Classroom technology: pre-sessional 2016

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Technology  Comments Off on Classroom technology: pre-sessional 2016
Jul 012016
 

This is my main classroom this year. The seating arrangement has changed into a horse shoe at the front for whole class activities. The seats at the back are used for break-out sessions / group work. On the teacher’s desk, there is a computer and screen with camera, a visualiser, a podcast recording device (the round microphone behind the keyboard, and the small screen with which everything is controlled. In the room, there are 6(!) whiteboards, a projector and large screen. There’s also wifi (throughout the campus) so that students (and teachers) can use their own devices.

All students in my classes have smartphones and laptops, only one or two have a tablet. This hasn’t changed over the six years that I’ve been teaching on these pre-sessional courses.

IMG_2681 IMG_2680 IMG_2679 IMG_2678 IMG_2677

Grammar in EAP pre-sessional courses: What to teach?

 EAP, Teacher Development  Comments Off on Grammar in EAP pre-sessional courses: What to teach?
Jun 152015
 

Introduction

EAP pre-sessional courses focus mostly on academic skills and culture. Their is no grammar-based syllabus. Grammar is taught where and when it is needed. But what is this grammar? What do students who will be studying at a UK university need to know? If you asked the students, they wouldn’t mind reviewing ALL “the grammar”. That is what many are familiar with and what is somehow “tangible”. But it’s neither possible nor useful to do that. It’s not possible because there is no time. And it’s not very useful, because grammar practice or knowledge in isolation is not going to get them very far when they have to write academic essays, participate in seminar discussions, or present research findings. And often it is not that students don’t “know” grammar (such as the modal verbs), but they need to learn to use these in an academic context (e.g. modals for hedging). So, how do we decide which grammar points to teach or review in the limited time we have in a pre-sessional course?
Alison Ramage, an online colleague and friend of mine, who also teaches pre-sessional EAP courses, did some research on this for her MA dissertation. She has kindly accepted my invitation to write a blog post about this, which follows:


Teaching on a university pre-sessional can be both challenging and fun, that´s why we´re all here, doing it!  However with so much demanded in such little time, it can also be massively frustrating. With so many students coming from cultures that have completely different academic styles to us in the West, more time has to be spent on skills other than just being able to write clear, precise academic English. Thus, what we think of as traditional English language skills, such as grammar, are often given very scant attention. In the first pre-sessional I taught on, only two hours a week were allocated for grammar instruction and the topic was at the teachers´ discretion. Given such little time, who was I, or even how was I, to decide what grammar would be the most useful for my students in their university careers? It was this question that lead me, a couple of years later, to my MA question and a final dissertation entitled “A Taxonomy of Grammar Items to Support the Academic Writing of Arabic and Chinese L1 Students”

It´s not a title we´re ever going to see on the bestseller lists, but my intention was to create a list of the most useful grammar items that we can teach our Chinese and Arabic students. Items which have a high surrender value and which the students can see are immediately useful for their writing. Something that I hoped would be practically useful rather than theoretically interesting. My decision to focus on Chinese and Arabic students was not difficult; these two language groups not only form a considerable number of our students, if not the majority, but also they have similarities which make academic writing in English difficult for them. Obviously there are the issues of orthography and grammar, but there are also differences in academic rhetorical style which impact on the way these L1 groups use the English language.

To reach the answers to my research question I had to find the answers to several other questions first:

Firstly, through the literature:

  1. What grammatical items are typical of, and identify, written academic English?
  2. Which of these identified grammatical features of written academic English are likely to be especially problematic for Arabic and Chinese L1 learners of English to assimilate?Once this group of grammar items had been identified I undertook discourse analysis on texts from each language group to answer the third research question:
  3. How well, if at all, do students from these language groups show competence in using these grammar items?

By working through this process in a scholarly and rigorous way I hoped to provide information that is both theoretically sound and practically useful.

