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Pratiques pédagogiques en anglais de spécialité

A task-based English course for second-year sociology undergraduates

Une approche par les tâches pour une formation d’anglais en deuxième année de licence de sociologie
Laüra Hoskins
p. 45-66

Texte intégral

Foreword

1The following report concerns a teaching practice at the intersection of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) teaching and task-based language teaching (TBLT), two approaches to language education which have a good deal in common and which therefore work well in combination. Task-based language teaching is recommended in a range of language teaching contexts for a number of reasons. If we see the history of foreign language teaching methods as a pendulum swinging from more language-focused to more communicatively oriented pedagogies (Celce-Murcia 1991), TBLT as conceived in northern American research towards end of the last century aimed to rein in extreme implementations of communicative language teaching. TBLT brought to laissez-faire communicative classrooms a much-needed focus on form, defined as fleeting reference to grammar, pronunciation, or lexis during meaning-focused activities (Long 2000). In this, TBLT is of course also distinguished from the traditional grammar syllabus with its focus on forms (in the plural), or systematic explicit presentation of target language syntactic rules.

2Another advantage of TBLT is its compatibility with existing pedagogical traditions and curricular constraints in schools and universities: Tasks allow for real-world considerations, such as offering learners experience with activities related to those they might participate in for professional or social purposes outside the language classroom, while also offering a clear pedagogical framework to organise learning and indeed assessment. Laura Hoskins’ report on a recent pedagogical project at Bordeaux University offers an excellent illustration of this last point.

  • 1 http://shout4he.eu

3The University of Bordeaux has a strong tradition in teaching and research on ESP, from the early days of anglais de spécialité with Michel Perrin and Michel Petit, the founding and following editors of this journal, through to today’s highly successful English Medium Instruction teacher education programme led by Susan Birch-Bécaas, Lesley Graham, and Joanne Pagèze. Examples of their ESP courses for students in disciplines such as public health, sports science, and human sciences are showcased in a series of capsule videos for the European project SHOUT4HE (SHaring Open educational practices Using Technology for Higher Education)1. This project presents a range of techno-pedagogical practices by university lecturers in a variety of disciplines in different European countries, and since many involve English as a lingua franca, they may be of interest to ASp readers.

4In many ways Hoskins’ project is a model of reflective practice and pedagogical adaptation. The author reports on the development of a new ESP course for second-year sociology students from design through a first iteration in 2020-21. Following principles of needs analysis which are common to both ESP and TBLT and detailed in Long (2015) for instance, the pedagogical team identified problems related to student engagement and pedagogical effectiveness in their traditional, communicatively oriented, semester-long course organised over ten weekly two-hour classes. Some 200 students were taught in classes of around 30, with approximately half the cohort at level A2, a third B1-B2, and the remainder C1-C2 on the common European framework of references for languages scale. The teachers judged that their topic-based approach to the course lacked specific learning objectives, and that classroom interaction was unsatisfactory in such large heterogeneous groups; the students themselves requested class groups based on language proficiency.

5The first objective of the new course was to provide a clearer orientation, and the teachers began by identifying a discipline-appropriate task in collaboration with disciplinary lecturers: a project involving the collection and analysis of semi-structured interview data, which is a common activity in sociology research. Second, to address the question of quality of classroom interaction, a new task-based approach was adopted based on a blended course design which combined:

  • 10 one-hour face-to-face sessions in small groups organised by proficiency band,

  • 10 hours of online preparation or follow-up activities, and

  • 8 hours of personal study at the language centre or in the form of a virtual exchange with one of two American universities (this last offered to the more proficient learners).

6Hoskins’ report provides impressive details showing the meticulous design of the new task-based course involving oral practice, interview, and writing support phases. The report also reveals the care taken to avoid ghettoising lower-proficiency students, to present the new format to students, and to solicit feedback throughout the semester. An extensive appendix to the paper provides a wealth of detail, from the syllabus and course design to assessment criteria and questionnaires used for student feedback.

7The last section of the paper focuses on evaluation: three quarters of students passed the course, and around half of those who failed were in fact absent (a standard proportion in many French university undergraduate programmes). These results suggest that the course was successful, particularly since grading rubrics seem closely tied to communicative success in the different stages of the task. In addition, high proportions of participants judged their own performance positively, thought they had been well prepared for the task, considered the course appropriate to their discipline, and appreciated both teaching and learning activities and pedagogical presence.

8The main criticism from students concerned the workload, which some considered much too heavy, and to a lesser extent the blended format, with calls for more face-to-face teaching and less personal study. Student representatives felt the English course was too onerous, but, as often happens, end-of-course feedback was sparse with less than a third of students responding, so it is not clear how general this feeling was. Hoskins notes that such pushback is common in transition to active pedagogies generally. She points out that the project was conducted during the early days of pandemic restrictions, and reminds us that language learning “takes time and effort.” Otherwise, the report provides less information about the experience of the pedagogical team, which is a pity since the impetus for curricular change came from the teachers rather than the students and it would be interesting to know to what extent the teachers felt that student learning outcomes were better and whether their own workload was manageable.

