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Welcome to the Modern Languages eLearning Group Blog

Welcome to the Modern Languages eLearning Group Blog
This blog reports on pedagogical research and development relating to eLearning activities and Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) projects being undertaken by the eLearning Group network in Modern Languages at the University of Southampton. It also includes eLearning news and events.

This site is maintained by the eLanguages team.

Latest News


Preparations underway for 25th EuroCALL conference to be held at Southampton

EuroCALLPreparations are now in full swing for the 25th EuroCALL conference, to be hosted by Modern Languages at the University of Southampton from 23-26 August 2017. We look forward to sharing knowledge and experience about the use of technology in language learning and teaching with colleagues worldwide, participating in inspiring debate and making new friends.

EuroCALL is the European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning and it has been supporting and developing research and good practice in the use of technology for language teaching and learning for over 25 years. You can follow us here at Southampton in the run-up to the conference on the EuroCALL 2017 website and on Twitter @EurocallLang.

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The student experience on an online Pre-sessional Course for international students

Boarding Pass and Prepare for Pre-sessionalThis month’s blogpost is by Julie Watson, Head of eLearning in the Department of Modern Languages:

Since 2010, eLanguages have developed two five-week online courses, both focusing on English language development for international students who particularly need to improve their academic writing and reading skills in preparation for further study on a face-to-face summer Pre-sessional Programme. These courses are aimed at students who have obtained a lower IELTS score of 5.0 or 5.5 in reading and/or writing and they cover basic concepts and preparatory skills for academic writing; reading and critical thinking; vocabulary and grammar and developing students’ study skills awareness. A process approach is adopted towards writing development and each week there is a related reading or writing assignment as well as a grammar and vocabulary self-test.

Currently there are two versions of the five week online course. The first is Pre-sessional Boarding Pass, which is designed for students preparing for MSc or MBA study in the Southampton Business School at the University of Southampton. It forms the first component of a 16-week Pre-sessional Course in English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Globally-dispersed students on this intensive, discipline-specific course are tutored by EAP specialists based in the UK. Over 300 students have completed the course before proceeding onto their face-to-face pre-sessional since it was launched in 2011.

In 2014, a generic version of the course, called Prepare for Pre-sessional, was developed for students of mixed disciplines. The course was successfully piloted at the University of Southampton in the summer of 2014 and is already being licenced by another institution whose tutors teach their own cohorts of international students in a bespoke part of the course platform.

Student feedback on introduced technologies

The student experience on the course is an area of particular research interest and their end-of-course feedback has helped to shape the course and led to innovations in technology choices to facilitate the effective delivery of the course. Student requests for more audio-visual media to support student-tutor communication has led to the addition of voice-chat and videoed tutor feedback on course progression, approach to assignments etc, to supplement the forum and text-chat tools. Students found these beneficial in a number of ways as this small sample of forum posts shows:
The voice chat room is useful for me because I can talk and learn to connect with the tutor and everyone. I can discuss problems in studying and receive solutions. That is excellent…
The video helps me a lot. Now I know how to conduct my writing. Thank you for advice.
Thanks for your advice for our writing assignment, according to this video I understand the structure in each paragraph. And I will submit it on time.
Thank you for this video. It is very useful to me. I will attempt to complete every activities in this course.
Thank you for your video, it helped me to obtain important information of online course. I watched the video and understood. It is also a way to improve our listening. Thanks a lot.
Thank you for your video. I am going be more active and make more contributions.

Tutor views on benefits to students

Another area in which we are trying to gather more data is the potential of the online course for acculturating students into UK academic practice before they progress to a face-to-face Pre-sessional Programme. With this in mind, class tutors on the main Pre-sessional Programme at the University of Southampton, who receive students from the online courses, have been interviewed about their progress and there is tentative evidence that such students are more confident and perform better from the start:
“What is mostly apparent is that X quickly recognises what I am teaching, she tends to grasp the point before the other students. In these situations it is apparent that she has prior knowledge of the topics I introduce to the class.”
“She’s the best in the class, pure and simple…right from the beginning the very first writing task they do on the first day she had proper structure, her paragraphs were organised and had some logic.”

