Jan Den Haese and Aurélie Welcomme
Artevelde University College, Belgium
In this paper, we will exemplify how a teachers’ team transformed the course “Business French”, a compulsory course for the first year students of the Bachelor in Business Management at Artevelde University College, from a “classical” language classroom course and setting into a blended learning and flipped classroom-based course, focusing on methodological, didactic and organisational changes, challenges and pitfalls at hand. We will also present some preliminary results, as this new teaching paradigm has only been implemented this academic year (2016-2017) and that data collection is still ongoing.
Transitioning into a blended learning and flipped classroom model: why?
The focus of this paper is the course in “Business French” (le français des affaires), a compulsory course taught during the first year of the Bachelor in Business Management at Artevelde University College. This means that over 1200 students have to take this course at a ratio of 2 lessons of 1.5 hours per week. The subjects of the course are linked to the specialisation options these students choose in the 2nd year, at B1-level, as these students already have had French courses since the 5th year of primary education.
The department, however, noted several issues that had to be addressed, such as a high level of absenteeism, a low success rate for passing this course (about 30%) and an important degree of heterogeneity when looking at the levels of mastery of French after graduating from secondary education. Indeed, it seemed that a great proportion of students did not meet the B1-standard level on which the course was based. This led to frustrated and unmotivated students, whom in turn stopped attending classes, and, most often, failed the course. There was also little room for practise and individual feedback; e.g. presentations had to be rushed because of the large number of students per group.
A survey conducted by Jan Den Haese in 2015 was a first step in this change process and allowed for a certain number of insights.
First, students indicated that “contact hours”, during which students and teachers meet, “should really matter” and thus should be used for more (oral and written) practise of the language and exercises. Secondly, students asked for more feedback, which was a daunting challenge, considering the number of students per class. Regarding as to what they could do to pass the course, students provided realistic answers, such as attending classes more often, study more, prepare more exercises.
This questionnaire led to a 1-year OIT-project (onderwijs- en innovatietraject; “teaching and innovation”-project), funded by the Artevelde University College, which allowed the team of teachers to rethink the course at hand with the help of experts. The team chose to introduce drastic modifications (point 2) and to implement these changes quite rapidly (academic year 2016-2017).
Transitioning into a blended learning and flipped classroom model: how?
The team thought of addressing the challenges faced by the students as follows:
(a) heterogeneous levels + no B1-level
–>entry level test for French (eLAO)
–>online platform with exercises (A1 –> A2 et A2 –> B1) for grammar, vocabulary, listening and reading comprehension (parcours préparatoires)
(b) more practise and feedback during contact hours –> transformation of the original course (parcours FdA; blended learning + flipped classroom)
(c) less absenteeism –> new course concept
The first step was to assess the diversity of the French language mastery levels by measuring the entry levels of the students, using the eLAO-test, that digitally tests grammar, active and passive vocabulary, listening comprehension, on campus.
Upon taking the test, the students receive a detailed report, which provided them with their overall marks and CEFRL-level, their CEFRL-level for the different sections of the test, and a list of points to improve upon for grammar. This report forms the basis for the students’ individual work on the parcours préparatoires (A1 –> A2 and A2 –> B1), which should be considered as a “database” of digitised exercises, made available to the students so as to work on their “difficulties” regarding French, individually and at their own pace, thus levelling the differences in mastery of the language. Newly enrolled students follow the course during the second semester and thus have the possibility to practise their French during the first semester. Analyses show that during November 2016, more than half the students had logged in to one or both of these parcours préparatoires for practising purposes.
The third part of this considerable remodelling process encompassed the transition from a classical, teacher-centered course into a student-centered course, according to the principles of blended learning (Garison & Kanuka 2004, Garison & Vaughan 2008) and flipping the classroom O’Flaherty & Philips 2015, Roehl et al. 2013). The first step was to indicate which parts of the original course could be integrated in a digital learning environment (parcours FdA), with theory and exercises that should be completed by the students before attending classes, and link these contents to exercises and activities that would be completed during class, bearing in mind the concerns raised by that students (e.g. more oral and written practise during class, more feedback, more exercises). This process resulted in the development of new exercises, the didactisation of existing materials, the digitisation of exercises that students would have to complete before class and the elaboration of principles regarding the verification of prepared exercises before each class.
Transitioning into a blended learning and flipped classroom model: preliminary results
We can already provide some preliminary results regarding the impact of these profound changes in the curriculum on the aforementioned issues we were facing.
Statistical analyses show a strong correlation between the final exam score and the exercises made in the parcours FdA (0.31), between the result on the entry level test and the final exam score (0.32), and between the exercises made in the parcours préparatoires and the final exam score (A1 –> A2: 0.55; A2 –> B1: 0.26). These results show that students working on the course materials through the online learning environment and students working on their French language skills indeed have a better chance at passing the exam. The entry level test also allowed the team of teachers to confirm the differences they suspected to exist between students. The new approach allowed the teachers to coach students and to give them more feedback than before.
Further research will focus on data provided by the learner analytics, that allow a plethora of possible research leads. Examples are item analyses to improve the course materials and the exercises for the parcours FdA, as well as the parcours préparatoires. Research will also be conducted on how students (and teachers) perceive this change of paradigm (cf. Ozkan & Koseler 2009, Bliuc et al. 2010, Gilboy & Heinerichs 2015).
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