Navigation – Plan du site
Pratiques pédagogiques en anglais de spécialité

Course Design for First-Year Undergraduate Human Science Programmes: A Blended Course in English for Academic Purposes

Laüra Hoskins
p. 173-189

Texte intégral

In this report about an EAP programme for undergraduate Human Sciences students at the University of Bordeaux, Laüra Hoskins offers a valuable insight into the issues at stake when designing, implementing and evaluating a blended-learning programme. The author presents the blended format as a possible solution to some of the problems mentioned in previous studies in ESP contexts, particularly in Human Sciences: institutional constraints, large numbers of students, heterogeneous levels of proficiency, low engagement, diverse needs and learning strategies. The programme combines form-focussed, topics-based online activities on a Moodle platform and face-to-face sessions. Regular speaking workshops and in-class sessions offer opportunities for language practice and group work based on the online video and text input. To take individual profiles into account, students take an initial placement test and are assigned to one of three CEF-based tracks (A1; A2-B1; B2-C1). An interesting aspect of the programme is its “learning-to-learn” approach: students are required to reflect on their learning and progress by writing a learning diary. Another strong element of the programme is the learning support provided through regular collective feedback on diaries, weekly newsletters and drop-in meetings with the course coordinator.
Although the efficiency of the course in terms of language acquisition and student engagement remains to be assessed, an evaluation of students’ use of the online resources and satisfaction about the programme was carried out. The results are clearly in agreement with previous studies, as they confirm some key points to consider when designing a blended-learning programme: students’ engagement in online activities depends on their level of proficiency; face-to-face sessions are highly valued both by students and teachers; and students’ engagement is linked to teachers’ attitudes towards the necessary collaborative work blended-learning programmes entail. (Sophie Belan)

Background

1The Département Langues et Cultures at the University of Bordeaux delivers English courses to over 21,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled in health or human sciences. This paper reports on a first-year English for academic purposes (EAP) course that was designed in 2016 and implemented for the first time in January 2017. The course was originally intended for the 650 first-year students reading psychology and sociology, but has since been partially extended to include 400 first-year sport science students. The course, English for Psychology and Sociology, runs through the ten weeks of the second semester of the academic year and combines in-class face-to-face sessions with online modules in a blended format. It was created in response to a number of institutional and pedagogical difficulties that will now be described.

Learner profiles

  • 1 Oxford Quick Placement Test based on CEFR levels.

2Undergraduate programmes at French universities have only recently been permitted by law to select university applicants according to criteria determined by higher education professionals. Human science degree programmes have traditionally attracted large numbers of school leavers with varying levels of English proficiency. On starting the first-year English course, students enrolled in these programmes at Bordeaux take a placement test1 to have an indication of their level in English. Students are also required to complete a pre-course questionnaire which, among some of the questions, invites them to reflect on their language learning experiences to date and indicate the strategies they have put in place to improve their English.

3The results of students tested in January 2018 at the start of their English course reveal generally low levels of proficiency with over half the students in first-year psychology or sociology (372) obtaining an A2 score or less. Only around 36% of students obtained scores indicating B1 level proficiency or above. This contrasts with more selective tracks, such as dentistry, where almost 70% of first-year students obtained B1 scores in 2016.

4The language learning habits of incoming human science students also vary widely. Unsurprisingly, results from the 2018 pre-course questionnaire show that these habits are correlated with levels of proficiency (Appendix 1). Incoming students with a B2 or C1 level were much more likely to be engaging in informal learning activities such as watching videos, reading or online interactions in English than A1 or A2 students were. The stronger students also indicated that they had engaged more in formal learning activities such as oral participation in class or personal work after school than the weaker students did. Just under 65% of the latter (about 40% of the total cohort) said they carried out personal work after school never or not very regularly, highlighting the need to engage first-year students in language learning and help them develop good learner habits.

