209 students required to attend)

2

1

2

0

6

15

76

Number of 2nd-year students, semester 2 2017-18 (attendance list for 111 students)

49

23

24

4

7

3

1

% of 2nd-year students, semester 2 2017-18 (attendance list for 111 students)

44

21

22

4

6

3

1

Number of 3rd-year students, semester 1 2017-18 (1 group of 34 students)

4

2

3

1

2

13

9

% of 3rd-year students, semester 1 2017-18 (1 group of 34 students)

12

6

9

3

6

38

26

23To gain further insights into the third‑year students’ perceptions of their new English course, questionnaires were administered at the end of the first semester via the Moodle platform, using the feedback activity. The survey contained 33 questions, relating to the learners’ language profile, their engagement with the course and their level of satisfaction with the different components. Finally, they were asked to reflect on the extent of their progress and invited to answer open questions relating to the strengths and weaknesses of the course, providing further comments or suggestions for future years. Of the 222 students enrolled on the course 193 (87%) responded. When invited to read the self-assessment grid for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and consider their level of language proficiency, 5 respondents reported having an A1 level of proficiency, 39 an A2 level, 87 a B1 level, 50 a B2 level, 11 a C1 level and 1 student a C2 level. Overall, their response to the course was overwhelmingly positive, across the learner profiles (Table 4). Some 90% of respondents evaluated the semester as having been a mostly positive or very positive experience. Only a small minority of students reporting a A2 or B1 level said the experience of the semester had been mostly negative.

Table 4. Self-reported Outcome According to Learner Profile

very negative

mostly negative

mostly positive

very positive

don’t know

A1

0

0

2

2

1

A2

0

4

28

4

3

B1

0

4

64

13

5

B2

0

0

34

14

2

C1

0

0

8

3

0

C2

0

0

0

0

1

24Table 5 shows the breakdown of respondents’ levels of satisfaction. For each aspect of the course, only a small minority said they were mostly not satisfied or not at all satisfied. The highest levels of satisfaction pertained to the types of activities completed in class and the blended format itself, with just under 60% of students saying they were completely satisfied with these aspects. Arguably, the two components are inseparable, as the blended format enabled class sessions to take on a new dynamic and become more interactive. The response was less enthusiastic but still positive for the perceived usefulness of the learning diary (56% mostly satisfied) and the types of activities completed online (63% mostly satisfied).

Table 5. Student Satisfaction with the English Course

not at all satisfied

mostly not satisfied

mostly satisfied

completely satisfied

don’t know

The usefulness of the learning diary

0

7

108

58

19

The types of activities to complete online

0

7

122

61

2

Do you feel you succeeded in the final task?

0

9

111

63

9

The relevance of the English course to sport science

3

19

93

70

7

The online resources (articles, videos)

0

6

97

88

2

The pertinence of the final task

1

5

88

94

5

The course themes

0

2

97

94

0

The blended format

0

7

71

111

3

The types of activities in class

0

7

69

112

4

25In line with the user data, respondents reported high levels of engagement (Table 6). About 96% of the respondents reported completing their learning diary regularly. Respondents also reported that they had engaged with the target language during face‑to‑face sessions. Indeed, some 90% of respondents said they had participated orally in class. By their own admission then, they engaged with the writing and speaking tasks assigned to them by the teachers.

  • 5 For the purpose of this article, the respondents’ answers were all translated from French to Englis (...)

26In terms of identifying the factors that had fostered their engagement, respondents identified the blended format in itself as being a contributing factor. Approximately 90% of students who answered the questionnaire said that the new format had encouraged them to be more involved in their learning. Furthermore, when asked what were the strengths of the course respondents5 frequently cited the particular blend of online and class work:

The method is excellent (part in class, part online at home). This allows you to really follow the course.
The fact that half of the course takes place on line and the other half in class, without the online part being disregarded in class;

27Other common strengths that were cited included the liveliness and interactive nature of the classroom sessions as sources of motivation:

The class is very interactive and makes us want to participate;
A lot of fun. It helps you to speak, to concentrate and makes you want to learn;

and the disciplinary relevance – students were motivated by the fact that they were learning and talking about sport:

The range of themes dealt with and the fact that the themes are linked to sport;
The fact that the course deals with different professional sports means that those who aren’t usually interested in English can get interested;

28Finally, in the open comments or suggestions, many of the respondents reported an improvement in the teaching and learning approach in comparison with the previous format:

The classes were much more stimulating that previous years in my view and helped us to progress both in oral and writing skills;
The new format is much more motivating and encourages us to engage more with this subject, which was not the case in previous years;
The new format offered is more pleasant and more effective in my view than that of previous years, where there were 4 or 5 of us who came to class, which made things painful for both the students and above all for the teachers, so it’s already a lot better.

