I’ve just returned from the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Special Interest Group (SIG) Pre-Conference Event (PCE). I cannot handle – or afford – the whole conference!
The theme of the PCE was ESP and Learning Technologies: What can we learn?
As usual it was a very interesting day with teachers from many parts of the world discussing how they go about trying to meet the academic and professional linguistic needs of their students, sometimes with limited resources.
The day was opened by the SIG coordinators, Prithvi Shrestha from the Open University, UK, & Aysen Guven from Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey.
The opening plenary was by Agnes Kulkuska Hulme of The Open University, UK.
Title: Mobile pedagogy: A contradiction in terms?
In her talk Agnes argued that the widespread use of mobile devices in daily life, at work and in informal learning has far-reaching consequences for the design of new learning materials and how learning is supported by teachers and advisers. She pointed out that there is a need to understand good mobile application design features, particularly those that facilitate learning in context and in real world situations outside the classroom. She then reviewed the growing range of applications that sought to address the needs of learners using English for specific purposes.
Agnes then introduced the Open University’s British Council-funded project, Mobile Pedagogy for ELT, which responds to the growing need to share mobile learning research knowledge and expertise with all those who teach and support learners. The project includes investigations of learner practices and provision of pedagogical guidance. This work is also prompting reflection on the extent to which mobility may be at odds with pedagogy. Mobile learning gives greater scope for out-of-class learning, learner independence and self-direction, but in practice the majority of learners cannot progress without effective guidance.
It was a very useful talk I was particularly interested in a point she made about student needing guidance and retraining in the use of mobile technology for learning. This seemed to me to parallel Bourdieu’s point that no-one speaks (or writes) academic English as a first language (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1994, p. 8). It appears that “digital natives” still need to learn how to develop their native digital skills and knowledge for use in a new learning situation.
The next talk was by Paschalis Chliaras, IST College, Athens/ University of Hertfordshire, UK.
Title: Implementing new technologies as instructional models into ESP classes.
This was a good follow up to Agnes’s plenary as Paschalis used his talk to give examples of a wide range of new technologies and suggest ways of implementing these technologies into academic and study skills courses. He proposed that the wide range of instructional models based on new technologies will help learners improve critical thinking, team work and independent learning skills and understand material related to academic skills such as writing from reading, listening and speaking, presentations and vocabulary development.
It is now the responsibility of ESP teachers worldwide to put these technologies to use in the coming years.
This was followed by Eduardo Garby Savigne from Cuba, who presented his and Isora Enríquez O’Farrill‘s talk.
Title: ESP for all by television: Sharing the Cuban experience.
The talk gave an overview of the Cuban ESP television course Communicating Professionally in English. Eduardo commented on the developments, the design and the outcomes of this course in Cuba.
I was particularly interested in the description and discussion of his experience working with Cuban doctors who intend to practise outside Cuba.
The next talk was by Ayşegül Liman Kaban from Gedik University, Istanbul, Turkey.
Title: Homemade projects for social sciences students.
In her presentation Ayşegül shared her concerns as a teacher about the issue of designing and accomplishing a dynamic lesson. She started by saying that in her teaching experience, teaching integrated language skills through mechanical exercises and traditional fill-in-the-blank, error correction and multiple choice assessments does not interest students as much as teachers think. She pointed out that modern digital media has allowed anyone to become a producer, and people share their videos on YouTube and gain an income. One result of this is an explosion of high-quality teaching videos. She showed ways in which she had exploited situation like this in her teaching. This enabled students to learn outside the classroom, by giving them the opportunity to interact with their peers in English. She described several projects that had been designed for the students at Gedik University, School of Foreign Languages. She talked about those projects and their results, and suggested ways in which they could be used for students of different subjects on different contexts.
This was another good example of how an EAP teacher can make use of the kinds of tasks that their students are doing as part of their main subject teaching.
After a break, Nevfel Baytar from Ipek University, Turkey gave his talk.
Title: A clash of digital & online dictionaries in ESP classrooms?
Nevfel opened his talk by saying that with the advent of digital and online dictionaries in ESP classrooms as a part of language learning, the question as to which one(s) should be preferred in our classrooms has to be addressed with a wary eye. This workshop tried to untie the knot without being influenced by any brand on the ELT market.
Here there were more interesting ideas about how we can help our students with their specific vocabulary learning needs.
And last but not least, Kader Dimirci & Ozan Varli from Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey presented their experience.
Title: Talk using Moodle to reinforce EAP vocabulary: A technology-enhanced, social constructivist perspective.
Kader & Ozan started by saying that although there is a wide variety of online tools and resources available on the market to help learners improve their vocabulary, few offer learners tasks which allow full engagement in the learning process, especially in the context of ESP. They then demonstrated how, thanks to its collaborative nature, Moodle could provide a collection of tools at both receptive and productive levels, and therefore promotes interaction and co-construction among learners.
I was very interested in the way that the students were able to produce a shared glossary for their specific subjects and how the exercises provided by Moodle could help them to learn these words .
The day finished with a panel discussion and group work organised by Prithvi & Aysen.
As I said at the beginning, I am always impressed at the ingenuity shown by teachers from around the world in devising activities to help their students to learn ESP. This is especially the case when teachers are using materials related to and often provided by the students themselves. Although texts books can be beneficial in many cases – and Olly Twist from Garnet gave us a good overview of their new materials – I didn’t hear anyone asking which textbooks other people used!
Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J.-C. (1994). Introduction: Language and the relationship to language in the teaching situation. In P. Bourdieu, J.-C. Passeron & M. de Saint Martin, Academic discourse (pp. 1-34). Cambridge: Polity Press.