Teaching context

5The large student numbers together with the unevenly balanced but generally low levels of proficiency in English and poor learner engagement meant that first-year human sciences was until recently a sector largely avoided by permanent staff, in preference for more motivating areas such as medicine, dentistry or biology. This had created a strong reliance on temporary, externally recruited and more inexperienced teaching staff, which in turn compromised continuity from one year to the next. This reliance also made it difficult to harmonise practices across the 27 groups. The solution that had been found was to set a B1 level textbook of general English as the course syllabus, which was not very motivating for the teachers or the students. The previous format provided for a scant 16h of face-to-face English tuition, spread over the two semesters (4 x 2 hr classes per semester) and no online support: too little and too diluted to promote good learning habits and lead to any progress.

6Groups were streamed according to ability, in an attempt to cater for the variety of levels, but this only seemed to exacerbate some of the difficulties. As every teacher followed the same textbook, weaker groups had difficulty engaging in the materials and remained passive, while stronger groups were under-stimulated and bored. Teachers felt frustration at the lack of student engagement and struggled to generate interaction between students, some of whom even displayed disruptive behaviour in class. Student satisfaction levels were felt by the teachers to be low. The programme was also costly in terms of teaching hours (480h), with arguably little impact on the students’ English skills and appetite for learning English. When combined with the typically high dropout in 1st year, the programme made ineffective use of the human resources and technological resources available.

  • 2 The programme re-design was supported institutionally in the form of a 96-hour bonus for the course (...)

7In 2015-16 therefore, when degree programmes were being updated nationally, and after consultation with the human science faculties, the Département Langues et Cultures proposed a complete overhaul of English courses for undergraduate programmes in psychology and sociology. Teaching hours were redistributed towards 2nd and 3rd year English, where student numbers were lower, and a blended learning format was designed for 1st year English,2 a programme which is now implemented by six permanent members of staff for a total cost of 229 teaching hours.

A blended learning format

8The main intended learning outcome of the course is better engagement among learners in the language learning process. Drawing from Stephen Bowen’s (2005) definition of “engaged learning”, the first-year English programme aims to help students learn to learn English, according to their needs, engage with their discipline in English and interact with their peers and teachers in English in an academic context. In so doing, the programme offers more generally a safe, low stakes space for students to acquire the habits of engaged learners. The programme provides rich input through reading and listening tasks, accompanied by pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary activities. It also provides opportunities for productive practice in the form of speaking workshops and metacognitive reflection via a learning diary.

9At the start of the course, students take a placement test to assign them to one of three tracks and place them in a group for face-to-face sessions: level 1 (A1 learners), level 2 (A2-B1 learners), level 3 (B2-C1 learners). The organisation and objectives of the course are explained in an introductory lecture for all students. From then on, the blend differs according to the track, as shown in Table 1. Online and face-to-face activities are also differentiated. Students are allocated evenly across the groups in each track according to their level, so that each group is equally heterogeneous. This organisation, whereby all the level 2 groups and all the level 3 groups are equivalent in terms of level, aims to leverage the language diversity of the cohort to its advantage and capitalise on the formative potential of peer-to-peer instruction for learners of all levels.

Table 1: Course organisation

CEF

Track

Face-to-face

Online

N° of groups (2018)

N° of students (2018)

A1

Level 1

1 x 1h lecture

10 x 2h classes

5h+

1

27

A2

Level 2

1 x 1h lecture

5 x 1h workshops

5 x 4h modules

24

509

B1

B2

Level 3

6

64

C1

C2

exempt

3

10A Moodle-supported learning platform ( Figure 1) houses the online activities (Figure 2) of the modules that make up the course and provides a space to keep students informed about the organisation of the course via a news forum, timetable postings and feedback videos. The English modules take their themes from a core disciplinary course that all human science students study at the University of Bordeaux: SHS Pour Tous (Human Sciences for Everyone). The themes provide a broad introduction to psychology, sociology, sport as well as anthropology and educational sciences topics: Education, Health, Ages, Discrimination, Risk. An overview of the modules of the English course is shown in Appendix 2. Each module spans two weeks.