So, briefly, the answers:

1. The grammatical items which are typical of, and identify, written academic can be considered as follows:

  • Articles:  In particular the zero article for generalizations, uncountable nouns and plural countable nouns.
  • Verb tenses:  Although there is no clear conclusion about which particular verb tenses are the most important, research suggests that clear use of past and present simple, together with the present perfect are the most useful
  • Passive voice:  While still not as prevalent as the active voice in academic writing, its use is significantly greater than in other genres. Being a competent user of the passive voice will enable students greater flexibility and thus precision in their writing.
  • Nouns (nominalization):  A higher proportion of nouns in relation to verbs is a clear identifier of academic writing, and again, being able to use nouns and create compound nouns flexibly will enable students to deal with the high density of information that is often required in written academic English.
  • Modals:  “Hedging” which is a common feature of written academic English genres of writing is created by appropriate use of the modals of certainty.
  • Subordinate clauses:  In particular ‘wh’ clauses are common in English academic writing, both in subject and object positions as their complexity allows for the handling of greater quantities of information which is often required in written academic English.
  • be+copula”:  While this verb form has been identified as being over-used in higher levels of academic writing, creating a too simplistic text,  it is a basic structure for giving information in English.  Thus, it needs to be considered as something to be learned and used appropriately.

2. Those of the above which are likely to be especially problematic for Chinese and Arabic speakers:

  • Articles:  Of all the identified features of written academic English, these appeared most frequently in the literature and seemed to produce the most problems, even for students at a higher level.  Particular difficulty was noted with the zero article for general use which is that aspect of article use most closely identified with written academic English.
  • Subordinate clauses: Because of the totally differing ways of constructing this type of clause in both Arabic and Chinese, combined with its importance in academic writing, subordinate clauses do need to feature on the list for analysis.
  • Passives: Although there is some debate about how useful these are in written academic English, there is general agreement that being able to use the passive when required is a valuable linguistic skill for academic prose.  Both Chinese and Arabic deal with this type of construction in a different way from English, so this voice should also feature on the list for analysis.
  • Verb tenses.  While there is no doubt that verb tenses generally cause a great many  problems for all learners of English as well as for Chinese and Arabic L1 users, accurate use of the present and past simple are the most useful for written academic English
  • Modals for hedging. Although there is very little mention of this structure as being difficult for either language group because it features strongly as typical of written academic English, it will feature on the list for analysis.
  • Be+copula:  At lower language levels for both Chinese and Arabic L1s, this grammar feature was seen as being particularly problematic.  While evidence suggests an overuse among higher level users, it is still a grammar feature that needs to be mastered in order to communicate clearly in written academic English.
  • Nouns:  While a higher frequency of nouns and the use of compound nouns does form one of the major features of written academic English it has not been given as being a grammar feature of particular difficulty to Chinese and Arabic L1s.  That said, compound nouns are considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of English grammar.  For these reasons, noun use was not analyzed.

3. The question which drove this research project was ‘what are the most useful grammar items that can be taught to Arabic and Chinese learners of English to support them in their written academic English?’. Through an extensive review of the literature and practical quantitative discourse analysis a taxonomy of these items has now been identified and is given below in order of interest. The first may surprise you, it certainly surprised me when it came out in the discourse analysis.

  • Modals for hedging were used very rarely by the students yet this language form is a key feature in English academic writing. The lack of precision in expressing degree of certainty can “affect the impact of the argument, and how the academic competence of the writer is evaluated.”
  • A limited variety of verbs were used by many students; this came out of looking at the use of nouns by the students. Being dependent on a narrow range of items, in this case, verbs, indicates a lack of flexibility and precision with the language which can also affect how the academic competence of the writer is evaluated.
  • Subordinate clauses and passive structures were used but only by students who felt confident about producing them and then only infrequently.
  • The use of the zero article for generalizations, uncountable and plural countable nouns was, overall, not very accurate.  While this may not impact too much on the overall communicative competence, a higher accuracy rate would undoubtedly improve the quality of the texts.
  • Verb tenses and be+copula structures were generally produced at an adequate level of accuracy although there was room for improvement in the student texts.

The aim of my research was to provide something of pedagogical value to pre-sessional courses at universities where there are often considerable time pressures. Thus the taxonomy needs to have a high surrender value for the students and be manageable for the course planners. Thus, my recommendations are as follows:

  • Introduce the concept of hedging very early on in the course.  Students at this level should have a basic familiarity of the uses of ‘may’ and ‘might’ but may not be familiar with the convention of hedging in academic written English.
  • Include regular vocabulary input sessions to expand the students’ range of verbs.  These verbs can either be taken from an ‘academic word list’ appropriate to the course or from disciplines that the students will be studying in their faculties.
  • Passive structures and subordinate clauses should both have special input sessions focusing on their use in an academic context.  These should also be timetabled for early in the course so that the forms can be practiced and acquired by the end of the course.
  • Verb tenses and be+copula structures do not merit specific input sessions unless there is either time available on the course or the teacher notices these as particular weaknesses in the students’ first written assignments.

