Karolína Slamová, Ph.D. and Andrea Wlochová, Ph.D.
VSB – Technical University of Ostrava, the Czech Republic
In this contribution we would like to share our experience in using e-learning materials to complement language teaching in technical English. The Department of Foreign Languages at VSB – Technical University of Ostrava offers six languages for students of all seven faculties. Our team is not only trying to look for new methods and ways of teaching languages but also uses some knowledge and experience for their improvement.
Last year our team created a set of modern e-learning courses that develop students´ abilities at speaking, but they also increase the interest in the topics that are sometimes presented in textbooks in a quite boring way. After each lesson, students have the assignment in the form of e-learning material for additional practice, which is mandatory as a precondition for the final credit test.
Our contribution will deal with the individual examples and the concept of the e-learning courses and it will summarize our experience and possibilities of extending the use of e-learning.
Promoting e-learning for students at technical faculties
In this contribution we would like to share our experience in using e-learning materials to complement language teaching in technical English. The Department of Foreign Languages at VSB – Technical University of Ostrava offers six languages for students of all seven faculties. In winter term 2016/2017, our staff taught 3,985 students of bachelor and 1,474 students of combined studies. The majority of students, i.e. 80%, learns English. The rest comprises other languages. As the Technical University department we focus on the professional language for future engineering specialists and economists. In other words, we concentrate particularly on English for Specific Purposes. Our team is not only trying to look for new methods and ways of teaching languages, but also uses some knowledge and experience for their improvement.
At the present time, we use the English textbook Technology 1 (Glendinning, 2007) and Technology 2 (Glendinning, 2008) to support the students´ preparation for the practice in various technical professions; we concentrate on acquiring extensive technical vocabulary. Although all students coming to the University have learnt English for at least 10 years at basic and secondary schools, their English knowledge has sometimes very different level. As a result, it is quite a demanding task to make students achieve the desired extent of the language knowledge. As the number of English lessons is limited, we have been looking for various ways of self-study work to support our students’ improvement of language skills.
Last year our team created a set of modern e-learning courses that develop students’ abilities at speaking, but they also increase the interest in the topics that are sometimes presented in textbooks in a quite boring way. After each lesson, students have the assignment in the form of e-learning material for additional practice, which is mandatory as a precondition for the final credit test. As a part of home preparation, students can flexibly use each course during a week.
The e-learning course is based on authentic material. The texts, short videos, and pictures were discussed with colleagues from the corresponding faculty. The chief aim was to create material concentrating on different target situations and topics required in students’ future job.
A year after the implementation of the e-learning, the teachers carried out a survey among 3,211 students of English language with very positive results. 75% of students considered the e-learning course very useful and 58% of them were motivated to search further information on the corresponding subject. 17% found the course rather useful and 8% did not want to take part in the survey.
Table 1. Evaluation of the e-learning course
Flexibility and interesting topics directly connected with a particular technical subject highly support the motivation of students. Moreover, a lot of students look for more information on the subject and learn the language in a more natural way. In other words, their interest is based not only on the obligatory curriculum, they are also interested in learning the language spontaneously.
The second part of the survey focused on advantages and disadvantages of the e-learning course.
Table 2. Advantages of the e-learning course
Most of the students appreciated time flexibility, i.e. they can go through particular parts of the course whenever they want. Further positive points were given to the fact that all exercises in the course helped students to improve their listening abilities and to extend the corresponding vocabulary. As a result, they are able to discuss the topic during lessons. The students also appreciated that the course had made it easier for them to prepare for the final credit test and the exam.
Students were also asked to describe disadvantages of the course.
Table 3. Disadvantages of the e-learning course
Students would appreciate more videos as well as more interactive tasks. Some students consider the tasks too difficult and time consuming. Also grammar exercises could be completely omitted.
To give an idea of the tasks included in the e-learning materials, we would like to present the description of the exercises. Basically, e-learning tasks corresponding to the individual lessons are divided into 3 categories: reading comprehension, watching a short video followed by exercises testing listening comprehension, and finally, vocabulary revision.
The first part of the e-learning section works on reading skills: for example, for Lesson 1, a short text about technology is presented, followed by 4 exercises testing reading comprehension. Two of them deal with vocabulary from the text (finding synonyms and collocations), the other two test understanding. The second part, focused on listening comprehension, is based on the principle of the so-called Multimedia Learning, which makes use of the fact that words and pictures presented together help students to remember the information better and, as the research shows, subsequently perform better at tests. (Mayer, 2005). For example, the task for Lesson 1 includes a video about light pollution. It is followed by key words and a short text summarizing the contents of the video. The students’ task is to complete the text with words selected from multiple choice options. Another 4 exercises test the students’ comprehension. The third part summarizing the vocabulary from Lesson 1 includes 17 exercises testing the ability to use the words in corresponding context.
In conclusion, we can observe that e-learning materials used by the Department of Foreign Languages, VSB – TUO provide students with extra practice of the topics and vocabulary covered by the lessons, to apply an active approach to acquiring language skills necessary for their future profession, and to get immediate feedback on their progress, which can help them to perform better in credit tests and oral and written examination.
Glendinning, E. H. 2007. Technology 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Glendinning, E. H. and Pohl, A. 2008. Technology 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Mayer, R. E. (editor). 2005. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.