9I have followed the work of Bordeaux ESP colleagues for a number of years and continue to admire the excellence of both student and teacher education initiatives in ESP which are conducted by these teams. These initiatives have clearly shown a powerful impact on student learning and the continuing professional development of lecturers at Bordeaux, as well as at national (Prix PEPS 2017) and European levels (EQUiiP, ASSETS+). There is plenty of scope for a systematic investigation of students learning outcomes in terms of communicative competence in ESP in programmes like the one described in Hoskins’ report, going beyond the immediate student evaluations presented here. Such evidence demonstrating the superiority of well-designed ESP courses in developing discipline-appropriate language skills could serve to counter the kind of student pushback described here, and also support language educators in debate over the vexed question of language certification currently facing French higher education.

Shona Whyte, Université Côte d’Azur

Celce-Murcia, Marianne. 1991. Language Teaching Approaches: An Overview. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. Heinle & Heinle.

Long, Mike H. 2014. Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Wiley.

Long, Mike H. 2000. Focus on form in task-based language teaching. In R. Lambert & E. Shohamy (Eds.), Language policy and pedagogy: Essays in honor of A. Ronald Walton. Benjamins.

1. Context

  • 2 Bloc de connaissances et compétences (BCC)

10At the University of Bordeaux, the English curriculum for undergraduate students of sociology comprises three courses, each awarding three ECTS in each year of study. These three courses make up a skills and knowledge block2 that students must pass to graduate. The first-year programme is cross-disciplinary and broadly specific to human sciences, mixing psychology and sociology cohorts (Hoskins, 2018). As students advance through the degree programme and become more specialised, so their English courses align more closely with their disciplinary interests. This paper will focus on the second-year English course and its 2020-21 iteration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

11In 2020-21, placement test results (see table A in the appendix) indicated a range of language learner profiles among the 205 students enrolled in the second-year of the degree programme, with nonetheless a majority of A2 learners (49.5%). One of the challenges of this context is therefore designing and implementing an English course that fits the needs of language learners but that is at the same time perceived as relevant and meaningful with regard to their field of study. With large group sizes, teachers have sometimes struggled to engage students with varying levels of ability and confidence in oral interaction. Over the last accreditation cycle spanning from 2016 to 2021, the course has evolved each year, as we have experimented with different formats and blends of online and face-to-face learning, to create classroom conditions that are conducive to peer-to-peer exchanges and active learning.

12The course has moved from a more traditional format in 2016-17 – comprising a weekly 2-hour over 10 weeks – to a blended format in 2020-21. For this iteration, the 28 hours of teaching and learning were broken down into a one-hour weekly contact session, one hour of online, asynchronous activities upstream of this, and an eight-hour personalised learning pathway, to be completed at the language centre or via a virtual exchange project. At the language centre, students can choose from a range of activities, including speaking workshops, online quizzes, certification preparation, oral communication training, writing workshops or tutoring. In 2020-2021, two virtual exchanges were also offered to students with a B1 level or above, one with the University of St. John’s in New York and the other with the University of Texas in Austin. In normal times, the weekly contact session would have taken place on campus, but in the pandemic context they were facilitated via videoconferencing technology (Zoom).

2. Learning design

13Previous iterations of this course took a more classic communicative approach to language learning than the one reported here. The ten-week programme was largely topic-based, with some video or textual input each week relating to a variety of themes which were likely to interest sociology students. In a typical class, students engaged in pre-focussing communicative activities, encountered input in the target language, exchanged as a class or in groups on their understanding or reaction to the content, focused on form through lexical and grammatical exercises. As mentioned above, teachers experienced difficulties engaging the large heterogenous groups and keeping learners on task.

14In their feedback on the 2017-2018 iteration, students expressed a wide range of views. A minority of comments (around one fifth) were negative in nature, using descriptors like “not productive enough”, “complicated”, “uninteresting”, “useless”, “painful”, “empty”, “difficult”, “like a first coloscopy”, “fruitless”, “laborious”, “burdensome”, “irrelevant”, “a waste of time”, “unstimulating”, “monotonous” to describe their English programme. While some students appreciated being in mixed groups, many of the negative comments lamented the lack of level groups. The flexible component at the language centre was also ill-perceived by some and viewed as an unnecessary obligation. In spite of these criticisms, some two thirds of comments remained positive, using adjectives like “interesting”, “effective”, “stimulating”, “fun”, “beneficial”, “different”, “original”, “relevant”, “fruitful”, “motivating”, “educational”, “productive” and “useful”. The feeling that the format was generally not working emanated therefore more from the teachers than from the students, usually during informal conversations after a Friday afternoon class where the team debriefed and shared frustrations.

15Despite the use of interactive pedagogies such as the jigsaw method and communicative activities (e.g., mingling, pair work), teachers felt the approach was lacking in purpose. Students were encountering, using, practicing and recycling the target language to no particular end. The large and mixed groups added further difficulty to facilitating classroom activities. In addition to these external constraints, it was felt that the lack of engagement could have been due to the absence of a task or project that might focus students’ efforts and help them to find meaning in their classroom interactions.