Figure 1: Screen capture of the Moodle learning space

Figure 1: Screen capture of the Moodle learning space

Figure 2: Screen capture of the activities in an online module

Figure 2: Screen capture of the activities in an online module

11Online, level 2 and level 3 students explore these themes through a series of activities based on texts and videos taken from the mainstream media. These activities are differentiated, with abridged versions of the text and video for the level 2 track, but students are free to work on the easier (level 2) or harder (level 3) activities. Learners are encouraged to develop their language skills via pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar quizzes. Video lessons created for the course in the form of paperslide videos and Powtoon videos provide the basis for the pronunciation and grammar quizzes, while the vocabulary activities focussing on the core academic vocabulary in the resources are supported by Quizlet. Students are finally invited to keep a record of and reflect on their learning through a learning diary (Moodle journal), that also serves as an assessment tool (30% of the final grade). Level 2 students are required to write at least 200 words for each module and are guided by a set of prompts about the online resources and face-to-face activities (e.g. sum up the resources in this module [who? what? where? when?] and give your reaction). Level 3 students, on the other hand are given more freedom to write a 500-word blog-style post with a given title (e.g. Thoughts on the Use of Technology in Education). Students in the level 1 track complete their learning diary with the help of their teacher, whom they see every week.

12In class, level 2 and level 3 students complete speaking tasks that feed into and build on the resources seen online. Students attend speaking workshops in groups of no more than 20 students every two weeks. The workshops are highly interactive and low-tech, as students complete tasks by mingling, forming pairs or groups, ranking, defining, describing, etc. while the teacher facilitates, monitors, and provides feedback. Activities designed for the level 3 groups are more challenging, with mini-debates and discussions. Students in the leve 1 track on the other hand, are guided through the course materials in smaller chunks in class and complete basic communicative activities.

13Further learning support is provided through various channels:

  1. Weekly newsletters via the news forum where frequently asked questions asked by individual students are answered by the course coordinator.

  2. Fortnightly paperslide videos, made by course teachers, where collective feedback on the learning diaries is given. Frequently committed mistakes are for example reviewed and the teacher offers tips for improving writing. Students are able to modify their writing throughout the course based on the advice given in these videos.

  3. Weekly face-to-face drop-in sessions at the Language Centre with the course coordinator.

Assessment

14Students are assessed by continuous assessment and final exam. For each part they obtain a mark out of 20. The continuous assessment mark represents 50% of the final mark for the course and is broken down into two parts: 20% is for attendance and activity completion (i.e. by attending all the classes and completing all the activities, a student can gain 8/20) and 30% is for the quality of the learning diary (maximum 12/20). The assessment criteria for the learning diary shown in Assessment. The final exam counts for the remaining 50% of the final mark and is a 1-hour 60-question multiple choice test that includes comprehension questions on excerpts from the resources seen during the course as well as pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar questions.

Table 2: Rubric for marking the Learning Diary (/12)

content

F

poor

entries incomplete and

underdeveloped answers

D

unsatisfactory

entries incomplete or

underdeveloped answers

C

satisfactory

all entries completed with satisfactorily developed answers

B

good

all entries completed,

with often

well-developed and intelligent answers

A

very good

all entries completed,

with always

well-developed and intelligent answers

A*

excellent

all entries completed,

with always

meticulously developed, intelligent and

original

answers

language

pre-A1

1

2

3

4

5

6

A1

2

3

4

5

6

7

A2

3

4

5

6

7

8

B1

4

5

6

7

8

9

B2

5

6

7

8

9

10

C1

6

7

8

9

10

11

C2

7

8

9

10

11

12

Outcomes

Student Outcomes

15Data collected from several sources will be analysed here to evaluate the outcomes of the course for the 2017-2018 cohort of students. Data on activity completion was extracted automatically from the Moodle page and a post-course questionnaire was administered using the Moodle feedback module. The post-course questionnaire comprised 46 questions and collected 323 responses, over half of the enrolled cohort. Students were asked about their use of the learning space and levels of satisfaction, with open questions for comments and recommendations.

