All you ever wanted to know about EAP

I have recently volunteered to plan and deliver a short workshop for my coworkers on academic writing. I’m very much looking forward to this because I do very little F2F teaching these days – I’ve just done my biannual two weeks and so am not likely to step inside a classroom until exam time in June, during which time any teaching I do will take place online.

Photo taken from ELTpics by Dace Praulins, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

A little bit of background: our department has recently run a couple of in-house workshops on various aspects of conducting academic research, so my topic – academic writing in English – ties in nicely with the overall theme. I also have considerable experience teaching introductory EAP sessions to undergrads, which helps explain my readiness to volunteer. For those interested in what that experience entails, I wrote briefly about it for EAP stories over on Joanna Malefaki’s blog (along with six other EAP instructors from a range of backgrounds).

My usual EAP classes are different from the coming workshop in that I have 60 hours instead of a semester and roughly 30 undergrads as opposed to half that many adults (yeah, yeah, undergrads are also supposed to be adults and if you’ve followed me for some time you know how I feel about that 😛 ).

I’ve been thinking along the lines of “Everything you wanted to know about EAP (but had no chance to ask)” for the title of the workshop, with the idea of covering as much of the very basics as possible in 3 hours. Obviously, I already have some ideas – one of which is definitely to use that table with academic phrases and their actual equivalents (you know the one: sample size was small = I could only find one person to experiment on, that kind of thing) maybe as a matching activity for humorous effect.

If you were running a similar workshop, what is something (the one thing) you would definitely include? I don’t mean actual activities, but topics. The assumption is that the audience has research experience (and in terms of writing it up) but hasn’t had (many) EAP sessions. Your input would be very much appreciated, PLN – thanks in advance!

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Anonymous reviewer

This may actually turn out to be my second post this month, which hasn’t happened since I started blogging. I don’t want to jinx things, so here goes. It’s about the Moodle workshop – their peer review activity. I suspect it works like most online peer reviews do: first you set up the task, then there’s a submission period, an assessment period and when that’s over everyone sees the feedback their classmates have given them. Pretty straightforward. Oh, and I always make it a double-blind process; I don’t think there would be as much useful feedback if the students knew whose work they were reviewing.

I’ve run the peer review a number of times now and have introduced a couple of tweaks along the way, so I thought it was about time I had some kind of written record of how things developed.

Photo taken from ELTpics by @aClilToClimb, used under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

In my course this activity is part of a unit on descriptive writing, so the idea is to jazz up a bland piece of writing using a number of possible strategies. The feedback students give each other is on how successfully these strategies have been used, not on language accuracy. At least that is the plan, although people occasionally have given feedback not entirely restricted to strategy use. The bland piece of writing comes from a book – I hesitate to call it a coursebook because it’s not, but the course is built on the material it covers to an extent. The book, however, doesn’t suggest the students do anything other than improve upon this piece, so the peer review is my online adaptation.

The submission stage lasts around 5 days. Moodle allows you to be quite strict about this, which means that it’s up to you to accept late submissions or not. I did the first year, but this proved to be complicated during the next stage – assessment. If you decide on a deadline by which work needs to be submitted, everyone who has submitted something can start assessing at the same time. If you accept late submissions, some students will need to wait before they can start assessing. I decided this wasn’t fair and at the risk of not including everyone in the task, I’ve now had a fixed submission deadline for a couple of years.

When you have all the submissions, they need to be shuffled around and allocated to other students. This can be done by the system or manually. I always do it manually, trying for a balance between weaker and stronger students. The assessment stage takes another 3–4 days, and again it is up to the instructor how (in)flexible they want to be regarding the deadline. I don’t think I’ve ever had everyone observe the deadline; I always need to nag gently remind some people to finish their assessment.

I could simply set a cut-off time after which the system would not allow further assessments, but my feeling is that it would be unfair on those students who have given their peers feedback but wouldn’t receive any themselves. As it is, there’s always at least one student who doesn’t assess and ignores my DM, and I then do the assessment myself so as not to hold the activity up forever.