16We therefore decided to test out a more task-based approach. Rather than starting from content and resources in the target language (text, audio, video), task-based language teaching (TBLT) shifts the focus on language learning on to the successful completion of a task:

TBLT involves mimicking real-world activities and methods which can be specific to a particular ESP discipline and which lead to the engagement of learners’ discourse domains in order to exploit interlanguage competence, if not drive second language development. (Whyte 2013: §15)

17We were also keen to halve group sizes to increase the quality of classroom interactions. In the absence of additional human resources, we transformed the teaching and learning activities into a blended programme. The transformation meant that students would have a one-hour contact session and complete listening, reading and writing assignments online, before and after this session. A Moodle space was created to bring together all the resources, activities and assignments for the course as well as information pages and a question and answer forum (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Screen capture of the sections in the Moodle space

Figure 1. Screen capture of the sections in the Moodle space

18It was important to find a task that was relevant and meaningful for sociology undergraduates. Conversations with sociology faculty had raised awareness of one practice that students start to engage in during the second year of their degree: semi-structured interviews for qualitative research. In their disciplinary context, students work collectively to design an investigation on a topic set by sociology faculty, such as “money”, “the environment”, or, for 2020-21, “COVID-19”. They design and conduct interviews and report on their data. As a language learning task, this type of activity seems accessible to students of all levels, as it involves active listening, asking questions, eliciting responses, and reporting on these in a written format. It also allows for varying levels of competence to be recognised as questions and answers could be more or less developed and nuanced depending on individual ability. Finally, the activity offers opportunities to assess both oral and written skills (see appendix H). As a starting point, the learning outcomes were defined in terms of successful completion of the components of a project using semi-structured interview methods for research (see box 1).

Box 1: Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you should be able to...

– understand video and textual resources in English related to your course of study,

– design a semi-structured interview in English for qualitative research,

– carry out and take part in a semi-structured interview in English,

– report and reflect on your findings in English.

19These included therefore learning outcomes relating to receptive and productive skills. We aimed to help students develop the skills necessary to understand content related to their course of study, to design a semi-structured interview in English for qualitative research, to carry out and take part in a semi-structured interview in English and finally to report and reflect on their findings in English.

20The task sequence was designed to help students achieve these learning outcomes by guiding them through the different phases of their project. These included 1) choosing a topic of interest to investigate, 2) designing an interview guide, 3) carrying out interviews, 4) reporting on findings, 5) reflecting on the whole project. Therefore, in weeks one-four students explored a range of sociology-related topics that would provide them with inspiration and language resources for their own investigation. Weeks five-six focused on the interview phase of the investigation – designing an interview guide and carrying out interviews. Weeks seven-ten targeted academic writing skills.

21In terms of classroom groupings, we decided that it would be useful and more comfortable for students to be able to carry out their interviews with peers of similar language proficiency. To this end, we invited students to take a placement test at the start of the semester. Concerned that language proficiency has been correlated with socioeconomic status (Manoilov 2019) and that the practice of streaming or setting learners by ability concentrates students from disadvantaged backgrounds in lower sets and students from advantaged backgrounds in higher sets, we decided to apply broad banding. For example, there could be several A1-A2 groups, but each group would be equally diverse in ability. Another variable that was taken into account to form the groups was the students’ choice of pathway for the flexible component. Depending on placement test results and personal choices, students could opt into one of three pathways: 1) a standard pathway with a language centre component 2) a New York virtual exchange pathway for students with a B1 level and above 3) a Texas virtual exchange pathway for students with a B2 level and above. The New York exchange was a bilingual exchange with learners of French while the Texas exchange was an English as a Lingua Franca exchange with students of sociology. Based on these variables students were broadly banded as shown in table 1.

Table 1 : Learner groupings

Pathway

Learner levels

N° of groups

N° of students per group

Standard

A1-A2

11

8-12

Standard

B1-B2

5

9-12

New York Virtual Exchange

B1-C2

1

16

Texas Virtual Exchange

B2-C2

1

15

  • 3 <https://youtu.be/tQX49hKgmSI>

22Fortunately, the small group sizes were well-adapted from the outset to the pandemic context and videoconferencing via Zoom. The format and spirit of the course was explained to the students at the beginning of the semester through a capsule video3 and then reinforced during the first contact session facilitated by a teacher on Zoom (see figure 2). Students also received weekly reminders of the week’s tasks and milestones to be met via the Moodle news forum.

Figure 2. Screen capture of the video explainer

Figure 2. Screen capture of the video explainer

23In the early weeks of the semester content was teacher-driven. Students viewed or read teacher-curated video content and completed focus-on-form activities on the Moodle platform (see appendix G). A range of level-appropriate resources were often offered, with students given a selection of content to choose from (figure 3). During the synchronous Zoom sessions, discussions stemmed from these viewings. A special focus was placed on designing and asking questions for peer-to-peer conversations so that students could develop the interactional skills needed for interviewing and being interviewed. Thus, students practiced eliciting and expressing feelings, views and beliefs. Extensive use of breakout rooms was made, with debriefing phases as a plenary.