Institutional licensing

We hope collaboration with institutions currently licensing the online course will yield more useful data for our course evaluation. More information about pre-sessional online courses, Pre-sessional Boarding Pass and Prepare for Pre-sessional is available on the eLanguages website.

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Promoting German language and culture online: the SoGerman blog

SoGerman banner

This month’s blog post is from Patrick Stevenson, Professor of German and Linguistic Studies and Head of German in the Department of Modern Languages, and introduces a new blog that has been set up to support and promote German language learning.

The decline in the study of modern foreign languages over the last 10 years or so has affected German particularly severely. One of the initiatives that have been developed to address this is the Think German campaign coordinated by the German Embassy in London. The main aim of this campaign is to generate a greater awareness of, and interest in, German life and culture through the concerted efforts of regional consortia of university German departments. Each group acts as a hub within the national network in the hope that with the limited resources at their disposal they can reach a large audience of potential German students.

Modern Languages at Southampton is developing its contribution to Think German in the form of a blog – SoGerman – that is a joint effort between academic staff and students and is aimed primarily at 6th Form students and their teachers. The blog is intended not so much as a pedagogical resource as a source of information and inspiration, with topics ranging from ‘childhood heroes’ (characters from stories and TV programmes that German children grow up with) through popular culture (e.g. German comedians and music from the 80s to the present) to portraits of German cities and notes on milestones in German history.

It’s still very much a work in progress – many of the categories have yet to be populated – but we decided to let it go live now so that we could get feedback and suggestions for the next stages of development. We are eager to encourage contributions from school/college and university students, so that the blog can build up a community of users. We are also on Facebook and Twitter and on Instagram, so we hope that through these various means we can raise the profile of SoGerman and begin to develop an active following.

The German Section of Modern Languages at Southampton is planning to organise a German cultural festival in October, which will include amongst other things the official launch of the SoGerman project. So: watch this space!

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A research study investigating the student experience on the MA in English Language Teaching: Online

MA in ELT: Online

This month’s blog post is from Andrew Davey, eLanguages Projects Officer and Specialist Technician in eLearning, and Charlotte Everitt, Teaching Fellow in eLearning, in the Department of Modern Languages, and reflects on a research study looking at student experience on the MA in English Language Teaching: Online.

Context for the study

The University of Southampton MA in English Language Teaching: Online is a 2.5 year part-time Masters programme, which has been run in collaboration with the British Council since 2007. Over 100 students have successfully completed the course and over 90 are currently studying, based in over 25 different countries.

As the programme continues to grow in scale and global reach, the need to develop effective procedures for refreshing, enhancing and supplementing its content and reviewing its design features becomes greater. Ensuring that new developments are grounded in an understanding of the student experience is critical to this process.

Identifying the need for further research

Our most recent round of refreshment saw content and readings updated across four modules of the Online MA. This process included increasing the availability and variety of reading sources, introducing pair and group discussion tasks, adding new audio/video content and replacing old Flash activities with more compatible HTML5 activities.

The process drew on findings from both module feedback and observations of how students and tutors were using the course. However, it also highlighted the need for further research on the student experience to act as a basis for future developments.

The research study

A combination of qualitative and quantitative data related to different aspects of the student experience were collected via a short online survey distributed to current Online MA students. 30 responses were received.

Aspects of the course receiving excellent feedback included:
• student enjoyment of the course (rated 4.5 out of 5)
• quality of course documentation (4.5/5)
• ease-of-use and accessibility (4.4/5)
• task design (4.3/5)

Students also commented positively on the relevance of the content to their learning needs, the selection of reading materials and the quality of tutoring and tutor support.

In terms of improvements, students said that they wanted to see more video and audio resources, improved accessibility and availability of reading materials, and better integration of online tools to enhance interactivity. Additionally, fewer than half of the students had completed the induction materials. A further finding was that although the majority of students felt part of an online community, fewer felt like part of the University of Southampton community.