29According to these responses, it seems then that the students perceived clear gains in engagement compared to previous years.

Table 6. Self-reported Engagement and Progress

not at all

mostly no

mostly yes

yes, absolutely

don’t know

Did you participate orally in class?

0

12

90

86

0

Did you complete your learning diary regularly?

0

3

43

141

0

Do you feel you have progressed?

0

18

124

32

15

Do you feel you have succeeded in the final task?

0

9

111

63

9

Did the blended format encourage your involvement?

0

13

77

94

6

30Finally, students who responded to the questionnaire perceived for the majority that they had progressed in English. Some 83% of respondents felt they had progressed, leaving 17% who did not identify any progress, with 18 students saying they had not progressed and 15 saying they did not know. They were also confident about their success: about 90% said they felt they had succeeded in the podcast task, though they may have been cautious about saying they had not succeeded knowing that they had still to be graded. In reality, only one student was failed on this task, and just under 60% obtained a grade of 14 or above out of 20. However, in the absence of a pre-test and a post-test, it is not clear that these high pass rates and self-reported progress reflect actual progress. Given that the majority of respondents reported spending no more than a total of 12h guided learning hours on the modules, not counting the time they took to produce the podcast, significant learning gains in terms of language proficiency are unlikely. The most significant gains of the course redesign as we have seen above, are probably in terms of engagement.

5. Teacher Outcomes

31To complement data collected about the learners, we exchanged via email with the two teachers of this course. The first one is the coordinator of the second and third‑year English programme for sports science students. She was part of the team who redesigned the course and created the online modules as well as in-class materials. The other teacher is also experienced in teaching English for human sciences and particularly English for sports sciences, but didn’t participate in the redesigning of the course.

32Like the students, teachers reported an improvement in the dynamics of the face‑to‑face sessions with greater student participation and engagement. The students noted that they were motivated by the fun, interactive nature of the course and this was confirmed by the teachers who reported that the students were “happy to be there” or that they “really enjoyed the experience”. The collaborative nature of the tasks seems well adapted to sports students who “know how to organise group work, manage time and are competitive”. The disciplinary relevance of the topics explored both in the materials provided and via the podcast was also a motivating factor, according to the teachers: “it was interesting and linked to their studies” and “the students felt fully involved and were able to share their own experiences”.

33In terms of actual language learning gains, the teachers were similarly unsure if students had actually progressed. However, they did observe that students “developed communication skills and strategies”. According to one teacher, everyone, save for one A0-1 level student, was able to participate: “Even the weaker students realized they could have a conversation”. Perhaps most importantly, students gained confidence in their ability to interact in English and to re-activate lexico-grammatical structures they had noticed in the online activities: “what I noticed is that the students don’t hesitate to speak, which was not the case before in a large group, and reuse the structures / vocabulary acquired”.

34In a similar way to the students, both teachers were very satisfied with the blend of online modules and classwork which allowed the students to “integrate language seen online” and “recycle knowledge gained”. The class was thus a space for experimenting and testing the lexico-grammatical structures.

35Perhaps one aspect that is less apparent in the data collected from the students than the teacher feedback is the importance of the learning diary. Both teachers underlined the central role played by the diary and said that the majority of students had completed it conscientiously: “some students (even the weak ones) really made an effort” and “I would say that 80% of students did it well”. Teachers felt that the learning diary made students more responsible for and autonomous in their learning, “the students soon adopted it as a resource that they could come back to and use whenever needed”. They also reported greater levels of investment and effort overall, and linked this to the learning diary: “I think it gave the opportunity to those who wanted to work hard an opportunity to become more autonomous and responsible for their learning” and “I don’t think that they were used to having to do that much work at home for their English class”. Though the students may not have become fully autonomous language learners in the space of six weeks, they perhaps realised and started to undertake the significant effort required to learn a language.

36Another theme that is worth highlighting in the teachers’ responses is the impact of the new format on the role played by the teacher in the language classroom. It is clear that the redesign of this course has modified the traditional role of the teacher. Moving from a traditional series of 12 face‑to‑face sessions to a blended format necessarily transforms the role of the teacher into that of facilitator and moderator. As the course coordinator said “I’m no longer “teaching”, the class runs itself from what they have prepared and thought about upstream. It’s a chance to pool ideas”. It also allows the students to ask for more help and feedback. The second teacher noted too that she “listened, gave feedback, and answered questions when [students] were working in small groups” but that she “rarely ‘taught’, in the traditional sense.”

