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Case Study 4.1: English for politicians

on Sat, 04/22/2017 - 16:12

 

Case Study 4.1: English for politicians

The students

In this course, the student is a German politician in his mid-fifties who was at B1

level in his speaking skills when he started the course and has reached B2 level

after two years. He is a very ‘confident, assertive and extremely eloquent speaker’

of German and is also confident when speaking English despite grammar or

vocabulary mistakes.

He decided he needed to improve his spoken English skills, particularly in terms

of ‘sufficient speed and language accuracy’ in order to be able to communicate

‘without ambiguity and stress for the listener’ in situations when he ‘explains his

political position on topical issues; express his own ideas; to discuss problems at

a high conceptual level; to react to questions by reporters’ or take part in

international meetings and interviews.

Some of the meetings are teleconferences and interviews are conducted on the

telephone or other virtual conferencing tools, which are then streamed on television.

The course

The course is a blend of 30 minutes online and 90 minutes face-to-face instruction

per month, and is paid for by the government.

One teacher conducts the Skype lesson and another teacher the face-to-face

sessions so that the student is exposed to two different accents (US and British

English) and different teaching approaches.

The blend of online and face-to-face sessions was chosen to give him practice

in both modes of communication in which he needs to speak English.

Materials and technology used

Internet news channels like CNN or the BBC and the English online version of the

German political magazine Der Spiegel are used to provide authentic content. The

student determines the topics, ‘which always revolve around topical political issues.’

Types of activities the technologies (and materials) are used for, and their

relevance for the learner

Skype, with and without camera, is used to simulate telephone or video interviews

and teleconferences. The text chat function is used as a protocol to record

corrections and feedback by the teacher, which are made at the same time as the

students is, for example, giving a statement, and which is then used to discuss the

session afterwards with the learner. At other times, this function is used to give

written prompts when the student is searching for words while speaking and thus

simulates a teleprompter.

In both situations, the tool allows the correcting, commenting, and prompting

to happen without interrupting the student’s speaking flow orally, which can be

regarded as one of the affordances of text chat, and an advantage over offline

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face-to-face teaching, where the teacher would either have to interrupt the

student or provide delayed feedback.

However, seeing the teacher write corrections in text chat could become a

distraction and it might even hamper fluency when the student tries to read the

comments and at the same continue speaking. This can ‘impose a lot of load on

learners’ (Willis and Willis, 2007: 138) and make it difficult to deal with the feedback.

The student might also be tempted to stop, go back, and correct himself, taking on

board the teacher’s correction. Whether this is positive or negative might depend a

lot on how confident the student is, what the exact purpose of the activity is (fluency

or accuracy), and what kind of process for feedback the learner and teacher agreed

on. In any case, it is an affordance that needs to be evaluated carefully in terms

of pedagogy.

One way of allowing for a distraction-free speech is to record the Skype session.

For example, in this case, the teacher sometimes asks the politician to give oneminute

statements as a reply to a controversial question and records the audio

with an application called ‘Sound Studio’. After the statement, the teacher and

student listen to the recording and discuss it.

Skype is also used in this course to simulate phone interviews. In this case, the

politician provides the teacher with a set of questions about a chosen topic.

The teacher takes on the role of the interviewer and asks the questions, which

the politician answers. Like above, feedback and prompts are either provided

immediately via text chat or noted down to discuss with the student afterwards.

Usability and constraints of the technology

Skype is very intuitive and easy to use and does not normally require any training.

The Skype services used in this course are free. It does, however, require a fast

internet connection, especially when video is used and the audio and video quality,

which is normally very good, can vary considerably at certain times when the service

is used by many people at the same time.

Because the student is a government official, his lesson takes place in high-security

surroundings. So, any tool that requires online access needs to pass through a

firewall. With Skype this was not an issue, possibly because it is widely used for

interviews and online conferences; thus, it did not need to be installed specifically

for the course.