Figure 3. Screen capture of teacher-curated video content for week 1

Figure 3. Screen capture of teacher-curated video content for week 1

24Students were set milestones for their research project so that by week 6 they had chosen a topic, designed their research questions and interview guide and were ready to interview each other. It is worth noting that the communication task was a simulation of a sociology research activity, and as such each student was at times both respondent and researcher within their class group. As respondent, they would be selected according to their profile or asked to provide informed consent for participating in this mock study. Students were therefore advised to select a topic for investigation that any of their peers could relate to. It follows that around one fifth of students chose to investigate the topics in connection with the pandemic context –the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student education, health, employment, life, habits and hobbies (see box 2).

Box 2: Student-chosen topics for research projects

  • Animal welfare

  • Beauty

  • Body image and social media

  • Bullying (including cyberbullying)

  • COVID-19 (impact on student education, habits, health etc.)

  • Culture (music, cinema, access)

  • Diet and food

  • Digital technologies (social networks, smartphones, videogaming)

  • Discrimination / inequalities (social inequalities, diversity on screen, gender)

  • Drug use

  • Education (achievement, student pathways)

  • Feminism

  • Freedom of speech

  • Gender identity

  • Immigration

  • Mental health (depression, public speaking anxiety etc.)

  • Police violence

  • Political activism

  • Relationships / love

  • Solidarity movements / charities

  • Sport

  • The environment (climate change, zero waste movements etc.)

  • The media

  • Travel and holidays

  • Urban living for rural students

  • Work

25Mid-semester students carried out their interviews. They were advised to collect at least four interviews, some of which would take place in the one-hour weekly Zoom session and others which would take place during students’ own time or during workshops at the language centre that were also entirely online at the time. During the contact session for week six, students were randomly assigned to breakout rooms of two and they recorded their conversation directly in Zoom so that they could listen to each of the interviews afterwards. As they had to take it in turns to be both interviewer and interviewee, they were mostly only able to record one or two interviews during class time. Students understood the principles of the assignment well, likely because they were familiar with the format from their disciplinary field. They thus answered freely and spontaneously to questions asked by their peers rather than reciting answers or enacting role plays. The wide range of topics chosen meant that the conversations were rich and varied

26From this point onwards course content became learner driven, as students had to listen to their own recordings and look for patterns in the data. The week after the interview phase was dedicated to reflecting on the experience and providing feedback to teachers that we will explore later. In subsequent weeks, the writing-up of the investigation was broken down into manageable chunks, with students one week writing an introduction, another week a paragraph of data analysis and another week a conclusion so that they could benefit from teacher feedback at each stage. Indeed, the contact sessions in these weeks were mostly dedicated to exploring and reviewing examples of writing submitted by students and giving special attention to areas of difficulty and explicit instruction of language items, such as verb tenses and reported speech.

27The assessment tasks were closely aligned with the teaching and learning activities and the various outputs were assessed, sometimes formatively, sometimes summatively (table B in the appendices). Students submitted their best performance as an interviewee and their written report via assignment activities on the Moodle platform and they were assessed using a rubric with criteria for task completion or content and language proficiency based on CEFR descriptors (tables C and D in the appendices). We did not evaluate students on their performance as interviewer as this would require them to also share the audio responses of their interviewees with their teacher views and feelings students were perhaps comfortable voicing to a peer but not to a teacher.

3. Course evaluation

28To evaluate the English for second-year sociology course and its outcomes in 2020-21, we used a mixed methods approach including student achievement data, an oral forum in the week following the interview phase of the student assignment and a post-course questionnaire. Of the 205 students enrolled in the second-year of the sociology degree programme, 156 students passed their English course (76.10%), 27 failed (13.17%) and 22 (10.73%) were absent throughout (likely students who had dropped out or were retaking the second year but had validated the English course the previous year).

29During the Zoom session in the week following the students’ collection of data by interview, teachers engaged students in reflecting on this part of their assignment in a focus group format. Using a Zoom poll, we surveyed students’ views on the task and their performance. They were then dispatched randomly into breakout rooms to discuss and develop their responses, among peers, and make suggestions as a group regarding which aspects of the course so far they would keep and which they would change. The results of the initial Zoom poll were mostly positive. Of the students present, 90% agreed to some extent that the interviews that they had conducted had gone well, though fewer (71%) felt similarly about the interviews they gave. This seems logical in that students had prepared questions in advance but had to improvise their responses in the role of informant. Furthermore, 85% felt the task was useful for learning English and 84% reported feeling well prepared. Over 70% of students completing the poll said that they enjoyed doing the interviews, that their interview guide was effective and that the interview task was useful for them as a sociology student. They were less positive about the experience of the task on Zoom, with just over half of students reporting feeling comfortable with this context. In their comments some said that the screen acted as a barrier and made them feel less at ease. And yet, on a technical level 64% of students disagreed that it had been difficult to conduct the interviews. However, technical issues such as a slow internet connection that can increase latency and make interactions more laboured may also have contributed to the unease some students felt when conducting their interviews through Zoom.