37There were gains to be made for the teachers too by working together in a team on the course design “I would never have dared to attempt this huge task on my own. My colleagues’ expertise with the platform was a great help. I tried out some new teaching practices knowing that I had the support of my colleagues”. The second teacher also stressed that teaching the course had stimulated peer-to-peer reflective practice between teachers: “I really enjoyed working with Isa. We shared a lot of ideas for the classroom speaking activities and always talked about what had worked / not worked with our groups”. It transpires then that if, as teachers, we are to improve language learning among our students it is only through this collective approach, reminiscent of what Hattie calls “collective teacher efficacy” and ranks second as an influence on attainment in higher education, that the impact is likely to be significant. By planning, designing, implementing and reflecting on the course as a team, we were able to revitalise the language teaching and learning experience for all players.

38In summary, and echoing the student feedback, both teachers reported improvements in student engagement and participation, but had greater difficulty identifying actual language learning gains. It is perhaps more in terms of confidence and autonomy that students made gains. The teachers’ responses to our questions also indicate a shift in teacher’s role from one who leads classroom activities from the centre of the classroom to one who facilitates dialogue between students. Finally, the collective approach to course redesign appears to have played an important role in bringing about these gains.

6. Conclusion

39The redesign of this course was carried out within the framework of a pedagogical transformation project whose aims underpinned all the pedagogical choices made by the team of teachers involved. The main aims of the project were the following: reinforcing and promoting students’ active learning, encouraging learner autonomy and helping students develop strategies towards more learner autonomy, improving the quality and quantity of oral interaction. Our analysis of user data, student and teacher feedback shows that the main significant outcome of the course appears to be student engagement. It is not possible to determine with certitude that students became more responsible for their learning or that they actually progressed in English. However, the blended format fostered motivation and participation, making the language learning experience more positive for all players. An improvement in the quality and quantity of oral interaction in the target language was also met, with 90% of respondents saying that they had participated orally in class. In order to improve this new blended learning programme, it might be useful next year to implement a pre-course and post-course test to try to determine whether any significant progress was made. Thanks to the engagement of all the teachers involved, it might also be possible to update the existing programme according to teachers’ hands on experience in class, and to target more specifically the needs of third‑year sports science students, both in terms of language proficiency and digital literacy. As Trinder argues, “only a dual focus on the diverse requirements of specific groups of learners and the affordances of particular technologies will allow us to set up and blend learning scenarios in a way that is both meaningful and motivating” (Trinder 98).

40The transformation of this course into a blended learning format does highlight the fact that the success of blended learning courses relies heavily on teachers’ engagement and the time these teachers devote to the upkeep of the online courses. Indeed, one of the aspects of the implementation of the new programme that we haven’t detailed here is the time spent by the teacher-coordinator for the third‑year course dealing with all sorts of tasks relating to the blended nature of the course: replying to an increased number of students’ emails, sending students regular reminders through the Moodle platform, and generally providing an online presence to facilitate, maintain and value students’ engagement both online and in class. While the outcomes of the redesign of this programme have been overwhelmingly positive so far, a possible improvement concerns the development of more targeted transferable skills that could make this course adaptable to other languages or faculties, focusing on communication as well as digital skills, thereby equipping them to pursue language learning beyond their Bachelor’s programme.

The authors would like to express their gratitude towards their colleagues for their invaluable contribution towards redesigning the programme and insightful feedback for the purpose of this article: Isabelle Knight, course coordinator, programme designer and course teacher, Brendan Mortell, programme designer, Ana Laura Vega, course teacher.

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Bibliographie

Cosnefoy, Laurent, et Anne Jézégou. “Les processus d’autorégulation collective et individuelle au cours d’un apprentissage par projet.” Revue internationale de pédagogie de l’enseignement supérieur, Association internationale de pédagogie universitaire, n° 29-2, 2013. DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/ripes.744

Hattie, John. “The Applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education.” Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 79-91.

Holec, Henri. “Autonomie de l’apprenant : de l’enseignement à l’apprentissage.” Éducation permanente, no. 107, 1991, pp. 1-5.

Hoskins, Laüra. “Course Design for First-Year Undergraduate Human Science Programmes: A Blended Course in English for Academic Purposes.” ASp, no. 74, 2018, pp. 173-189.

Little, David. “Language Learner Autonomy: Some Fundamental Considerations Revisited.” Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, Vol. 1, no. 1, 2007, pp. 14-29.