I very much hope that these few simple ideas will help you with planning your pre-sessional, if you would like to read, or skim through, the full dissertation please feel free to send me an email.


The Author

After careers in Publishing, Politics and the City, Alison Ramage Patterson started her TEFL career rather late in life in 2001 with a CELTA at IH London. After working in countries as diverse as Russia, Spain, Malaysia and Kazakhstan she completed her DELTA in 2009 followed by some years working in Saudi Arabia. During her time in Saudi Arabia she developed a specialism in EAP, with particular emphasis on writing. She has designed and facilitated EAP courses for the British Council in Jeddah. During this time she also taught on pre-sessionals in the UK. Now based in Menorca, Spain, she divides her time between materials writing, online teaching and language support, and face to face lessons.

 

How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Teacher Development, Technology  Comments Off on How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones
May 082015
 

There’s is a very nice role-play activity which our coordinator shared with me in my first year teaching a pre-sessional summer EAP course and which I like to use with my students in the last speaking lesson of the course (unfortunately, I don’t remember the book it comes from).  It’s fun, but also very useful as the role-play situations are authentic: student and librarian, student and accommodation officer, student and head of department, etc. There are no scripts. For each role, there is a role description, which they have to read carefully. Then, the pairs can sit together and prepare their role-play deciding who says what.

However, I didn’t like how students wrote down the complete dialog and tried to memorise and act it out. The dialogues were hilarious and we all had a great time, students did use the language well and it was speaking practise. But it didn’t feel authentic and it didn’t really show how good students where when they had to reply spontaneously. So, I changed the preparation part a bit the following year: I didn’t tell the students who their partners would be! This way, they could prepare for their role, but they would have to listen carefully to what the other person was saying and they would have to react spontaneously. Ingenious! Or so I thought.

When I had given each student their role-play card making sure pairs were not sitting next to each other, I started monitoring and helping where necessary. But I noticed that something was going on; the students had all started using their smartphones. First, I thought they were looking up words in their dictionaries, but that wasn’t it. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they had found their partners and where preparing their role-plays! I felt like a fool! We all laughed about my failed attempt to set up the role-play with surprise partners 🙂 I asked them to switch off their phones, so a bit of the surprise element was there in the role-plays. It was a lot of fun, as usual, but they could also show their real speaking skills. So, I had saved the situation, but learned a lesson too.

This happened a couple of years ago. Although, I was aware of social media apps and was using some tools myself, and although I knew that students were sometimes messaging during class, it didn’t occur to me that they would use it as they did for this role-play task. For them, it was the most natural thing to do, though.

Why I wanted to share this story

– We often discuss which tools we use in class and which we don’t, or even whether we use technology in class at all or not, but there is also the students and the technology THEY use. We need to be at least aware of how they use their tools they bring to class, whether it’s their electronic dictionaries, or their smartphones and tablets.

– Even teachers who like to use technology and who train other teachers in using technology can make mistakes. But it’s hardly ever a disaster as long as one has good rapport with the students and talks about these things in class.

What I learned from this

Since then, I’ve always shown more interest in what kind of apps my students have on their phones and we talk about this at the beginning of the course. Since then, I also try to manage the use of smartphones in class better by, for example, telling them at different stages to put away their smartphones (even if they insists they need the dictionary!). Am I always successful? No! But I’ve come to terms with this. If I see how teachers or other professionals “multitask” or chat with others during conferences webinars, or meetings (including myself) and “claim” this helps them focus, I don’t think I need to manage my students’ use of technology one hundred percent.

 

Do you have a story to share about a “failed” attempt to manage your class due to technology? What happened? How did you react? How did your students react? What did you get out of it?

Wow your students, not! — Technology in pre-sessional EAP courses

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Technology  Comments Off on Wow your students, not! — Technology in pre-sessional EAP courses
May 072015
 
Another pre-sessional EAP summer is approaching. Once the intensive course starts, there is hardly any time to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom. So, I want to look back a bit, in a couple of blog posts, at how and for what purpose I have integrated technology in the course in the previous years. But before doing that, I want to list what kind of technology or tools are available where I work and try to come up with criteria for using technology in pre-sessional EAP courses. Finally, I hope that these reflections will help me to look ahead and think about any area where I could or should do things differently this summer and decide whether technology can help with this.