30In their breakout rooms students came up with a range of ideas. Students showed appreciation for the classroom dynamics, including teacher attitudes, an emphasis on oral interaction among peers, the small groups and the use of breakout rooms. They also liked the pedagogical approach, citing the interview task, the flipped methods, the variety of teaching and learning activities and the interest of the topics explored as worth keeping. Some suggestions related to the pacing and organisation of the course as a whole. In their suggestions for modifications to make to future iterations, workload was a common theme – many students felt that this was too heavy and some viewed the language centre component of eight hours across the semester as too much. At the same time, several students made the case for longer contact sessions and less personal work and some were critical of the reflective journal that was in their view time-consuming. A further important view was shared by one student who had felt ill at ease responding to questions asked by one randomly assigned peer-interviewer that were of a personal and sensitive nature. This area of consent is one that teachers should be particularly vigilant of in future so that learners do not find themselves in this situation. Better feedback and guidance should be given at the design phase so that students can be steered away from asking questions that might be too intimate or sensitive.

31The views regarding workload were echoed and amplified, somewhat unexpectedly for the English teachers, at the mid-term pedagogical counsel with the sociology faculty. Indeed, the general picture that had emerged for them in week seven was constructively critical but enthusiastic about the task-based approach. Yet, according to the student representatives who reported having surveyed over half of the year group, the English course was a problem because it represented too much work within the second-year programme. One representative argued that the flipped classroom “didn’t work” and that what students wanted was a more traditional format with two-hour weekly classes where they could read a text or watch a video together. While the English teachers agreed that students would likely benefit from a longer contact session this would inevitably be at the expense of smaller group sizes. We also recognised the value of active learning methods.

  • 4 SphinxOnline is an online data collection and analysis suite used by the University of Bordeaux < https://www.sphinxonline.com/>

32In the face of these comments, we were interested to find out how students felt about the course and what they had taken away from it once it had come to an end. We surveyed the students again at the end of semester via an anonymous questionnaire disseminated using SphinxOnline4 to all students enrolled in second-year sociology. Of these, only 57 completed the survey, a 28% response rate, and only a very small minority (7) left comments in the open question. The questions targeted their perceptions of the learning experience as well as their learning outcomes (box 3).

Box 3: Post-course survey

Quel était votre parcours ce semestre?

Parcours classique / Parcours PHASE / Parcours virtual exchange

Quel est d'après vous votre niveau d'anglais? Choisissez l'un des niveaux ci-dessous en vous aidant de la grille si besoin.

A1 / A2 / B1 / B2 / C1 / C2

Merci de choisir l'option qui vous correspond pour les questions suivantes (Pas du tout d'accord / Plutôt pas d'accord / Neutre / Plutôt d'accord / Tout à fait d'accord / Je ne sais pas) :

­De façon générale, j'ai le sentiment d'avoir progressé en anglais grâce à cette UE.

J'ai le sentiment d'avoir progressé en compréhension de l'oral. J'ai le sentiment d'avoir progressé en interaction orale.

J'ai le sentiment d'avoir progressé en prise de parole en continu. J'ai le sentiment d'avoir progressé en expression écrite.

J'ai le sentiment d'avoir amélioré ma prononciation. J'ai le sentiment d'avoir élargi mon vocabulaire.

J'ai le sentiment d'avoir amélioré mon répertoire grammatical.

J'ai le sentiment d'avoir été bien accompagné·e pour préparer la phase entretien semi-guidé de mon enquête.

J'ai le sentiment d'avoir été bien accompagné·e dans la phase rédactionnelle de mon enquête.

Il m'a été difficile de suivre l'UE entièrement à distance.

J'étais à l'aise pour interagir en anglais sur Zoom.

Lors des phases plénières des séances Zoom, j'ai interagi en anglais.

Lors des phases en groupe des séances Zoom, j'ai interagi en anglais.

Choisissez parmi les options suivantes votre niveau de satisfaction (Pas du tout satisfait / Plutôt pas satisfait / Neutre / Plutôt satisfait / Tout à fait satisfait / Je ne sais pas) :

L’utilité du projet de recherche. Le séquençage du projet.

Les thématiques abordées. Les supports proposés.

Le lien entre cette UE et votre formation disciplinaire. Les activités proposées sur Zoom.

Les activités proposées sur Formatoile.

Les activités proposées par l'Espace Langues.

33In terms of classroom dynamics, 78% reported having interacted in English during the breakout phases of the Zoom sessions, 74% during the plenary phases (see appendix F). Fewer students reported feeling at ease interacting on Zoom (64%). It follows that in terms of progress, the communication skill where students felt they had improved the most was oral interaction (77%). The majority also felt that they had received enough teacher guidance to complete the interview phase of their investigation (75%). In contrast, a much smaller number felt they had progressed in written expression (41%) despite 68% of respondents reporting having received sufficient teacher guidance to write up their investigation.