The next steps

This process of refreshment and subsequent research has provided a useful basis for developments on the Online MA, including a new round of refreshment of the Year 1 modules. We have introduced a BigBlueButton virtual classroom to the platform alongside the existing Moodle communication channels. Further ongoing developments include the creation of a bank of lecture recordings for access by students, and the integration of these recordings into core content. We are also exploring ways to enhance and highlight the induction resources, and to identify ways to help students feel more integrated into the University of Southampton community.

The findings from this project were presented at the 2016 LLAS eLearning Symposium. More information about the MA in ELT: Online can be found on the course website.

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S4B: A new Blended Learning module for students of Business

S4B: Academic and Professional Skills for Business

This month’s blogpost is by Sarah Winspear, Senior Teaching Fellow and Assistant Director of the Pre-Sessional Programmes for international students in Modern Languages:

The Southampton Business School (SBS) has over 1,100 postgraduate taught students, and developing their academic and professional skills is essential to help students prepare for success in both their studies and future employment.

The large size of this cohort means that a new approach is needed for effective delivery of these skills alongside taught Business modules. A blended learning solution has been developed by the English Language Section in the Centre for Language Study in collaboration with SBS. The new blended learning module ‘Academic and Professional Skills for Business’ (S4B) combines face-to-face and online (Blackboard) delivery and includes self-study activities, videos and interactive presentations built using Articulate Storyline.

Students can choose, and mix and match from:
1. Online learning activities (available at any time)
2. Face-to-face workshops and lectures (places booked in advance online)
3. Face-to-face tutorials (booked in advance online)
4. Practice assignments (graded and with feedback).

2015-2016 is a pilot year during which the module is offered as an option. Initial feedback from students has been very positive, and module evaluation so far is as follows:

1. Online learning activities
These will be relaunched for future deliveries to reflect clearer pathways for students; resource delivery will be time-released to map with student needs (e.g. academic writing in September and exam preparation in December).

2. Face-to-face workshops and lectures
Advance online booking appears to ‘add value’ and encourage participation; session timetabling will be extended to the early evening to meet all students’ needs; further content development is needed to suit home students and the two types of international students with different skill awareness levels (post pre-sessional and direct entry).

3. Face-to-face tutorials
These will be offered as early evening or early morning slots in future to ensure all students have the opportunity to attend; an online booking system is still in development.

4. Practice assignments
Evidence from students who undertook these short assignment tasks and received feedback clearly suggests they benefit considerably; promotion of the benefits is needed to increase student take-up of this part of the module package.

Finally, a fuller evaluation is planned during S4B delivery in semester 2 with the aim of improving the module and providing students with the skills needed to succeed in their studies and in their future employment.

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Using Quizlet, a vocabulary learning app, with Ab-Initio students of Italian

Quizlet Logo

This month’s blogpost is by Bianca Belgiorno, Teaching Fellow in Italian in the Department of Modern Languages:

The challenge of learning new vocabulary in a foreign language in a short period of time can be difficult. This can be particularly so during the first part of an Ab-Initio course when the students are asked to learn many words and expressions to help them start communicating in class in the new language and to practise what they have learned.

To help my students learn new Italian vocabulary I have been using an app called Quizlet. These are vocabulary flash cards that the students can use with their mobile devices or computer. These aide-memoires (available in many languages) include audio (although sound quality can be a bit metallic) to help students learn correct pronunciation. There are different games that can be played with the same set of cards. I created different sets of flash cards linked with topics covered in class and I added the links to the VLE, Blackboard. Students can also create their own sets of cards to share.

Although the Quizlet app is designed to use in the simplest way with target and students’ first language on either side, see this example, I have been experimenting with these Flash cards in different ways. Here are some examples:
infinitives of Italian verbs vs. Italian Present tense
sentences in Italian (with missing preposition vs. complete sentences – basically gap-fill tasks)

They can be added as links to Blackboard and it’s possible to group sets of flash cards for one specific class, allowing students to see all the topics covered in class. These can be used for revision purposes. The app is free unless images are required. Where permission is given, it is also possible to copy sets of cards published by others and then customise / edit them. My students’ feedback has been very positive; many say that this way of learning vocabulary is not as daunting as learning from lists. In class, I see students continue to use the app as their vocabulary improves. Students’ usage can also be tracked through a function in the Quizlet app itself.