16Regarding the online component of the course, activity completion was generally high, above all among the stronger students, with just under 75% of students in the level 3 track (B2/C1) completing 21-25 activities, 25 being the maximum number (Outcomes). Just under half the students in the level 2 track (A2/B1) completed 21-25 activities. However, it should be noted that these data indicate only whether the student submitted the activity, not how much time they dedicated to it or what score they obtained. Students also knew that just completing the activities would gain them 20% of their final mark.

17Responses to the questionnaire also revealed that a majority of students claimed to have used the materials, advice and opportunities made available to them (Tabl). About 90% of respondents said they had participated orally in the speaking workshops they attended, though due to a student sit-in in March-April 2018 only three out of the planned five speaking workshops were able to take place. Just over 60% completed their learning diary as they moved through the modules and acted on the video feedback delivered by teachers. In terms of satisfaction, the majority of respondents appear satisfied overall (Table). Attitudes were, however, more positive for the face-face-face component, despite the number of sessions being cut due to the student sit-in. Indeed, when asked to identify the main asset of the course in the open questions, students most frequently cited the workshops.

Table 3: Online activity completion

Level 2 students

Level 3 students

N° of activities completed

N° of students

%

N° of students

%

0 to 5

47

9.63

5

7.94

6 to 10

38

7.79

4

6.35

11 to 15

44

9.02

4

6.35

16 to 20

51

10.45

3

4.76

21 to 25

308

63.11

47

74.60

Table 4: Usage of online support

N° of respondents answering…

Yes

No

Did you read the English updates regularly?

228

94

Did you download the Quizlet application to learn and revise vocabulary?

192

137

Did you record yourself or speak out loud when doing the pronunciation activities?

197

126

Did you complete your learning diary as you moved through the modules?

265

59

Did you watch the learning diary feedback videos?

214

103

Did you then modify your learning diary accordingly?

203

113

Did you participate orally in the speaking workshops you went to?

289

29

Table 5: Student satisfaction

N° of respondents (all tracks combined)

Online component

Face-to-face component

Not at all satisfied

38

6

Mostly not satisfied

70

37

Mostly satisfied

158

133

Completely satisfied

68

137

18Finally, regarding achievement, marks were distributed in a bell curve for both continuous assessment and the final exam (Figure 6). Furthermore, over 50% of students (190) identified as having an A2 level in English at the start of the course were able to validate the English course (Table 6), (with the B2 and C1 students obtaining predictably the highest scores. Only the three students identified as having a C2 level obtained lower than expected grades in the final exam. These students were exempt from the continuous assessment part of the course. For future years these exemptions should not be allowed as it appears that even if students have a C2 level in general English, they could benefit from following an English for Academic Purposes course.

Table 6: Overall achievement: Marks according to initial level

overall mark /20

A1 students

A2

students

B1

students

B2

students

C1

students

C2

students

students with unknown level

>=0, <5

2

24

9

1

0

0

2

>=5, <10

12

124

23

4

0

0

12

>=10, <15

9

190

100

14

2

1

9

>=15, <=20

1

8

32

32

11

2

1

19Though encouraging, all these indicators give little insight into whether students actually progressed in English thanks to the course or whether their engagement in the learning process evolved during the course. With a view of measuring the students’ perception of their progress, the pre-course and post-course questionnaire included identical items relating to language skills. The B2 descriptors of the Common European Framework (Council of Europe 2017) were given and students asked to rate how easily they were able to complete each task. The responses to these items are shown in Appendix 3 and Appendix 4. There is no obvious difference between the students’ responses at the start and end of the course. Either students did not progress, or this method for assessing progress is flawed. The time lapse between the two questionnaires may have been insufficient or students may not be the best placed to assess their language abilities. Future studies of this course might therefore include a pre-course and post-course test for a more objective measure.

