Academic Wtriting

Genres in academic writing: Reports

Research Report

Use of a Writing Web-Site by Pre-Masters Students on an English for Academic Purposes Course.

A. J. Gillett, University of Hertfordshire

Abstract

1During the last 10 years, use of the World-Wide-Web for educational purposes has increased dramatically. 2However, very little empirical research has been carried out to determine the effectiveness of this use. 3The aim of this study was therefore to investigate the effectiveness of using the World-Wide-Web on an EAP writing course. 4Two groups of students were taught writing by two different methods: one group was taught by a teacher in a traditional classroom, while a second group included use of an on-line web-site in their course. 5The two groups were assessed in the same way after a twelve-week period of instruction. 6Results of the assessment showed significant differences between the two groups, the group that used the on-line web-site performing much better on all aspects of the test. 7This suggests that the use of computer assisted learning programmes for at least some of the teaching time available can be recommended for EAP writing courses.

Introduction

1During the past 10 years, the availability of computers in educational institutions has increased dramatically (James, 1999). 2Progress in computer development has been made to the point that powerful, inexpensive computers with large capacities are available in many classrooms and libraries for student use. 3Many students also have purchased and are purchasing computers for their own use at home. 4Most studies seem to agree that the microcomputer will continue to hold an important role in education in the future. 5For example, James (1999) and Smith (2000) suggest large increases in the numbers of computers both in educational institutions and the home in the near future. 6As far as education is concerned, Shaw (2001) identified three main uses of computers: the object of a course, an administrative tool, and a means of providing instruction. 7Fish and Cheam (2002) cite four uses of computers as a means of providing instruction: exercise, tutorial, simulation and problem solving. 8A wide range of computer programmes are now therefore available in all these areas for individual and classroom use.

9However, even though many studies have reported an increased use of computers in education, there has been very little research reported on the effectiveness of such use. 10The purpose of the present study is therefore to ascertain the effectiveness of using computer-assisted instruction as compared to traditional classroom instruction in an EAP writing class.

Method

1The aim of the research was to compare the success of students using on-line teaching compared to students taught in the traditional classroom context. 2This experimental approach adopted a positivist position by collecting primary quantitative data from the students’ performance on an objective test taken after the teaching process has ended. 3It then compared the observed results and came to conclusions regarding the effectiveness of on-line teaching.

4Two groups of students in higher education on a one-year Pre-Masters English for Academic Purposes course, each comprising 50 students were taught academic writing by different methods and compared. 5In each group there were 50 students from five different academic departments - computer science, business, engineering, life sciences and law - and four different countries - China, Japan, Korea and Thailand. 6The subjects were selected from the second semester - Semester B - of the University of Hertfordshire International Pre-Masters Programme in the 2004-2005 academic year. 7This programme accepts only students from a narrow English language proficiency band (IELTS 5.00 - 5.5). 8Thus, comparable language level among the test subjects was insured.

9The subjects were selected from the 250 students on the International Pre-Masters Programme on the basis of performance at a satisfactory level in the Semester A examination. 10Students who had performed below the minimum level on the semester A examination were excluded. 11This criterion was employed to ensure competent understanding of the tasks and adequate motivation.

12One group - Group A - studied English writing in the traditional way in a class with a teacher. 13This class met for 2 hours each week in a classroom for 12 weeks and was supplemented with written homework assignments given by the teacher each week. 14The second group - Group B - met together in a class with a teacher for one hour per week for 12 weeks and were assigned a homework task of spending one hour per week doing exercises from the UEfAP.com web-site (Gillett, 2005).

15The test instrument employed in this study was a revised version of the University of Hertfordshire English Language Writing Test (Rogers, 1997), which permits the assessment of academic written language performance. 16It consists of an academic reading text and comprehension questions, followed by a discursive essay on the subject of the reading text.