Unpredictable availability of technology

What makes it sometimes a bit difficult to prepare to integrate certain technology  in pre-sessional courses is that we are not in the school or environment that we are familiar with. Even those of us who have taught at the same university for several years are assigned different buildings and classrooms, and they can all have a very different set of technology that is available. There can be classrooms with just a blackboard (yes, black, with a small “b”!). In many science buildings/classrooms, for example, they prefer the blackboard for certain things. If you are lucky, there will be both black and whiteboards, but no other technology, no access to wi-fi due to the location of the classroom.
Then, there are what I call the “standard” classrooms with a large whiteboard, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, integrated CD-player and loudspeakers, and broadband wi-fi for everyone.
At the highest end, you will have a large classroom with several whiteboards, possibly even blackboards, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, and broadband wi-fi for everyone, and a visualiser, plus thick curtains that you can shut automatically when showing something on the screen.
However, all students (and teachers) have access to quite a lot of technology outside the classroom: broadband wi-fi on campus, lots of computer clusters, scanners, printers, … and, of course, the technology they bring with them: smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops.
Here’s a simple list of some of the technology I’ve used in the pre-sessional courses:

HARDWARE

  • whiteboard
  • blackboard
  • IWB
  • computer
  • CD-player (mostly integrated in the computer)
  • projector + screen
  • loudspeakers
  • Wi-Fi
  • visualiser
  • computer clusters
  • smartphones (the students’)
  • iPad / tablet (mine or the students’)

SOFTWARE

  • MS Word (or other word processors)
  • presentation tools (PPT, prezi, keynote)
  • PDF viewer
  • internet
  • GoogleDocs
  • email
  • Blackboard
  • Turnitin
  • video and audio player on the computer
  • Youtube or other video sites
  • screencasting software (e.g. Jing)
  • electronic or online dictionaries
  • apps for the iPad (to view document, take notes, record audio)
  • apps or tools that my students use
As you see, nothing extraordinary really. So, this is not about the latest “toys” that you can wow your students withs. In fact, if there is one thing I would like teachers who might read this to take away is that this is not about wowing students at all. I would even say that the less they are aware of the technology the better. I don’t want to draw attention to the technology, I want them to be interested in the content, the language, the ideas, etc. If I can accomplish this by using technology fine, but if this can be accomplished in a different, non-tech way, that’s fine too. A simple example: After a couple of weeks, certain tasks become repetitive, or students simply get tired, which is absolutely understandable in a relatively long, intensive course. Sometimes, a simple change of setting helps them to focus again or to make the same task more interesting. For example, I tell them they can do a discussion or group work task outside if they want to, on a warm, dry day. Sometimes, we go to the library for tutorials, so when I talk with one student, the others can do research or continue writing their essay, or can give each other feedback on their writing.
At the same time, we use technology to do certain tasks: During the tutorial, we might look at a student’s writing on my iPad and talk through it. Students might be using the library computers to find books or articles for their essay. Other students might be using their laptops to write their essay. The technology is just there to do certain tasks, nothing extraordinary. So, this would be on criteria for me. I’ll list this and others in no particular order below.

Criteria for technology use in pre-sessional summer courses

  1. needs to me “normal” or normalised (aim is not to wow students but to help do something better or easier, not to distract them with the tech)
  2. no training needed (there is no time for training other than for a brief explanation; this is also connected to the first point)
  3. no sign up required (other than maybe for tools which I think they might continue using, but I really try to avoid this. There might also be a policy at some schools where teachers can’t simply ask students to create accounts or sign up to a website or tool without the school’s consent).
  4. used in a way or for tasks that are authentic (for example, they will use a Word processor and it’s comment or track changes function after the course when continuing with their studies,so it’s good for them to get used to this in the pre-sessional course as the objective of the course is not only to help them improve their academic English, but also ease them into the academic life at a UK university).
  5. help make a task easier (sending drafts by email and for me commenting in word processor is easier and more efficient than asking students to print out each draft and hand it to me, etc. However, I know teachers who prefer printed drafts, so this is my personal choice.
  6. accessible to all students
  7. available for all computer systems (which the students use)
  8. free (no fees for the students!)
  9. available on the university computers or accessible online, or my students have their own (if I want to use them in class)
What are your criteria? Why?
Apr 162015
 