20Similarly, as far as attitudes to learning English go, there seems to be no significant difference between the results of the pre-course questionnaire and the results of the post-course questionnaire (Appendix 5 and Appendix 6). Again, perhaps the 10-week duration of the English course is not enough to see a significant difference in engagement or attitudes, but it would perhaps be more interesting to follow students as they move up the degree programme to observe any differences in attitude or engagement.

Limitations

21After discussion and reflection, the teaching team identified a number of limitations with the course that should be taken into consideration for future versions of the programme. Firstly, though it provides rich input, the programme is not a task-based course but a topics-based one. There may thus be a sense for students that they are completing the activities for the benefit of the teacher and obtaining a grade rather in view of completing a final task. Students could benefit from a task-based approach to guide and give purpose to their language learning. Secondly, it could be argued with its set pathways and highly scaffolded activities for the different tracks, the course does not develop learner autonomy sufficiently, as students are simply completing a series of steps defined by the teacher and not learning to take on the work that would be typically by carried out by an instructor. While the level 3 track does offer students more freedom to select and report on the resources they wish to study, the level 1 & 2 tracks do not. It would be worth exploring ways of achieving greater learner autonomy in future versions, by offering for example a selection of materials curated by level for learners to choose from in addition to the set resources. A common core is though necessary while part of the assessment it based on a final exam.

Teacher Outcomes

22Although the online component, of course, was designed by one teacher-coordinator, it was user-tested and implemented by a team of permanent teachers, and this is perhaps the most significant positive outcome of the course. During the first year of the course, face-to-face sessions were designed collaboratively and became the object of regular debriefs and exchanges of practice to improve the quality of interactions from one week to the next. The teachers said they enjoyed teaching the course and noted that students were engaged and happy to participate during the face-to-face sessions.

23Teachers were contacted by email in May 2017 to give their feedback on the course and in particular their views on how it fostered engagement in staff and students. Their insights are summed up in Appendix 7. Like the students, the teachers also noted the value of the speaking workshops. This highlights the need to give special attention to face-to-face input materials and output activities in the design of blended courses as they seem to play a central role in engaging students.

Conclusion

24This paper has reported on the design, implementation and evaluation of a blended learning course for EAP learners in first-year psychology and sociology. Course completion and student satisfaction were relatively high, but it remains to be seen whether the course can have an impact on learner progress and engagement. However, teacher feedback shows the benefits that can be derived from ESP teachers working collaboratively, as part of a teaching team, in planning, implementing, and evaluating blended learning systems. Indeed, in his 2015 paper review, John Hattie places collective teacher efficacy second on the list of influences on student achievement in higher education and makes the case for a collaborative approach: “A key question is how to build the capacity of teachers and university administrators to collectively build and evaluate successful teaching programs and learning experiences” (Hattie 2015: 90).

I would like to thank my colleagues at the Département Langues et Cultures for their input and feedback on the course design and their enthusiasm and dedication to implementing and evaluating the course year after year: Lindsay Bergstrom, Valérie Braud, Sara Garfield, Salimatu Jalloh, Brendan Mortell and Pascale Swendsen.

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Bowen, Stephen. 2005. “Engaged learning: Are we all on the same page?”. Peer Review 7/2, 4–7.

Council of Europe. 2017. “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment”, retrieved from <https://rm.coe.int/1680459f97> on 17/09/2018.

Hattie, John. 2015. “The applicability of visible learning to higher education”. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology 1/1, 79–91.

