Henri Annala and Marianna Leikomaa
Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Finland
The on-line course English Speaking and Listening has now been organised in Eliademy learning environment three times. The aim of the course is to enable already advanced students develop their English speaking skills even further. In addition, the students learn important meta-skills regarding on-line collaboration and cross-cultural communication. The course was built and is being facilitated in collaboration with Stenden University in the Netherlands. The authors and the collaborating teacher in Stenden have carried out the design and facilitating of the course much the same way as they expect their students to work: fully on-line, using collaboratively agreed tools and schedules.
What could be better than a language course that also gives students skills related to cross-cultural communication and on-line collaboration? Many language teachers would probably reply “nothing” – however, they would also probably be somewhat uncertain about how to design such a course because of lack of relevant examples and models. The purpose of this article is to provide a clear and practical example of how ordinary language teachers can build an international and collaborative on-line course through international and collaborative on-line work.
Building the English Speaking and Listening course started purely by chance. A Dutch English teacher from Stenden University of Applied Sciences participated in an international week hosted by TAMK School of Business and Services and had wished to meet Finnish language teachers during her stay. Unfortunately, the scheduling did not work out, but the Dutch teacher and the authors of this paper started discussing through email. It did not take long for both parties to realise that they shared similar course ideas, and hence they started planning a joint course.
When designing the course, two special goals were focused on besides developing English language skills: 1) developing the students’ intercultural communication skills, and 2) utilising digital tools in a versatile manner. Even though both universities have a relatively large number of foreign exchange and degree students, and the number of students going for an exchange period abroad is also fairly high (Tampere University of Applied Sciences, 2014; Stenden University of Applied Sciences, 2014), there is still a substantial number of students who graduate without having ever been in contact with a representative of another culture. This course was seen as one option to offer a chance to get internationalisation at home (e.g. Kotikansainvälisyys – Kansainvälisyystaitoja kaikille, 2013). In addition to this, the course was decided to be primarily aimed at advanced students (C1 on the CEFR (Council of Europe, 2014)).
Unlike many other on-line courses, this course was designed with the focus on speaking and listening in mind, instead of reading and writing. Most of the materials consist of video and audio and during the course students were also required to create video and audio files themselves, both individually and in small groups. The students needed to be in constant interaction with each other through various on-line meeting tools. Although the teachers gave the students tasks to do, the students had to schedule their own meetings themselves. The students mostly used the same tools as the teachers themselves and for the video and audio tasks cell phone quality was quite sufficient.
Designing and facilitating the course
Learning should always be carefully designed, and this applies to all types of learning, including e-learning. In spite of some challenges, such as the physical distance, the collaboration started and proceeded quickly, and it took less than half a year to build up the course from scratch. The teachers started to plan the course in early spring 2015 and the first implementation was started already in the autumn of the same year.
The teachers did not really need to learn any new tools or technologies in order to carry out the planning nor the actual implementation. The most commonly used tools were e-mail, various video conferencing software (Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Skype, appear.in) and – very importantly – Google Drive. The course was divided into three modules, and each teacher had a module they were responsible of developing. They created their materials and shared them with the others in Google Drive, as transparency was seen as a crucial factor in successful collaboration (Annala, Haukijärvi & Pratas, 2015). From there, the materials were transferred into the LMS for the course. This enabled all three teachers to be on track with what the others were planning and everybody could see the whole learning process at all times.
Later on when facilitating the course, the division of work was similar, with the exception that all the teachers were able to facilitate all the modules. Because the teachers’ schedules varied a lot in different years, this arrangement was beneficial in easing up the workload of the teachers when they were busy with other work.
The LMS chosen was Eliademy, which is a free on-line LMS. TAMK and Stenden use different LMSs, so selecting a “third option” was seen as a neutral choice. The teachers researched other LMSs as well, but Eliademy offered the best tools for this type of joint teaching. Eliademy proved to be easy and quick to use, both for the students as well as the teachers.
During the course implementation itself, the teachers met with students in Google Hangout meetings, but the students also needed to meet without the teachers present and create recordings of their meetings. The teachers gave the students audio feedback on their tasks using mostly tools such as Audacity and Vocaroo.
The collaboration was very beneficial for all parties. As the teachers used the same tools the students were expected to use, they were able to predict issues students might have and structure the instructions accordingly. They were also able to recommend certain tools for the students to use, such as Audacity or Vocaroo for recording audio, as they had used them themselves. Scheduling meetings with participants from different timezones was sometimes difficult, but if the teachers could do it, so could the students.
The course has now been taught three times with multicultural participants, and it will be offered again in the autumn 2017. Meanwhile, the teachers are updating the materials and continue improving the student experience, using the same tools as thus far: e-mail, Google Drive and Google Hangouts.
Annala, H., Haukijärvi, T. & Pratas, A.C. (2015). Designing an Online Community for Language Teachers. (TAMKjournal). Available at http://tamkjournal-en.tamk.fi/designing-an-online-community-for-language-teachers/ (18.11.2016)
Council of Europe (2014). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Available at http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre1_en.asp (21.3.2017)
Opetushallitus & CIMO. (2013). Kotikansainvälisyys – Kansainvälisyystaitoja kaikille. (Informaatioaineistot 2013:8). Available at http://www.edu.fi/download/152457_kotikansainvalisyys_kansainvalisyystaitoja_kaikille.pdf (21.3.2017)
Stenden University of Applied Sciences (2014). Jaarverslag 2014. Available at https://stenden.com/fileadmin/user_upload/documenten/organisatie/Jaarverslag_Stenden_2014.pdf (21.3.2017)
Tampere University of Applied Sciences (2014). TAMK Annual Review 2014 – Statistics. Available at http://www.tamk.fi/documents/130582/134451/TAMK-Vuosikatsaus2014-Tulokset.pdf/ (21.3.2017)