It was a day like any other day on the pre-sessional EAP course I teach. I was with my second group, who I had for the Academic Speaking and Listening classes. The usual mix of nationalities. Mostly MA students, but also one undergraduate and two PhD students. It was a relatively “standard” Academic Listening lesson. We talked a bit about the lecture they had attended the day before and the notes they had taken during it. Then I led into the listening and note-taking task that was to follow. I don’t remember anymore what exactly we did, but we discussed the topic, which was perfectionism, whether it was something good or bad, etc. When I thought they were ready, I instructed them to listen to the short lecture and take notes. Everything looked normal. We were several weeks into the course and the students knew what they had to do. I was standing near the computer and making sure the technology was working well and occasionally glancing at the students making sure everything was fine, without being intrusive…

Suddenly, I had the feeling that something with one of the PhD students was odd, but I didn’t know what it was that made me feel like this. My eyes went from one student to the other, then I glanced back at this particular PhD student. Her head was lower than usual. She was looking at her book and writing, but then I saw it… tears were dripping down from her eyes onto the pages of the book! I didn’t know what to make of it or what to do. I looked away, looked at the other students. I didn’t want her to notice that I had noticed that she was crying. I thought that maybe she was homesick or had received some bad news, as it happens sometimes. But then it hit me. It was the lecture that made her cry!

The lecturer was talking about research into perfectionism, about the downsides of perfectionism, how it can lead to burnout and other negative psychological effects, etc. This student, I knew, was a perfectionist! I had noticed from the start that she was trying too hard to improve her English, her note-taking skills, her every skills. She was often disappointed with herself and her performance, even when I told her it was good. She came to see me after the lesson, sometimes, to ask me how she could improve… So, I had already been worried about her a bit. How would she cope with the pressure of doing a PhD I asked myself, but I hadn’t found a way of talking with her about this other than reassuring her during tutorials.

Now, the tears were falling more frequently. She had taken out a tissue. Should I tell her she could stop and go to the bathroom? Would she want others to know she had been crying? I decided not to do or say anything just now. When the lecture had finished, she had regained her composure. The students had to compare their notes, then they talked about the topic. Were they surprised to hear about the drawbacks of being a perfectionist? etc. The PhD student was participating in the discussing in her group with two other students. She seemed fine now. I decided I would talk with her after the lesson.

She told me that she was a perfectionist, and that she had put so much pressure on herself when doing her MA in her home country that she even had to be treated in hospital for some time as it had affected her physically and psychologically. She had had a very difficult time. And now, this lecture had brought all the memories back plus the worries about the PhD and how she’d cope, with her family and boyfriend also being far away. We talked for a bit, including about some coping strategies if she felt the pressure mounting again, I reassured her again and explained that the University also offers help in such situations. After that, I also occasionally sat with her and her friends during lunch and we chatted. I knew telling her it wasn’t necessary to be a perfectionist wouldn’t help. All I could do was to help her relax about this course a bit and let her know now who she could turn to when she felt she needed help.

I try to make lessons relevant and interesting. However, I had never thought the content of an academic lecture would make a student cry. That morning, when I was expecting it to be a “normal” lesson on listening and note-taking skills, this student reminded me of what we know as teachers but can sometimes forget in an intensive course when there is so much to get through: that we always need to be aware of the fact  that we are working with people each of whom brings their own baggage with experiences to the class, some good, some negative, and that this will affect their studies. And this is why it is so so important to take time to get to know one’s students on a personal level too (besides their language and academic learning needs) and establish good rapport and an atmosphere of trust.