34As for their satisfaction (see appendix E) with the course, a large majority was satisfied that the research project was useful (93%) and well sequenced (88%). A smaller majority was satisfied with the topics explored (79%) and the course resources (77%) and still fewer were satisfied with the link between their English course and their discipline and the activities on Zoom (70% in both cases). The lowest levels of satisfaction were observed for the activities on the Moodle platform (55%) and the activities at the language centre (54%). However, even here and after accounting for the neutral views only a small minority of respondents reported dissatisfaction with these two aspects of the course (8% and 16% respectively). In all, 86% of the students surveyed reported that their experience of the semester was positive. It transpires then that according to the students surveyed, the picture was less negative than the mid-term pedagogical counsel had suggested.

35In the few comments submitted in response to the open question, workload was once again a theme, with two respondents suggesting increasing contact time per week, either with a longer session or two one-hour sessions, one respondent suggesting spacing the course over the two semesters and one student commenting that it took them “too long” to do the online activities. The same student commented that the research project was not very meaningful and that it was complicated to follow the course. However, on a more positive note, one student wrote that they loved the course and that it was only a shame not to have English in both semesters. The same student also argued that the use of breakout rooms in Zoom had helped students to speak and they were made to feel at ease by their teacher. This was further echoed by another student:

I honestly feel that having the classes on Zoom, in small level groups, with the write-up broken down into stages was perfect for those who are struggling with English. I know that in a face-to-face class I would never have progressed as much.

36Peer-to-peer interactions were carefully and very intentionally planned by teachers each week to adapt to the videoconferencing mode, but it was perhaps less expected that some students should feel more at ease online.

37Given their persistence, it is worth addressing the complaints from the student of an excessive workload. Blended formats and active learning methods shift the responsibility for learning on to students and student pushback to what are perceived as “new” or “innovative” teaching methods is not uncommon in our experience. While a two-hour contact session is in principle equal in time to one-hour set of online activities and a one-hour contact session, students will arguably have to engage more of their personal and cognitive resources in the latter format. Considering too that the language profile of the majority students of this course suggested they were struggling with English from the outset (A2), it is natural that this added effort was perceived as a burden that required lightening. Furthermore, student pushback also needs to be situated within the broader pandemic context. The difficulties experienced by students were well-known and widely reported in the national media at the time. The digital divide, the massive and rapid shift to online learning, social isolation, financial hardship, family or personal illness are only a few of the factors that may have increased the sense of overwhelm created in the view of some students by the English course.

38However, learning a language in adulthood takes time and effort. It is not because language learners express dissatisfaction with active learning methods that language teachers should be discouraged from taking a student-centred approach and revert to more traditional and teacher-centred methods. For future iterations of this course, that will in a post-pandemic context include a weekly face-to-face contact session, we will nevertheless pace the interview phase of the project, the most intensive component, over two weeks so that students have the time they need to conduct interviews during the contact sessions. We will also explore ways of increasing contact time within the current budgetary constraints and without doubling group size. More importantly, we will take special care to make the rationale behind our pedagogical approach more explicit so that students understand the arguments in favour of active learning through a task-based approach and are thus more likely to subscribe to it.

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Bibliographie

Hoskins, Laüra. 2018. Course design for first-year undergraduate Human Science programmes: A blended course in English for Academic Purposes. ASp 74, 173-189. DOI: doi.org/10.4000/asp.5558

Manoilov, Pascale. 2019. Les Acquis des Élèves en Langues Vivantes Étrangères. Rapport de recherche. Conseil national d’évaluation du système scolaire.

Whyte, Shona. 2013. Teaching ESP: A task-based framework for French graduate courses. ASp 63, 5-30. DOI: 10.4000/asp.3280

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Annexe

Appendix A: Distribution of proficiency levels among the student population (Placement Test Results for 2020-21)

Level of proficiency

N

%

A1

6

2.97

A2

100

49.50

B1

50

24.75

B2

27

13.37

C1

12

5.94

C2

1

0.50

No result

6

2.97

Total

202

100

Appendix B: Assessment criteria for interview given

TASK COMPLETION

The student understands all the questions that are asked or is able to seek help by asking for clarifications or reformulating if in doubt. Responses are detailed and developed and demonstrate good critical and reflective skills.

1 point — NOT AT ALL

2 points — MOSTLY NOT

3 points — ON AVERAGE

4 points — MOSTLY YES

5 points — ABSOLUTELY

LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY

Reading a text

1 point

(impossible to ascertain level)

The student shows they can reply in an interview to simple direct questions spoken very slowly and clearly in direct nonidiomatic speech about personal details.

2 points (A1)

The student shows they can make themselves understood in an interview and communicate ideas and information on familiar topics, provided they can ask for clarification occasionally, and are given some help to express what they want to. The student shows they can answer simple questions and respond to simple statements in an interview.

2.5 points (A2)

The student shows they can provide concrete information required in an interview but does so with limited precision. They can take some initiatives in an interview but is very dependent on interviewer in the interaction.