Attitudes of students and institution towards the technology

The last point is important for another reason. Being a very busy politician who

only has exactly 120 minutes per month allocated for the English course and not

being particularly technology savvy, the student understands the need for using

technology, especially because he needs to be familiar with some digital technologies

professionally as well, but would not be prepared to spend time learning how to use

sophisticated e-learning tools. As mentioned above, he was already familiar with

Skype, and it is an easy-to-use tool that does not require any training in general.

98 | Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons This point cannot be underestimated when deciding which tool(s) to use in a course.

Teachers might believe in the effectiveness of a particular tool for language learning

or teaching purposes but it is of paramount importance to consider the benefits and

the time it takes for students (and teachers) to learn to use the tools.

At the institution that provides the course for the politician, they provide a lot of oneto-

one executive training in several languages. According to the head of the school,

who fully supports the use of digital technologies, their trainers are very willing to use

Skype for its ease of use and Skype is the only tool that their students readily accept,

especially because they also use it at work and because they can participate in the

lessons even when they are abroad. The tool has become ‘normalised’ (Bax, 2003)

for the learner and they do not need to learn how to use it.

Although I agree with Levy (2009), who suggests that training learners is essential

when using certain technologies for educational purposes, even if the learner is

familiar with them from other contexts, if a tool is used in a very similar way to how

a professional uses it at work, such training could be done in a very short time so as

to make it acceptable for the learner, who, as is the case with the politician, does not

want to, or cannot spend time learning about tools.

The internet

Technology, especially the internet with its abundance of authentic material (texts,

audio, videos, etc.) and information on many topics, the tools and possibilities

for communication, and platforms that allow sharing of ideas and knowledge, is

particularly important in ESP.

One way in which ICT has changed how languages are learned is that it allows

learners to immerse themselves in the target language and community easily, which,

in the past, was only possible by more or less extended stays in the country where

the target language was spoken (Warschauer, 2006), and which only a relatively

small number of more affluent students could afford. But even with visits, it was

very difficult for ESP learners with a very narrow focus on specialised language

to find appropriate opportunities to meet their language needs. Most immersion

programmes are for general English, with some offering learning opportunities and

internships for Business English students. With the widespread use of ICT, most

ESP students can now find language materials for their needs, interact with their

professional community, or with other learners in their field online (Arnó, Soler and

Rueda, 2006a). The internet and the various tools that are available there can also

help learners to become more autonomous and allow them to monitor their learning

(Zhong, 2008).

With this mediation of technology in learning, what comes to the fore is that the

learners’ task is no longer to acquire a body of encyclopaedic knowledge that must

be internalised, but rather to decide on what needs to be learned, how the input

relates meaningfully to each individual’s needs, and how the learning experience is

shaped and adapted over time, within a constructivist view of learning. This use of the

internet as a learning resource is especially appropriate in a Language(s) for Specific

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Purposes (LSP) context, given that it is in LSP settings where the students’ roles as

experts of a discipline are more apparent (Arnó, Soler and Rueda, 2006b: 253).

Theoretical frameworks like constructivism and socio-cultural theory give useful

insights into learning processes and these are translated into approaches that can

integrate online tasks, for example, task, problem, or content-based learning, and

we find these referred to in ESP course design (Hampel, 2006; Luzón-Marco and

Gonzàlez-Pueyo, 2006; Palalas, 2011; Arnó-Macià, 2012).

Many English teachers now use the internet in their courses, set online homework,

and use it to find materials and ideas for their lessons, even if only occasionally.

Some have become online teachers. Others also use it for their own professional

development as a ‘virtual staffroom’ to connect with colleagues around the word,

share ideas, participate in webinars or conferences, or write and read blogs (see

discussions of PLNs in Chapter 3).

This extended staffroom is particularly important for ESP teachers, whose multiple

roles, for example as teacher, materials designer, collaborator, assessor, and

researcher have expanded and evolved through IT, allowing collaborations with

field-specific experts and other colleagues around the world, and giving them more

easy access to an abundance of multimedia materials for even the most specialised

of fields in order to design materials and courses that meet their learners’ needs

(Arnó-Macià, 2012: 90). Today’s technology makes it further possible for teachers to

create more sophisticated and professional looking (multimedia) materials and online

or blended courses.