The author is happy to be contacted for further information:

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‘SmartSkills’ and ‘Protonomy’: scaffolding the start of a transition to learner autonomy in a blended learning environment by encouraging Independent Learning and pro-active autonomy

University of Southampton SmartSkillsThis month’s blogpost is from Vanessa Mar-Molinero, Senior Teaching Fellow / Independent Learning Co-ordinator, and Chris Lewis, Teaching Fellow / Independent Learning Deputy Coordinator, in the Department of Modern Languages:

The importance of the role of independent learning with its emphasis on student-centredness has been recognised as an integral part of higher education programmes. However, many students, both home and international, struggle with the transition to learner autonomy. In Modern Languages at the University of Southampton, we have developed a range of scaffolded courses with compulsory and non-compulsory elements designed to support this transition and equip different cohorts of students with skills, strategies, techniques and tools, or ‘SmartSkills’, that are vital for success in not only their language learning, but also for their academic achievement and professional skills. The courses are scaffolded through a blended / flipped learning environment whereby students use vidcasts, podcasts and interactive quizzes to achieve learning objectives before attending workshops with an Independent Learning Facilitator.

Our research focuses on data collected from a case study of the pedagogical development of ‘SmartSkills’ Independent Learning blended learning modules for international students. The approach is largely a qualitative one, supported with some quantitative data. We aim to show how the conceptual framework of scaffolding transition to more autonomous learning using different methods, including digital literacies, contributes to the transition for international students into a learning environment emphasising development of learner autonomy in a UK university.

We explore the concepts of autonomy, defined by Race (2002) as a process in which a student is equipped with the tools, techniques and strategies which over time empower an individual to learn for themselves (see also Broad, 2006). The module that has been designed to help with this transition uses Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and the pedagogical concept of scaffolding the learning process. We refer to the ZPD as the space in which are students find themselves when we facilitate blended learning workshops where they engage with SmartSkills to develop their learner autonomy.

Data was collected from c.600 students during the Pre-sessional English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programme held over eleven weeks. It included reflective student blogs, open interviews and feedback questionnaires involving students and staff, statistical data of attendance at non-compulsory elements of the module and final grades attained by students. In this ongoing study, we are examining the attitudes and changes in learning over the eleven weeks and the progress of our students. This is arrived at by comparing language level assessments in the students’ first week; data collected during the programme, and the students’ grades in their final assessments.

Findings are currently restricted to this early data collection but look exciting. For example, we have begun to see a significant statistical correlation between the students in the Zone of Proximal Development who first chose to attend non-compulsory elements of the course and then continued to do so. Their grades and learning in general indicate a greater improvement than those students who did not attend the non-compulsory elements. We refer to this as the process of ‘protonomy’ or ‘pro-active autonomy’, as the student begins to recognise the importance of autonomy in this particular form of learning, and applies skills, tools, techniques and strategies to meet the expectations of the programme.

In carrying out this research and discussing our preliminary findings we hope to contribute to the wider area of research into the impact on international students’ integration into UK Higher Education through learner autonomy and independent learning.

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A case study exploring the evolution of one online course design

Get Ready for Southampton

This month’s blogpost is by Julie Watson, Head of eLearning in the Department of Modern Languages:

Since 2011, all incoming University of Southampton international students have been offered a free online course to help them prepare for university life and study before their arrival. The course called ‘Get Ready for Southampton’ (GRfS) has its roots in a tutored online preparatory course taken annually between 2005 and 2010 by up to 200 international students before going onto a pre-sessional course in EAP. As that course grew, so its learning design changed and in its new ‘skin’, GRfS now draws between 2000 and 2500 participants each time it is run. Pre-sessional students have been joined on the course by direct entry international students, Erasmus exchange students, visiting scholars as well as next year’s wannabe students of Southampton.