Tweaks

  1. Something I tried in one of the early iterations of the course was to organize a second round of the activity for those students who had missed the deadline the first time around. I think I only did that once, because it quickly dawned on me that this an invitation to be taken advantage of.
  2. Also early on, the majority of students wrote their learning journal entry as soon as they completed the submission phase, which meant that few people reflected on giving feedback. This has since changed (I schedule the deadlines differently) and now most say how they feel about the peer review and what they have learned from it, if anything. There have been some interesting comments re the perceived inadequacy of someone who is not a teacher giving feedback.
  3. When the assistant mods started helping me, I asked them to assess the students’ work as well, so each student would end up with two assessments. This, arguably, is not strictly peer review in the sense that the assistant mods had done the activity when they were doing the course themselves, but perhaps it could be argued that they are still students, so in a sense it is peer review?
  4. A change introduced last year is that each student now has to give feedback to two other students. In MOOCs I think it’s common to review the work of several people, but this makes sense because of the low completion rate – you want to be sure everyone will receive at least some feedback.
  5. Last semester, when the course was run in blended format, the students did the activity online but when we next met in class we had a follow-up discussion. I picked out some of the comments from their learning journals – these are shared with the group so I knew that these were thoughts the students were more or less comfortable sharing – and in pairs they decided if they agreed with the statements. Then, when I knew each pair would be ready to say something, we discussed them as a class.

A reason I like peer review so much is that I think it is transferable to life outside the classroom. Not the submission–assessment process perhaps, but realizing the importance of giving useful feedback. Focusing on specific issues, not the person. Being helpful and identifying what could be done differently and possibly more effectively. Realizing that a piece of writing can be improved upon even if we don’t focus on simply correcting grammar errors.

How do you feel about peer review? If you run an online course do you do this type of activity with your students? How about in the classroom?

Copy and paste for teachers

Photo taken from ELTpics by @mk_elt, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Last week I finally got started on grading and feedback in the latest iteration of my writing skills online course, and thought I’d do a brief post on my comment bank. Note to self: see if you can come up with a catchier title than “My comment bank”.

Last summer I was listening to an episode of the Professional Adjunct podcast, in which the hosts, Beth and Jim, discuss an article called “Ten Tips for More Efficient and Effective Grading”, originally published on Faculty Focus. I’m not a regular subscriber to this podcast, but the couple of episodes I’ve listened to have addressed various aspects of teaching online – the asynchronous kind, which I do.

When they got to point 2 – comment banks – I remember it only then dawned on me that I had in fact been creating a comment bank for a few semesters without having expressly set out to do so, or even realizing that was what I’d been doing. I mean, I teach English. I’ve used coursebooks with text banks in the back of the TB, so the concept is familiar. And yet the idea of a comment bank came as a surprise – not the I-didn’t-think-anyone-else-had-come-up-with-this kind of surprise, but more of an oh-I-have-something-like-that-who-knew kind.

I find this type of resource especially useful for asynchronous online contexts or whenever you need to give feedback on work submitted electronically. Once you’ve designed a course in an LMS that covers a whole semester, it’s likely to maintain a more or less similar structure for at least a couple of semesters. For instance, there will be a discussion forum in unit 1 – it may differ in terms of the reading the students need to do to take part, or in terms of the opening post – but they’ll still be taking part in a discussion and you’ll probably want to give them a grade and feedback on that.

I originally used to add comments under headings like “Unit 1, discussion 1” to a Word document, but after a while I switched to Google Docs as I can access the bank across devices. This morning, for example, I had an hour to kill on campus, so I used the office computer to add feedback – pretty convenient.

I have a rubric for each activity that I give feedback on, so if it’s a discussion, I’m looking for a minimum number of posts, minimum number of words per post, participation by deadline, relevance to topic – this is not in order of importance – and so I will usually first comment on how successfully the student has followed the rubric. This can be taken straight from the comment bank and requires minimal adaptation. Then, if there is anything specific to a particular student that I would like to address, I will add a personalized comment. I tend to end with suggestions on what to watch out for in the next discussion, and these are often from the comment bank as well, since they come up more often than you might expect. A case in point would be encouraging them to run a spell check on their posts and pointing them to a resource we have in the course where they can find more information on how to do that, should they need to.

A more recent addition to the comment bank has been marking sections of the text in different colors for convenience. There are at least 5 or 6 comments that I will be using and/or building on for an activity, so it’s far easier to find my way around if each is a different color. I wish I could say I was color coding them – it sounds more organized – but it’s nothing as sophisticated as that; I just mark them in different color so each comment stands out from the ones above and below.

So that’s it, really. It’s a significant timesaver, relatively simple to do – okay, it does take up a bit of time the first time around, but you’ll be tweaking it every semester anyway, so it doesn’t need to be perfect – and is very convenient if you’re doing your grading via an LMS. Plus I think it makes me look at student work more objectively and fairly, although that may just be wishful thinking.

Do you use a comment bank? Any tips you’d like to share? I’m particularly interested if anyone uses anything similar in a classroom environment.