17Both groups A and B were given the same written examination at the end of the semester. 18The students took the examination under standard university examination conditions as part of their end of semester examination. 19The tests were marked using the following categories: task achievement (C1), communicative quality (C2),  organisation (C3), ideas, content and relevance (C4) and grammar and vocabulary (C5), by two experienced writing examiners and moderated in the standard way to ensure reliability. 20In this way it was possible to see the relationship between the students' main academic subjects, and the improvement in their writing ability depending on the teaching method.

21The results were displayed using pie charts and bar graphs in order to aid analysis. 22An independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare the results of the two groups on the different sections of the test.

Results

1Two groups of students in higher education, Group A and Group B, were taught academic writing by different methods on a one-year Pre-Masters English for Academic Purposes course and compared. 2Each comprised 50 students from a range of countries, intending to study one of five subjects. 3Figure 1 shows the range of student nationalities and Figure 2 shows their intended subjects. 4All the students, as Figure 1 shows, were from East-Asia, mainly China. 5The subjects they hoped to study were wide ranging but the majority of students planned to study business. 6Figure 3 displays the mean percentile scores on the five subsections of the academic writing test. 7It can be seen that, irrespective of their nationality and intended subject of study, students in Group B, which used the computer assisted facilities, performed significantly better than their non computer-assisted peers on all five subsections of the test by more than two to one in terms of scores attained in each of the subcategories. 8For example, in the task achievement subcategory, Group B scored an average of 80 percent, while Group A students scored an average of 14 percent. 9Clearly, the findings indicate that the time spent using the UEfAP.com website had a positive effect on student performance. 10It appears that the use of computer assisted learning programs for at least some of the teaching time available resulted in substantial differences in performance in all five categories of the University of Hertfordshire English Language Writing Test. 11An independent-samples t-test indicated that the total scores were significantly higher for Group B (M = 70.61, SD = 9.293) than for Group A (M = 30.10, SD = 8.873), t(98) = -46.30, p < .001, two-tailed (See Appendix 2). 12It is to be hoped that this improvement will transfer to the students' written performance in their main subject courses.

Figure 1Figure 2Figure 3

Discussion

1The purpose of the study was to investigate whether students in higher education on an EAP writing course would benefit from computer assisted instruction. 2The findings clearly suggest that they do. 3The students who took part in the computer assisted element of the writing course outperformed those who followed the traditional course in every aspect as shown by their performance on the University of Hertfordshire English Language Writing test. 4They showed particular strengths in the task achievement element of the assessment, suggesting that the computer assisted materials really help the students to understand and focus on the purpose of their writing. 5It also seems to be the case that the individually directed nature of the on-line materials helps the students to focus on their own specific needs as well as allowing them to access their materials in their own time. 6Another reason for the success of the materials may be that it allows students to spend more time on the course than is normally the case in a classroom based programme. 7This supports and adds to the findings of Jones & Smith (1997) and Harris (2002), who showed similar results for an on-line grammar course. 8This study has taken a step in the direction of justifying the inclusion of web-based materials in EAP writing courses for post-graduates on English language preparation course. 9It did however look at a narrow range of subject areas - mainly business, computer science, engineering life-sciences and law - taken by students from only a few countries - particularly China, Japan , Korea and Thailand. 10It may be the case that students from other countries intending to study different subjects - for example, medicine or humanities- would not benefit in the same way. 11It is also not clear whether younger students such as students preparing for undergraduate programmes would succeed to the same extent. 12The approach outlined in this study should be replicated with other students in other subject areas, as well as at other levels in order to be able to recommend the use of on-line materials for all students in all subject areas.

Conclusion

1During the past 10 years, the use of computers in education has increased dramatically and a wide range of educational computer programmes are now widely available for individual and classroom use. 2However, there has been very little research reported on the effectiveness of such use. 3The purpose of the present study was therefore to ascertain the effectiveness of using computer-assisted instruction as compared to traditional classroom instruction in an EAP writing class. 4The findings clearly suggest that the inclusion of web-based materials in EAP writing courses for post-graduate students from East-Asia on an English language preparation course is effective. 5Further research is needed, however, before the use of such materials can be recommended for all students in all subject areas at all levels.