3 points (B1)

3.5 points (B1+)

The student shows they give an effective and fluent interview. They can take initiatives in an interview, expand and develop ideas with little help or prodding from an interviewer.

4 points (B2)

The student shows they can participate fully in an interview as interviewee, expanding and developing the point being discussed fluently without any support, and handling interjections well.

4.5 points (C1)

The student shows that they can keep up their side of the dialogue extremely well, structuring the talk and interacting authoritatively with complete fluency as interviewee at no disadvantage to a the other student.

5 points (C2)

Appendix C: Assessment criteria for written report

CONTENT

LANGUAGE

Not done or plagiarised

0 points

Not done or plagiarised

0 points

VERY POOR: very poorly structured and underdeveloped; no reflection

2 points

Ostensibly Google translated

2 points

POOR: poorly structured and underdeveloped; little reflection; descriptive not analytical

3 points

POOR (A0): mostly incomprehensible, consistently incorrect and inaccurate, very limited repertoire of grammar and vocabulary.

3 points

UNSATISFACTORY: insufficiently structured developed, mostly descriptive rather than analytical

4 points

UNSATISFACTORY (A1) sometimes incomprehensible and difficult to follow, recurrent basic errors, limited repertoire of grammar and vocabulary.

4 points

SATISFACTORY: satisfactorily structured and sometimes well developed; some analysis

5 points

SATISFACTORY (A2): mostly comprehensible but an effort to follow, basic errors but a satisfactory repertoire of grammar and vocabulary.

5 points

QUITE GOOD: quite well structured and developed; some analysis

6 points

QUITE GOOD (B1): mostly clear and mostly easy to follow despite some basic errors, quite good repertoire of grammar and vocabulary.

6 points

GOOD: well-structured and developed, good level of analysis, supported by some pertinent examples

7 points

GOOD (B1+): clear and easy to follow, no basic errors despite errors with more complex language, good repertoire of grammar and vocabulary.

7 points

VERY GOOD: very well-structured and developed, careful analysis, supported by pertinent examples and evidence.

8 points

VERY GOOD (B2): clear and effortless to follow, mostly accurate, large repertoire of grammar and vocabulary.

8 points

EXCELLENT: expertly structured and developed, careful and insightful analysis, supported by pertinent examples and evidence.

9 points

EXCELLENT (C1) lucid and smooth-flowing, entirely or almost entirely accurate, extensive repertoire of grammar and vocabulary, idiomatic and a pleasure to read.

9 points

OUTSTANDING in every way

10 points

OUTSTANDING (C2) flawless and ready for publication

10 points

Appendix D: Results of Zoom polls in week 7 of 10

 

Strongly agree

Agree somewhat

Neither agree or disagree

Disagree somewhat

Strongly disagree

I was well prepared to do the interview task.

21.3%

62.3%

8.2%

4.9%

3.3%

I enjoyed doing the interviews

34.4%

43.4%

17.2%

3.3%

1.6%

The interview task was useful for learning English

33.6%

51.6%

11.5%

3.3%

0.0%

The interview task was useful for me as a sociology student.

27.9%

43.4%

18.9%

8.2%

1.6%

I felt comfortable doing interviews via Zoom.

19.8%

33.9%

23.1%

20.7%

2.5%

The interviews I conducted (as interviewer) went well.

28.7%

61.5%

7.4%

2.5%

0.0%

The interviews I gave (as interviewee) went well.

16.0%

55.5%

17.6%

10.1%

0.8%

It was technically difficult to do interviews via Zoom.

4.8%

12.0%

19.2%

28.8%

35.2%

My interview guide was effective.

20.2%

55.6%

19.4%

3.2%

1.6%

Appendix E: Student satisfaction with their English course

 

very satisfied

somewhat satisfied

neutral

somewhat unsatisfied

not at all satisfied

I don't know

The usefulness of the research project.

30.4%

48.2%

5.4%

8.9%

5.4%

1.8%

The sequence in the research project.

21.4%

48.2%

16.1%

5.4%

8.9%

0.0%

The topics explored.

64.3%

28.6%

3.6%

1.8%

1.8%

0.0%

The course resources.

41.1%

35.7%

14.3%

5.4%

3.6%

0.0%

The link between the course and undergraduate field of study.

25.0%

44.6%

23.2%

1.8%

5.4%

0.0%

The activities on Zoom.

32.1%

55.4%

7.1%

3.6%

1.8%

0.0%

The activities on Formatoile.

28.6%

25.0%

26.8%

8.9%

7.1%

3.6%

The activities at the Espace Langues

28.6%

26.8%

21.4%

3.6%

5.4%

14.3%

Appendix F: Student perceptions of their outcomes

strongly agree

agree, somewhat

neutral

disagree, somewhat

strongly disagree

Overall, I feel I have progressed in English thanks to this course.