Little, David, Leni Dam, and Lienhard Legenhausen. Language Learner Autonomy: Theory, Practice and Research. Multilingual Matters, UK, 2017.

Narcy-Combes, Marie-Françoise, and Julie McAllister. “Evaluation of a blended language learning environment in a French university and its effect on SLA.” ASp, no. 59, 2011, pp. 115-138.

Nissen, Elke. “Accompagnement dans une formation à distance et dans une formation hybride – Analyse de pratiques.” Dispositifs médiatisés en langues et évolutions professionnelles pour l’accompagnement-tutorat, edited by Annick Rivens Mompean and Marie-José Barbot, Éditions du conseil scientifique de l’université Charles-de-Gaulle, Lille 3, 2009, pp. 191-210. http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00785937. Accessed 25 May 2022.

Starkey-Perret, Rebecca, et al. “Assessing Undergraduate Student Engagement in a Virtual Resource Center”. Cahiers de l’Apliut, Vol. XXXIV, no. 2, 2015. DOI : 10.4000/apliut.5184.

Trinder, Ruth. “Blending technology and face‑to‑face: Advanced students’ choices.” ReCALL, Vol. 28, no. 1, 2015, pp. 83-102.

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Notes

1 Our proposed translation for : “Dans la définition que je retiens pour la formation hybride en langues, l’articulation des modes présentiel et distanciel dans un scénario pédagogique commun (Nissen 199) est un aspect fondamental, car c’est cette articulation qui est garante de la cohérence au sein de la formation.”

2 Our proposed translation for : “Cela grâce à l’inscription de ces séances dans un scénario pédagogique global dans lequel, par exemple, des préparations peuvent avoir lieu en distanciel au préalable, et le travail individuel pour partie transféré à distance, ce qui permet de dédier le temps commun à des activités collectives interactives.”

3 Our proposed translation for : “L’impact est d’autant plus fort que la tâche nécessite une interdépendance, c’est-à-dire une interaction entre tous les membres du groupe pour prendre des décisions, évaluer le travail accompli et définir les rôles à se réparti.”

4 Our proposed translation for : “ des enseignants qui n’ont pas participé à la conception de la formation mais qui y interviennent, et de leur appropriation du dispositif de formation.”

5 For the purpose of this article, the respondents’ answers were all translated from French to English by the authors.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Screen Capture of the Moodle Interface for the English for 3rd-year Sports Sciences
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/docannexe/image/9678/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 307k
Titre Figure 2. Screen Capture of an Online Module
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/docannexe/image/9678/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 142k
Titre Figure 3. Screen Capture of a “Keep a Trace” Section (1)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/docannexe/image/9678/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 210k
Titre Figure 4. Screen Capture of a “Keep a Trace” section (2)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/docannexe/image/9678/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 193k
Titre Figure 5. Screen Capture of Student Handbook
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/docannexe/image/9678/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 162k
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/docannexe/image/9678/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 95k
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Référence électronique

Susan Birch-Bécaas, Laüra Hoskins et Melanie White, « Blending the English Programme for Sports Science Students: a Win-win Situation for Engagement? », Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité [En ligne], Vol. 41 N°1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2022, consulté le 14 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/apliut/9678 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/apliut.9678

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Auteurs

Susan Birch-Bécaas

Susan Birch-Bécaas is a senior lecturer at the University of Bordeaux where she coordinates English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses for students of public health and research writing modules for doctoral students. Her research interests include the analysis of scientific discourse and its pedagogical applications for written and oral scientific communication courses. She is also interested in multimodal digital genres in science, Content and Language Integrated courses (CLIL) and blended learning.
susan.becaas[at]u-bordeaux.fr

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Laüra Hoskins

Laüra Hoskins is an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) teacher at the University of Bordeaux, specialising in the health and human sciences sectors. She is head of Espace Langues, a centre for language learning and intercultural exchange. She is also involved in teacher development for English medium instruction (EMI) in the international classroom through her work for Défi international. Her current interests are in blended learning, course design and virtual exchange.
laura.hoskins[at]u-bordeaux.fr

Melanie White

Melanie White is a senior lecturer at the University of Bordeaux where she teaches English for Specific Purposes in health and human sciences. She coordinates postgraduate English courses for Biology and Sports Sciences. Her research interests are blended learning systems and online distance learning, interaction and interactivity, multimodality, student motivation and engagement, creative writing and storytelling in ESP, and digital literacy.
melanie.white[at]u-bordeaux.fr

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