Haut de page

Annexe

Appendix 1: Language learning habits of incoming students

watching videos in English

reading in English

oral participation at school

online interactions in English

personal work after school

face-to-face interactions

B2/C1 respondents

never

0

0

5

6

6

5

not very regularly

3

12

10

14

19

23

regularly

7

20

19

19

11

17

very regularly

53

31

29

23

26

18

B1 respondents

never

9

15

9

14

43

41

not very regularly

21

80

68

65

74

85

regularly

56

50

57

60

29

31

very regularly

78

17

30

21

17

6

A1/A2 respondents

never

43

141

32

45

182

142

not very regularly

120

166

177

191

126

179

regularly

128

49

110

111

41

37

very regularly

78

12

48

21

18

8

Appendix 2: Overview of input materials

Core Theme

English Topic

Text resource

Video resource

Pronunciation (PH), Grammar (GR)

Education

Technology in Education

Goodbye, paper: What we miss when we read on screen, New Scientist Magazine

What a ‘flipped’ classroom looks like, PBS NewsHour

PH: Introduction to key issues in pronunciation

GR: Grammar words

Health

Alcoholism and Society

How do we tackle alcoholism? First, stop denying that it’s part of the culture of poverty, The Independent

The great British booze problem: how a few glasses a day has led to an epidemic for the NHS, The Guardian

PH: Sounds: schwa

GR: Nouns – countable vs uncountable, articles

Ages

Intergenerational Cooperation

Intergenerational houses bring seniors, 20-somethings together, Chicago Tribune

Seniors home brings young and old together, CBC News

PH: Sounds - vowels

GR: Verb tenses

Discrimination

Racial Bias and Racial Targeting

Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions, The New York Times

A Conversation With Police on Race, The New York Times

PH: Words - stress

GR: Adjectives

Risk

Risk-taking in Youth

Is teenage risk-taking vital for our species? The Guardian

Skating on the Edge: Why are Young Men such Reckless Risk-takers? ABC, Catalyst

PH: Connected speech – rising and falling intonation

GR: The passive

Appendix 3: Students’ perceived proficiency BEFORE the course

with great difficulty

mostly with difficulty

mostly easily

very easily

I don’t know

I can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar.

29

119

155

35

4

I can understand most TV news and current affairs programmes.

34

117

151

29

11

I can understand the majority of films in standard dialect.

32

122

152

31

5

I can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular attitudes or
viewpoints.

34

109

150

35

14

I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible.

46

147

114

24

11

I can take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts, accounting for and sustaining my views.

40

121

149

26

6

I can present clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of subjects related to my field of interest.

45

133

129

27

8

I can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

48

164

99

18

13

I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my interests.

44

110

148

35

5

I can write an essay or report, passing on information or giving reasons in support of or against a particular point of view.

28

108

158

38

10

Haut de page

Document annexe

Haut de page

Notes

1 Oxford Quick Placement Test based on CEFR levels.

2 The programme re-design was supported institutionally in the form of a 96-hour bonus for the course designer, the author of this paper.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Screen capture of the Moodle learning space
URL http://journals.openedition.org/asp/docannexe/image/5558/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 144k
Titre Figure 2: Screen capture of the activities in an online module
URL http://journals.openedition.org/asp/docannexe/image/5558/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 65k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Laüra Hoskins, « Course Design for First-Year Undergraduate Human Science Programmes: A Blended Course in English for Academic Purposes », ASp, 74 | 2018, 173-189.

Référence électronique

Laüra Hoskins, « Course Design for First-Year Undergraduate Human Science Programmes: A Blended Course in English for Academic Purposes », ASp [En ligne], 74 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2018, consulté le 16 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/asp/5558

Haut de page

Auteur

Laüra Hoskins

Laüra Hoskins is an English for Specific Purposes teacher at the University of Bordeaux where she coordinates and teaches courses for undergraduate students in health and human sciences. She is also involved in teacher development for English medium instruction (EMI) and the international classroom through her work for Défi international <https://idex.u-bordeaux.fr/fr/n/Structures-d-aide-aux-projets/Defi-international/r3088.html>. Her current interests are in blended learning and course design. laura.hoskins@u-bordeaux.fr

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Tous droits réservés

Haut de page
  • Logo GERAS -Groupe d'Etude et de Recherches en Anglais de Spécialité
  • OpenEdition Journals