27.3%

45.5%

12.7%

9.1%

5.5%

I feel I have progressed in listening comprehension

25.5%

45.5%

20.0%

3.6%

5.5%

I feel I have progressed in oral interaction

42.9%

33.9%

10.7%

5.4%

7.1%

I feel I have progressed in speaking continuously

21.4%

42.9%

21.4%

8.9%

5.4%

I feel I have progressed in written expression

10.7%

30.4%

16.1%

25.0%

17.9%

I feel I have improved my pronunciation

16.4%

30.9%

27.3%

16.4%

9.1%

I feel I have expanded my vocabulary

21.4%

50.0%

10.7%

8.9%

8.9%

I feel I have improved my grammar repertoire

13.0%

44.4%

13.0%

18.5%

11.1%

I feel I had enough guidance to prepare the semi-structured interview phase of my investigation.

41.1%

33.9%

8.9%

5.4%

10.7%

I feel I had enough guidance to write up my investigation.

32.1%

35.7%

16.1%

5.4%

10.7%

It was difficult for me to follow this course entirely online.

11.1%

13.0%

11.1%

29.6%

35.2%

I was at ease to interact on Zoom.

36.4%

27.3%

12.7%

12.7%

10.9%

I interacted in English during the plenary phases of the Zoom sessions.

37.0%

37.0%

11.1%

13.0%

1.9%

I interacted in English during the breakout room phases of the Zoom sessions.

41.8%

36.4%

9.1%

9.1%

3.6%

Appendix G: Teaching and learning activities

Week

Purpose / Topic

Upstream of Zoom session

During Zoom session

Downstream of Zoom session

1

Exploring topics: Gender and Education

Differentiated video content

Focus on form: describing correlation

Getting to know you activities, course content presentation, discussion of video content

Journal – reflection on classroom interactions

2

Exploring topics: Diversity on Screen

Differentiated video content

Focus on form: asking questions

Discussion of video content, designing questions

Journal – reflection on classroom interactions

3

Exploring topics: Climate Change and Youth Activism

Differentiated video content

Focus on form: pronunciation for questions

Discussion of video content, formulating follow-up questions

Journal – reflection on classroom interactions

4

Exploring topics: Body Image and Social Media

Video content – a celebrity interview

Focus on form: countability and qualifiers

Discussion of video content, designing an interview guide

Journal – define topic and research questions for investigation

5

Designing a Semi-structured Interview

Video content – advice for designing a semi-structured interview

Focus on form: strategies for maintaining interaction

Peer review of interview guide

Journal – submit interview guide

6

Carrying out interviews

Finalising interview guide, carrying out interviews.

Carrying out interviews

Journal – interview log and reflection

Submission of best performance as interviewee

Week

Purpose / Topic

Upstream of Zoom session

During Zoom session

Downstream of Zoom session

7

Introducing your work

Student-generated content – students listen to their own audio recordings

Focus on form – structuring an introduction

Oral forum, reflecting and giving feedback on interview task

Journal – writing introduction

8

Discussing data: Digital Divide

Differentiated audiovisual and textual content

Focus on form – discussing data

Discussion of content, error feedback based on learner samples of writing

Journal – submitting a paragraph of data analysis

9

Drawing conclusions

Textual content – research report corpus

Focus on form – writing conclusions

Focus on form – reported speech, tense shift, exploration learner samples of writing

Journal – submitting conclusions for feedback

10

Writing up

Writing research report

Essential writing checklist

Individual work on report, teacher feedback

Submitting research report

Submitting reflective video

Appendix H: Assessment tasks

Component 1 (n/10)

Linguistic skills – scores on asynchronous online activities.

Component 2 (n/10)

Learning to learn – weekly reflective journals.

Component 3 (n/10)

Speaking skills – audio recording of an interview given.

Component 4 (n/10)

Speaking skills – contributions to synchronous sessions and a 2-minute reflective video.

Component 5 (n/20)

Writing skills – report on investigation carried out through semi-structured interview.

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Notes

1 http://shout4he.eu

2 Bloc de connaissances et compétences (BCC)

3 <https://youtu.be/tQX49hKgmSI>

4 SphinxOnline is an online data collection and analysis suite used by the University of Bordeaux < https://www.sphinxonline.com/>

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Screen capture of the sections in the Moodle space
URL http://journals.openedition.org/asp/docannexe/image/7773/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 1,2M
Titre Figure 2. Screen capture of the video explainer
URL http://journals.openedition.org/asp/docannexe/image/7773/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 184k
Titre Figure 3. Screen capture of teacher-curated video content for week 1
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Laüra Hoskins, « A task-based English course for second-year sociology undergraduates »ASp, 81 | 2022, 45-66.

Référence électronique

Laüra Hoskins, « A task-based English course for second-year sociology undergraduates »ASp [En ligne], 81 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2022, consulté le 21 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/asp/7773 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/asp.7773

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Auteur

Laüra Hoskins

Université de Bordeaux / Laüra Hoskins is an English for Specific Purposes teacher and head of a language centre at the University of Bordeaux, working in the sectors of health and human science. Her current interests are in blending language learning and virtual exchange. / laura.hoskins@u-bordeaux.fr

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