A recent study has focused on exploring how the course has evolved over the past ten years and the part that international students themselves have played as agents of change in this process. The role of students in influencing educational change has received particular interest in recent years (see e.g. JISC Change Agents Network, 2010) and studies have been undertaken elsewhere in areas such as listening to student feedback about institutional implementation of learning technologies, involving students as partners in course design, using learner-generated content. Given the length of time that our online course has run, I wanted to take a long view on course evolution and examine the role of student agency as well as the impact of parallel developments in educational and Web. 2.0 technologies.

The results have been interesting and have shown student impact across the course. A notable shift has taken place from small tutor-directed groups to a much larger open and fluid format, which allows students to have much greater influence in the direction of the course and, in this sense, also generate content. The teacher’s role has shifted as the phenomenon of MOOCs is also showing. The growth in the role played by the social aspect of the course together with the Web 2.0 proliferation of social networking tools and technologies has led to students making the choices of course tools and organising use amongst themselves – especially in the multicultural context of participants. The provided content of this course has also undergone significant change since making podcasts for education (see e.g. Salmon, 2009) marked a move away from purely text-based content at least seven or eight years ago. In many cases, including our own open content has eased the path of course design in recent years.

The study was presented at ALT-C this year and will be written up for publication in the proceedings. More information about the online course is available from the Get Ready for Southampton page on the eLanguages website.

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TwitTIAMO! Using Twitter with Italian beginners to help develop cultural awareness and communicative language skills

TwitTIAMO Our first blogpost is by Alessia Plutino, Teaching Fellow in Italian in the Department of Modern Languages:

The pedagogical research project “TwitTIAMO” started in 2013 and is still in use with students of Italian at the University of Southampton to investigate student engagement, cultural awareness and communicative language skills development using the 140-character word limit that is the main feature of microblogging with Twitter.

TwitTIAMO has involved 20 to 30 able linguist students each year from our Italian Accelerated 1+2 Course. This is a fast-paced course for able linguists who pick up Italian from scratch. It allows for just four x 45 minute teaching periods a week, in which there is little time for anything else but language learning! Students expressed a desire for intercultural knowledge to be more integrated into their curriculum and this request had to match my aim, as tutor, for ‘active’ student learning and interaction in the target language outside classroom hours to help prepare them for their oral exam (role play in set scenario).

I found the perfect solution in Twitter, as it mimics the quick succession of comments in a normal conversation, requiring both quick thinking skills and spontaneity. A class Twitter account was set up, with student followers. The tutor acted as guide, suggesting linguistic structures learnt in class for students to mimic and expand creatively. Topics came up spontaneously deriving from students’ interests, and students also surfed the internet, used online vocabulary sources etc., sharing links and pictures and taking charge of their own learning.

The results so far have been very positive, suggesting that:

  • Twitter can help develop fluency in written and oral skills;
  • Students can learn how to focus on what they say better (they can only use 140 characters)
  • Through tweeting themselves, tutors can differentiate and help to reinforce what they have introduced in their classrooms
  • Discussions are more interactive and swift and can also add to metacognitive development, i.e. reflective learning.

(List adapted from Ritchie’s 2009 article in the Times Education Supplement)

Here is some student feedback on TwitTIAMO (using Twitter of course!):
TwitTIAMO Feedback

You can read more about Alessia’s successful project on the Languages at Southampton blog. You can also see a video of Alessia talking about the project on her page on the ILIaD website.

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Modern Languages eLearning Group blog launched!

Welcome to the blog of the eLearning Group in Modern Languages at the University of Southampton. In our department there’s a great variety of eLearning research and TEL development happening – both in terms of blended learning and distance online education. This includes the TwitTIAMO Project; Get Ready for Languages; free Digital Literacies learning resources, an Understanding Language: Learning and Teaching MOOC; an online MA in ELT programme; blogging from abroad… to name just a few.

In this blog we will be featuring the eLearning projects that our staff are engaged in and reporting on our wide-ranging research and publications in this area. If you would like to be notified of regular blog updates please follow us on twitter @ModernLangs or subscribe to the RSS feed on this page.

Check out our new elearning group digital badge on the left and browse some of the links to more information about our online courses, commercial products and free products before you leave this page. Then watch out for the next blog post!

Julie Watson (Head of eLearning in Modern Languages)

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