Minna Metsäportti and Kirsi Saarinen
Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Finland
A Fast Track to Professional English (3ECTS) is an online course jointly implemented by two vocational English teachers of Tampere University of Applied Sciences. It is intended for students with relatively high competence in English. The objective is to provide Engineering and Health Care students with an opportunity to accomplish their compulsory professional English course faster, more independently and in a more student-centered manner. The content, methods and assignments enable collaborative and self-directed studying. They also support multi-professional collaboration among Engineering and Health Care students, and develop as well as show a student’s linguistic, communicative and reflective proficiency and performance.
The aim of the course was to provide students with an opportunity to accomplish their compulsory professional English course at a faster speed within the curriculum. The flexibility offered to students to follow their individual learning paths is in concordance with the general principles of TAMK. Another aim was to bring together students from completely different special fields, exposing them to collaborative multi-professional teams and immersing them in working life-like situations.
The course was intended for students confident with their English. These students have often acquired the high level of competence in an informal way, e.g., through family relations. The students chosen for the course were expected to be self-directed, active and cooperative. These qualities were a prerequisite expected from a student throughout the course, already in the enrolment process, as the students had to apply by submitting formal applications.
The guiding principles in planning and implementing the course were the following: comprehensive utilisation of language skills, learner-centredness, student self-directedness, reflection, the student’s special field, multi-professional approach, collaborative learning, and social presence in a web course.
Contents and methods
A Fast Track to Professional English was a 5-week online course in Tabula (TAMK learning platform) consisting of weekly assignments and a final contact lesson for the presentation of multi-professional final projects. There were two assignments each week, a field-specific professional one, and a more informal personal one. The students were prompted to give feedback on each other’s submissions continuously. The teachers were equal members in the discussion forums, submitting and commenting on the informal assignments along with the students.
The course enabled practising and improving various domains of English language, reading, speaking, writing, and listening (see Council of Europe 2001). When practising the above areas, the students simultaneously had an opportunity to rehearse important meta-skills: searching and critically choosing articles, forming multi-professional groups, and designing the topics for the final projects.
Learner-centredness was emphasised in various reflective assignments. At the onset of the course the students set individual learning goals. These, as well all the other assignments were submitted in the open forums, and they attracted lively discussion within the learning community. Essays on sSuccessful professional communication required in-depth reflection on both as a student in a special field and a future professional. In lLearning diaries the students evaluated their performances and development throughout the process. These enhanced students’ self-knowledge and transformed the knowledge into personal knowing and understanding (Kohonen 2007).
The role of the multi-professional and collaborative approach intensified towards the end of the course as the students had to form mixed teams of engineering and health care students, find mutual areas of interest, and organise working together on the final projects within a tight schedule. Examples of the topics the students had designed and worked on were Healthy Building, Defibrillation from a Perspective of Health Care and Engineering, IoT and Health Care, Virtual Reality in Health Care, The Finnish Red Cross Mobile Application Guide, and Robot-Assisted Surgery. Delightfully, the students appreciated the opportunity to go beyond their own boundaries and did not question the purpose behind it at any stage. The topics showed mature professional attitude and front-line achievements.
Brickbats and bouquets
Among the challenges the teachers experienced was how to dedicate one’s time between the students and for each student. The schedule proved out to be demanding as commenting and giving written feedback is surprisingly time-consuming.
The structure of the learning platform (Tabula) is not flexible enough, and does not allow spontaneous inputs from the students as e.g., the discussion areas and forums have to be established and designated by the teachers. The flow of interaction is not smooth and numerous different activity areas are likely to cause confusion among participants.
On the other hand, a major positive aspect was collaboration from both teachers’ and students’ perspectives. Mutual understanding, collegial trust and support helped the teachers e.g., share their workload; respond to challenging reactions of the students, enabling the individual teacher’s professional growth. Students felt that collaboration with other students was rewarding, useful and fun. Some students expressed that the final project was the best part of the course. Because of the final project, they got acquainted with other students with whom they would not necessarily otherwise be in contact with.
A Fast Track to Professional English is an established element of TAMK English language course supply. This type of course provides the students also with an opportunity to work on the contents emerging from their interests and needs, rather than on pre-defined study material determined solely by the teachers. Furthermore, the students were expected to be pro-actively engaged, self-reflective and quickly adapt to the demands of the course. Such qualities are in an increasingly significant role in an individual’s life, as today’s students have to be prepared for a future that cannot be clearly described (Warlick 2007).
Council of Europe. (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kohonen, V. (17.3.2007). Reflection, Authenticity and Interaction: Transformative Teacher Professionalism through Action Research. International Conference on English Language Education: Understanding the Language Classroom and New Directions for Language Teaching Research. [Lecture]. Kobe: Japan.
Warlick, David D. (2007). David Warlick: Ed Tech Is Exciting Again (School 2.0, Part 8)