In the following sections, I will write in more detail about the three main areas that the

internet is used for in ESP, namely as a source for authentic, specialised material, a

place for authentic communication, and a collection of tools that allow for the sharing

of ideas, knowledge, and student- or teacher-created materials. These uses will be

illustrated with concrete examples from case studies.

The internet: a source for authentic materials

ESP teachers often find themselves in the role of materials collector and designer

to a greater or lesser degree (Krajka, 2003; Arnó-Macià, 2012). Sometimes, there

are coursebooks available, especially in more common ESP courses such as Business

English or general technical English, however, ESP students often have more varied

and very specific needs (Krajka, 2003). In addition, the language and tasks in

coursebooks do not always reflect those in real life, such as the language, contents

and use of email communication in Business English (Evans, 2012), so that these

coursebooks need supplementing. For very specific ESP courses or needs, such

as English for ‘European studies, biotechnology, philosophy, library science’ (Krajka,

2003: 2), there are no coursebooks at all or they are very expensive, and teachers

have to create the material for a complete course. In such cases, and in courses

of which the teacher is not a content expert at all, the availability of online material

is invaluable.

100 | Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons When I was asked to teach aviation maintenance English, for instance, I was faced

with three main challenges: I did not know much about the field other than the

knowledge any other lay person would have; most aviation coursebooks were

for pilots and tower crew but not for technicians, and the third challenge was

that the students, being from a vocational high school, also did not yet have

much field-specific knowledge and had a relatively low level of English.

I did bring a keen interest in technology to the course, which is essential when

teaching such an ESP course. But the internet was, for me, indispensable when

preparing and teaching this course, especially as it was a low-budget course, and

it would not have been possible to buy any commercial training videos, for example.

Another course I had to develop from scratch, because no coursebook fitted their

needs, was for city planners.

In such cases, teachers have always collected materials that were produced for other

purposes, like company newsletters, technical manuals, reports, etc. But these are

not always easy to come by, especially when it comes to more specific terminology

and the particular needs of students.

With the availability of a wealth of information and materials on all kinds of topics and

in various forms on the internet, finding relevant and up-to-date material has become

much easier. Besides company websites, there are websites with user-generated

content such as How Stuff Works (www.howstuffworks.com) or E-How (www.ehow.

co.uk), where lay people or professionals can share videos and text showing and

describing how certain things are done (from repairing an airplane, to blogging, to

how to give a presentation), and websites dedicated to certain professions or fields

of knowledge where teachers or learners can read, watch, or download materials.

However, Garrett (2009) warns that the mere use of authentic web-based resources

does not represent CALL and that for a true integration of technology into the

lessons, developing authentic tasks to go with the authentic material is of paramount

importance. Depending on the level of expertise of the learner, students can also

be asked to decide on content and create materials, thus, taking on responsibility

for their learning, becoming more autonomous (Krajka, 2003) by using all their

learning skills and developing web literacies (Krajka and Grudzinska, 2002).

In the Taxi English course which I developed and taught (Kern, 2011), the learners,

the taxi drivers with years of experience in their job, provided most of the content.

Contributing to the course in such a profound way gives learners, particularly

adults, a sense of achievement and empowerment. Adult learners can often find

themselves in this awkward situation of being a learner again, which can make them

feel vulnerable. By bringing their expertise into the course, this can be overcome

more easily. In the first case study we saw a similar situation in which the learner, the

politician, is an expert in his field and knows exactly what the topic of a lesson should

be and which online sources (news websites, etc.) to use; he even provides the

questions he wants to be asked. The teacher is there as a communication partner,

model speaker of the target language, and a guide; and provides language and

feedback exactly when, and where, it is needed.