References

Fish, J. & Cheam, K. D. (2002). Computer instruction: A survey. Journal of Computer Aided Instruction, 5, 78-96

Gillett, A. J. (2005). Using English for Academic Purposes. Available at: http://www.uefap.com

Harris, F. G. (2002). Using a networked computer to teach grammar. Journal of Networked Learning, 7, 45-67.

James, B. D. (1999). Availability of computers in educational institutions. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 45, 67-89.

Jones, P. & Smith, H. J. K. (1997). Teaching languages on-line. Oxford: Oxford Press.

Rogers, B. (1997). The University of Hertfordshire English language writing test. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire.

Shaw, H. (2001). Using computers in education. Computing, 45, 1-34.

Smith, F. (2000). Computers in the home. Home Computing Journal, 3, 56-67.


Appendix 1

Table 1: Results for grades on the 5 subcategories: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5.

Student

Nationality

Subject

Group

Test Score

 

 

 

 

C1

C2

C3

C4

C5

1

China

Business

B

87

94

87

46

64

2

Korea

Business

B

87

94

87

58

64

3

China

Computer Science

B

87

94

87

46

80

4

Korea

Business

B

87

94

87

58

64

5

Korea

Business

B

87

94

70

58

64

6

China

Business

B

70

75

87

46

64

7

China

Engineering

B

87

94

87

46

80

8

China

Business

A

13

32

18

15

33

9

China

Business

A

17

42

24

15

33

10

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

11

China

Business

A

9

42

12

8

25

12

China

Business

A

13

42

18

15

25

13

China

Business

A

17

42

24

15

33

14

Japan

Business

B

70

94

87

46

64

15

Japan

Business

B

70

94

70

46

64

16

China

Business

B

70

75

70

35

64

17

Korea

Engineering

B

87

94

70

58

80

18

Korea

Engineering

B

87

94

87

58

80

19

China

Business

B

70

75

70

35

64

20

China

Business

A

17

42

24

11

33

21

Japan

Business

A

13

32

18

15

25

22

China

Business

A

9

42

12

8

25

23

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

24

China

Business

A

9

42

12

8

33

25

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

33

26

Japan

Engineering

B

87

94

87

46

80

27

Japan

Business

B

70

38

87

46

64

28

Japan

Engineering

B

87

94

70

46

80

29

Korea

Engineering

B

87

94

87

58

80

30

Korea

Engineering

B

87

94

87

58

80

31

China

Business

A

13

42

18

8

25

32

China

Business

A

9

42

12

8

17

33

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

33

34

Japan

Business

A

13

32

18

15

25

35

China

Business

B

87

94

87

35

64

36

China

Business

B

70

94

70

35

64

37

China

Business

B

87

94

87

35

64

38

China

Business

B

70

94

87

35

64

39

Japan

Business

B

87

94

70

46

64

40

Japan

Business

B

70

94

70

46

64

41

Korea

Engineering

A

21

53

29

19

42

42

Japan

Engineering

A

17

42

24

15

42

43

Japan

Engineering

A

21

32

29

15

42

44

China

Engineering

A

13

42

18

8

42

45

Japan

Engineering

A

9

42

12

15

42

46

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

47

China

Business

A

9

42

12

8

17

48

Korea

Law

B

87

94

70

58

80

49

Korea

Law

B

87

94

87

58

80

50

China

Law

B

87

94

87

35

80

51

China

Business

B

70

75

87

35

64

52

China

Law

B

87

94

87

83

84

53

China

Law

B

87

94

87

35

80

54

China

Law

B

87

94

87

35

80

55

Japan

Business

B

70

94

70

46

64

56

Japan

Law

B

87

75

70

46

80

57

Korea

Business

B

87

94

87

58

64

58

Japan

Business