Using the iPad during tutorials to talk through drafts

 EAP, Technology  Comments Off on Using the iPad during tutorials to talk through drafts
Oct 122013
 

Last year, I started used my iPad during one-to-one tutorials with my EAP class. This is what happens:

  • First, students send me their draft by email. I add some written feedback with the comment feature of MS Word and send it back at least one day before the tutorials.
  • Students go through my feedback/comments, make changes, prepare questions for the tutorials.
  • Some students prefer to print out their draft with my comments but not all, and they don’t have to.
  • During the tutorials, I sit in a nice, quiet place with my students, and we have 10-15 min together for any questions they might have.
  • When it comes to talking about the draft, I open the student’s draft on my iPad and we go through the text looking at some of my comments and I answer the student’s questions or they explain to me what they have changed, what they meant, etc.
I was using DocsToGo for this. When I added a comment, which in Word is a coloured rectangular box on the right side, it is indicated in DocsToGo as a yellow square within the text with my initials: [NK]. If I want to see what the comment says, I need to click on the square bracket and the comment text pops up. Although this works quite nicely, it is not very efficient when there are lots of comments as they all look the same and I or the student first has to click on one to see the comment text.
A student's draft with my comments indicated in yellow

A student’s draft with my comments indicated in yellow

Then I saw that one of my Chinese students who had an iPad had an app, Office2 HD, that showed the comments just like in MS Word. So, I immediately bought it and have been using it since. It’s much more efficient as one can quickly scroll through the comments and find what one is looking for. This way, the precious tutorial time is not wasted searching.
The same draft displayed in Office2 HD

The same draft displayed in Office2 HD

As always there is no perfect solution. I found out that neither of the two apps, nor the Dropbox app always show the formatting of MS Word documents correctly, especially if it isn’t just flowing text but if there are titles, centralised text, content pages, etc. This makes it difficult to use the iPad to comment on such things as formatting, page numbering, layout, etc. This and the fact that typing and commenting is faster on the laptop/desktop means that I still use my laptop/desktop to provide most feedback but don’t need to carry the laptop to work for tutorials and some other tasks.

Turnitin as a formative feedback tool

 EAP, Teacher Development  Comments Off on Turnitin as a formative feedback tool
Sep 262013
 

Light-painting-kol

Light Painting — by Kolossos (Own Work)

When I was a Master’s student at the university, Turnitin® was used in one course as a plagiarism detection tool. We had to submit our assignment via Blackboard, and it was automatically checked by Turnitin. At the end of the process, I was provided with an “originality” report that showed me the percentage of potentially plagiarised text (0% … phew!).

How I used it with my students

Last year, I read an article on how some teachers had used Turnitin in a university EAP course. I was eager to try it out myself. So, I was very happy that we had access to Turnitin for the first time in our course this year.

When I introduced Turnitin to my students and told them we would be using it, they looked very apprehensive; and later, in the computer lab, some were very nervous about the result for their essay even if few would have serious plagiarism issues reported as I knew from looking at their previous drafts. This is possibly an indication that they are not always aware about issues of insufficient referencing and paraphrasing in their essays and think they might have plagiarised unintentionally.

In the teacher’s meeting, we had agreed that we would use Turnitin to give students formative feedback. So, in the tutorial session following the submission of the drafts to Turnitin, I sat down with each students individually and we examined the report together.

Initially, some students’ report showed a high percentage of plagiarised text, but this figure was not very indicative. We had to use the filter to exclude the bibliography and exclude a set number of words in a string that we wanted to exclude (4-5). The latter is useful when a student has used many typical set phrases such as “based on these results, it can be concluded that…” or “The results of this study show that…” Quotations that were placed correctly between quotation marks could also be excluded. Once the filter was applied, the percentage went down considerably.

However, even now, the result could not be taken as is and needed further inspection. So, together with the student, we scrolled through the text and stopped whenever Turnitin indicated a possible plagiarised or insufficiently paraphrased section and decided whether it was really problematic or not, and talked about how to remedy it.** I sent all reports to the students via email so that they could look at their analysed text again and try to improve their drafts before submitting the final versions.** Similar procedures were used by Barrett & Malcom (2006) and Davis and Carroll (2009).

After the course and my initial experience, I felt I needed to read up on this topic a bit more. Here’s a brief summary of my readings:

Why do students plagiarise?

There are many reasons why students plagiarise, some of which are that:

Many students now use the Internet to do research. There is so much information readily available and  technology makes it easy to copy and paste text into their essays (Sagave, 2004).

Some students, particularly international students, plagiarise unintentionally, due to lack of knowledge how to reference correctly, inadequate language to paraphrase or summarise, or cultural difference in attitudes to citing (Wette, 2010; Barrett and Malcom, 2006; Lake, 2004).