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Other advantages of using web-based materials and involving the student in cocreating

the course are that students will be more exposed to the target language,

which can help them develop better language skills. Additionally, they will learn

how to deal with authentic materials in order to make use of them. They will also

learn skills that might be useful professionally, such as ‘extracting information,

analysing websites, producing summaries or reports’ (Krajka, 2003: 3). By using the

internet in such a way, students will acquire digital literacy skills besides learning the

target language. These are reasons why Krajka (2003) suggests using web-based

coursebook supplements.

In an ever-faster changing world, whether in technology or business, up-to-date

information is very important. Coursebooks take several years to be published.

By then, the information, vocabulary, or expressions contained in the chosen texts

is out-dated and as a result has much less face validity. The internet can close this

gap, when teachers or learners complement their coursebook with online reading

material. Askari-Arani (2004) reports on a research study on an English for Medical

Purposes course, in which traditional textbook and internet articles were used.

The results showed that the course with the internet articles was more successful.

A possible reason could be that they included up-to-date information and topics,

which made them more relevant, interesting and thus more motivating for the

learners (Askari-Arani, 2004).

Sometimes, however, it is very difficult and time-consuming to find exactly the kind

of material a teacher needs for a certain level or context and to prepare lessons

based on these. This is where websites like Macmillan’s www.onestopenglish.com or

http://breakingnewsenglish.com come into play, and which can be seen as a middle

way between following a coursebook or entirely creating one’s own materials. They

can help teachers make use of website resources without having to spend hours

searching for materials and designing tasks for them. They also allow teachers to

download a limited number of units or pages from coursebooks.

A similar service is provided by http://English360.com, which allows teachers

to create a course using digital versions of published materials from Cambridge

and adding their own from the internet (for example, videos, audio), and giving

learners and teachers tools to arrange these, take quizzes, etc., similar to a learning

management system. These services show how traditional publishers are trying to

adapt to the new technologies and cater to the new needs of teachers and learners.

Almost all newly published books or new editions of well-known coursebooks have

an online component, which is more or less integrated with the book.

Learner autonomy

Students can also use the internet for self-study purposes without the need for a

teacher. Often learners will ask their teachers which websites they would recommend

which they could use to improve their English. The internet, with its hyperlinked

structure allowing learners to choose the material and which direction to go and to

do this at their own pace, is in line with constructivist learning theory and enables

learners to become autonomous (Luzón-Marco, 2002), which is one of the skills

students need to develop today (Felix, 2005).

102 | Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons However, without the guidance of a teacher, only the most motivated and perhaps

those who already have a higher level of English will be able to make good use of

the resources available in order to improve their language skills. Many students,

and maybe particularly those who would need the extra practice, however, can

feel lost or overwhelmed by the amount of material available and can become

discouraged by this. Others might not know how to make use of the resources.

This is similar to the situation in which students use some technology proficiently

every day for entertainment purposes or their work, but when it comes to using the

same technology for language learning, they do not always know how. Levy (2009:

779) points out that the ‘default position of users is different from that of learners’.

The same is true for the internet. Students need training in how to approach online

texts with hyperlinks, for example. They need training in developing critical literacy

skills (Vie, 2008 in Arnó-Macià, 2012: 99) and evaluating websites, and help in

appreciating different genres of writing.

Technology itself does not bring about autonomy but with the appropriate support,

guidance, training, and scaffolding, it can help learners to gradually become

autonomous (Luzón-Marco, 2002; Arnó-Macià, 2012).

One example of how technology can be integrated into a course and learners

gradually trained to deal with authentic materials and tasks in the target language

is the English for Urban Planners course website (http://englishforcityplanners.

nergizkern.com [Best City]), which is the online part of a blended course. The

students, who are city planners, need to do online research about urban planning

for their work, but they did not know how to approach English texts that were often

beyond their level of English. On the website, they are guided step by step through

tasks that help them to understand the reading passage. Additionally, it includes links

to relevant websites, where they can find more texts of interest to them and try out

the same approaches on their own.