B

87

94

87

46

64

59

Japan

Computer Science

B

70

94

87

46

64

60

Thailand

Computer Science

B

87

94

87

58

64

61

China

Law

B

87

94

87

35

80

62

China

Computer Science

B

70

94

70

35

64

63

Japan

Law

B

87

94

87

46

80

64

Thailand

Life Sciences

B

87

94

87

58

80

65

Japan

Life Sciences

B

87

94

87

46

80

66

Japan

Computer Science

B

70

94

70

46

64

67

China

Life Sciences

B

87

94

87

35

80

68

Japan

Computer Science

B

70

94

70

46

64

69

Japan

Life Sciences

B

87

94

87

46

80

70

Japan

Computer Science

A

17

32

29

15

33

71

China

Life Sciences

A

13

42

24

11

42

72

Japan

Life Sciences

A

17

42

24

15

42

73

China

Computer Science

A

52

42

18

11

33

74

China

Business

A

9

42

18

8

17

75

China

Business

A

9

42

12

8

17

76

Thailand

Life Sciences

A

21

42

29

19

42

77

Korea

Computer Science

A

17

32

24

15

33

78

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

79

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

80

China

Business

A

9

42

24

8

17

81

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

82

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

83

China

Business

A

4

42

12

4

8

84

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

85

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

86

Thailand

Life Sciences

A

21

32

29

19

42

87

Thailand

Life Sciences

A

21

42

29

19

42

88

China

Business

A

13

42

18

11

25

89

Korea

Computer Science

A

17

42

24

15

33

90

Korea

Computer Science

A

17

53

24

15

33

91

Thailand

Life Sciences

A

21

42

29

19

42

92

Thailand

Life Sciences

A

21

32

29

19

42

93

Thailand

Life Sciences

B

87

94

70

58

80

94

China

Business

B

52

94

70

35

48

95

China

Computer Science

B

70

75

70

23

48

96

China

Business

A

13

32

18

4

25

97

China

Life Sciences

A

21

21

24

11

42

98

China

Business

A

13

32

18

11

25

99

China

Business

A

9

42

18

8

17

100

Korea

Computer Science

A

17

42

24

15

33

 

Group A Average

14

40

20

12

30

 

Group B Average

80

90

80

45

70

 

Appendix 2

Table 2: Independent Samples t-Test

 

Levene's Test
for Equality
of Variances

t-test for Equality of Means

F

Sig.

t/

df

Sig.
(2-tailed)

Mean
Difference

Std. Error
Difference

95% Confidence Interval
of the Difference

Lower

Upper

C1

Equal variances assumed

19.184

.000

-41.458

98

.000

-65.892

1.589

-69.046

-62.738

Equal variances not assumed

 

 

-41.218

88.551

.000

-65.892

1.599

-69.068

-62.715

C2

Equal variances assumed

2.761

.100

-31.713

98

.000

-50.472

1.591

-53.630

-47.314

Equal variances not assumed

 

 

-31.373

74.048

.000

-50.472

1.609

-53.677

-47.266

C3

Equal variances assumed

44.543

.000

-43.561

98

.000

-60.559

1.390

-63.318

-57.800

Equal variances not assumed

 

 

-43.204

81.810

.000

-60.559

1.402

-63.348

-57.770

C4

Equal variances assumed

17.437

.000

-21.439

98

.000

-34.130

1.592

-37.290

-30.971

Equal variances not assumed

 

 

-21.109

59.981

.000

-34.130

1.617

-37.365

-30.896

C5

Equal variances assumed

1.719

.193

-22.302

98

.000

-40.514

1.817

-44.119

-36.909

Equal variances not assumed

 

 

-22.281

97.270

.000

-40.514

1.818

-44.123

-36.905

Total

Equal variances assumed

9.471

.003

-46.620

98

.000

-50.313

1.079

-52.455

-48.172

Equal variances not assumed

 

 

-46.235

81.714

.000

-50.313

1.088

-52.478

-48.149

 

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