How to help students

Just telling students about plagiarism and showing them how to cite is not enough. Advice should be personalised. Students become more aware of the problem when it is applied to their own assessed writing (Barrett & Malcom, 2006). Telling students that their work will be submitted to a plagiarism detection software can be a deterrent  (Barrett & Malcom, 2006, Sagave, 2004) when it comes to intentional plagiarism, but it will not help students who have problems with referencing and paraphrasing. This is why

Using the tool on its own, without adopting a range of measures to ensure a holistic and supportive institutional framework, is not good practice and could threaten both students’ engagement with their learning and their relationship with the institution. (Carroll, 2005: 8)

Hyland (2001) suggests that oral feedback might be clearer and more helpful to students than written feedback when discussing plagiarism issues and Gardner (2004 in Davis and Carrol, 2009) argues that spoken feedback is better suited for formative purposes.

Davis and Carroll (2009) report that “tutorial feedback appeared to have a positive effect on students’ understanding of academic integrity reflected in improved drafts” in their study and so Turnitin could be used as one means to teach students about plagiarism, how to cite and paraphrase correctly, and also to highlight over-reliance on few sources.

So, the oral formative feedback approach we have taken in our course was the right way to go about using Turnitin with our international students.

How Turnitin can help teachers

As it is a serious offense, teachers are often reluctant to directly accuse students of plagiarising (Hyland, 2001). But when they are presented with the colour-coded originality report, they cannot deny it (Barrett & Malcom, 2006).

Previously, when I came across a sentence or paragraph in a student’s work that I thought could have been copied from a source, I would copy the passage into Google and search for it. This was often effective but time-consuming. Also, the moment when students substituted some of the words, this approach did not always work.

Turnitin is better at identifying copied text that has gaps or in which some words have been replaced by synonyms (Davis & Carroll, 2009). It is also much faster in checking a text than the “Google approach”.

Concerns

Automatic results of Turnitin (and I assume other such software) can only show possible plagiarism so teachers and students need to inspect the results, apply filters (as described above) and discuss problematic sections to make the tool really useful as a means to educate students (Barnett and Malcom, 2006). This can, however, become very time-consuming (Sagave, 2004).

There is also the danger that students who are allowed to see their reports and resubmit their drafts to Turnitin, can learn, with time, how to manipulate copied text so that Turnitin does not flag it as possible plagiarism anymore (Davis and Carroll, 2009).

Another issue is with copyright and privacy. Particularly postgrad students seem to be averse to submitting their work to Turnitin because the software adds each submitted work to their database (Savage, 2004).

One problem I had read about related to the previous point was that one can submit student work only once because when resubmitted it would all show up as plagiarised as the text was added to the Turnitin’s database. However, we found out that this was not the case automatically. When my students resubmitted their work, Turnitin showed the new result with a lower percentage of copied text.

A more serious problem is that Turnitin apparently only has access to websites but not to electronic or printed books (Sagave, 2004), which would limit its usability considerably.

Conclusion

Personally, I liked using Turnitin with my students as a formative feedback tool besides other ways of helping them learn about plagiarism  and referencing. As always there are limits to what a tool can do on its own. This is where the teacher’s experience and pedagogical knowledge comes into play. A pedagogical sound method of using Turnitin is to provide students with individual formative feedback using the originality report (Davis & Caroll, 2000) rather than using it for a ‘catch-and-punish’ approach (Carroll, 2005).

Other resources

Turnitin offers some information on how to best use the software on their website. There are also links to webinars and a link to this plagiarism website, which might be useful in class.

UPDATE (2015)

** This year (2015) we were informed that it is against the University’s Turnitin policy to actually show/send students their reports. I assume this is because they might learn how to change sentences with issues so that Turnitin doesn’t recognise them as plagiarised anymore.

 

References

Barrett, R., & Malcolm, J. (2006). Embedding plagiarism education in the assessment process. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2(1), 38-45. Available at: http://www.ojs.unisa.edu.au/index.php/IJEI/article/view/23/18 [Accessed 1 September 2013]

Carroll, J. (2005). Available at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/plagFinal.pdf [Accessed 31 August 2013]

Davis, M. and Carroll, J. (2009) Formative feedback within plagiarism education: Is there a role for text-matching software? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 5(2), 58–70. Available at: http://www.ojs.unisa.edu.au/index.php/IJEI/article/view/614/471 [Accessed 17 Septermer 2013]

Hyland, F. (2001). Dealing with plagiarism when giving feedback. ELT Journal, 55(4)

October, 375–381.