Another example for scaffolding online learning is to use WebQuests, which Luzón-

Marco (2002) believes provide suitable content-based activities for ESP classes in

which learning the target language and learning discipline-related content and skills

are integrated. According to him, such activities are based on a constructivist and

communicative approach, which help students with communicative competency,

critical reading, synthesising, and problem-solving skills.

A place for authentic communication

Teachers often have students engage in role plays in the classroom to simulate

target settings in which they will need to use certain language. This is because

teachers and even learners often do not have (easy) access to the target setting

so they have to create an imaginative scenario and environment. Today, the internet

is the target setting for many ESP learners. The internet is not only being used to

help students learn English by accessing authentic materials or chatting with native

speakers, but it has become one of the environments where professionals meet,

communicate, collaborate and work. Although this is of concern for general English

learners and teachers as well, it is of particular interest and importance for ESP.

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By using such internet and communication technologies to collaborate internationally

and communicate with fellow students around the world, and engage in genuine

conversations with experts in their field, teachers and learners can ‘bridge the gap

between the LSP classroom and workplace demands’ (Arnó-Macià, 2012: 100) or as

Bremner (2010: 121) puts it, between the ‘textbook and the workplace’. In order for

this to happen effectively, however, teachers need to understand the characteristics

of internet communication so that they can help their ESP students to deal with

specific aspects or features of this type of communication and environment (Murray,

1988) such as ‘cyber genres’ (Shepherd and Watters, 1998: 1), intercultural aspects

of communication (Arnó-Macià, 2012), and multimodal communication (Hampel and

Hauck, 2006; Bremner, 2010).

Because many ESP learners already use the internet to network with other

professionals to share discipline-specific information and take part in specialised

forums, ESP teachers started using relatively new technologies such as social

networking and Web 2.0 tools with their students often before many general English

teachers did because of the centrality of students’ needs in ESP (Arnó-Macià, 2012).

These technologies allow students to immerse themselves in their professional

communities online and give teachers the means to create materials and lessons

that can guide students in this, and simulate target situations much more realistically

in the actual setting they normally take place in, using the same or similar tools they

already use or will use for work (Arnó-Macià, 2012). In other words, the internet is

authentic not only because of the authenticity of the language that can be found

there but also authentic as a place, which is very important in the situated learning

approach according to which the socio-cultural setting has an influence on the

learning and its outcome (Lave, 1991; Hampel, 2006; Mayes and De Freitas, 2007;

Bremner, 2010; Arnó-Macià, 2012). The more the learning situation and activities

resemble the students real-life situation and tasks, the more the students will be

motivated to learn, and the more relevant the learning will be.

An English language course can be situated on two levels. What do I mean by this?

For example, the teacher can show a video in which a scene is shown in which a

typical situation is depicted in which the target language is used. What is shown

can be an authentic situation, a situation or context in which the students in an

ESP course will find themselves. Similarly, a teacher could take students to such

a place or, if this is not possible, in a simulated place in a 3D virtual environment.

This is the first level.

The second level is when the students, who are, for instance, taken into a 3D

world, actually have to use 3D virtual worlds in their professional lives. Some

companies use such virtual environments for business meetings or employee

training. Another example is when students participate in a discussion forum

online to practise language used in such forums and if they actually use or will

have to use such forums at work. In this case the technology is not only used to

simulate a situation or an environment but is actually the context or environment

in which the learners will have to use English in their professional lives.

104 | Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons We can see this happening in all three case studies. For example, students learning

English for Advertising, should they go on to study advertising and work in this field,

they will have to use similar kinds of technologies as used in the blended course

project described in Case Study 4.3. The politician in Case Study 4.1 will be in

situations where he will give interviews on Skype or similar tools. The same is true

for the Business English course in Case Study 4.2, as business people nowadays

often participate in online conferences using virtual meeting rooms.

In the Business English case study we will see a practical example of how

Mercedes Viola, a Business English teacher in Uruguay, integrates various

real-life communication tools or meeting ‘locations’ into the language course to

simulate real professional situations in which the learners need to use English.