Lake, J. (2004). EAP writing: the Chinese challenge; new Ideas on Plagiarism. Humanising Language Teaching, 6(1), online. Available at: http://www.hltmag.co.uk/jan04/mart4.htm [Accessed 20 September 2013]

Savage, Sh. (2004). Staff and Student Responses to a Trial of Turnitin Plagiarism Detection Software. Proceedings of the Australian Universities Quality Forum 2004, 150-155. Available at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.117.9504&rep=rep1&type=pdf [Accessed 20 September 2013]

Wette, R. (2010). Evaluating student learning in a university-level EAP unit on writing using sources. Journal of Second Language Writing, 19, 158–177.

Are libraries becoming digital… and is this a good thing?

 EAP, Technology  Comments Off on Are libraries becoming digital… and is this a good thing?
Sep 142013
 

Ebook between paper books (Source: Maximilian Schönherr, 2011, Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been spending the last couple of days in the university library collecting information on various topics, but have only looked at one physical book. I’ve been downloading articles, chapters from ebooks, and occasionally even complete books.

The University of Manchester library spends 85% of its budget on digital content.

Advantages

For distance students, like I was when studying for my MA, this is good news because more and more material is available digitally, online. Also, in fields where there is a lot change and where new research and information is important, as in my field (Educational Technology), it is good to have access to the latest books in electronic format. Another advantage is that digital books and articles can easily be searched for keywords. And finally, for someone like me, who travels between and lives in different places, it is extremely practical to have all resources in digital format accessible anytime from all my devices.

That the University spends such a surprisingly high proportion of its budget on electronic resources might also reflect the fact that students increasingly use their computers to do research rather than the physical library and some “don’t know how to search a library  without a computer” (ECAR Research Study 6, 2005, p. 35).

(As an aside: the University of Manchester Library switched from the old card catalog system to a computer search system around 1991.)

Manchester Central Library, St. Peter’s Square before the renovation (Source: Ricardo, 2010, Wikipedia Commons)

But possibly there is also a more mundane reason, which is that universities are trying to save money. Although licences for ebooks can sometimes cost more than a physical book, libraries will not have to expand shelf space.

Downsides

There are, of course, also downsides of this development. Whereas complete articles can be easily located and downloaded in PDF format, with ebooks things are more complicated. Firstly, because of copyright issues, there are restrictions on how many chapters or pages can be printed out or saved as PDF, although one can view the entire book online.

This leads to other problems. While one is also not allowed to photocopy an entire book, it is easy to browse through a physical book and photocopy individual pages. Browsing or reading ebooks can be more challenging. The University library uses different ebook service providers (which is possibly decided by the book publishers rather than the university?). Each has their own layout and functions. If they offer note-taking or bookmarking functions, one has to create an account for each separately. Highlighting or copying text is not possible.

And even within the same service provider’s website, access can differ depending on the licence agreement with the publisher. Sometimes, up to 20 or 60 pages can be printed out; at other times, only one chapter. Sometimes, all chapters can be download but there is a warning that one is allowed to download only one. Some books can be downloaded but only viewed with Acrobat Reader and only for a period of time, after which Acrobat will not open the file. And, finally, there are those that allow an entire book to download and keep access forever.

I hope that access and other services related to ebooks will be unified in the future and, thus, make the experience more user-friendly. But even then, I would not want a “bookless library”.

Academic Reading & Note-taking — On Print or on Screen?

 EAP, Technology  Comments Off on Academic Reading & Note-taking — On Print or on Screen?
Apr 112013
 

Annotated textI’ve been thinking about my EAP students at the pre-sessional course I teach in the UK in the summer and how to approach talking about reading and note-taking with them. I don’t want to say “teaching” because my students are mostly young adults and the majority already have  a first degree from a university in their own country, some already a Master’s. As they come from different educational backgrounds or “cultures”, it will be interesting to see how they have approached reading and note-taking so far (in their L1) and how this transfers to their practise in English (their L2).

It is not enough to teach classical note-taking skills

In the past pre-sessionals, I did emphasis the importance of note-taking when reading and checked during tutorials whether and how students were taking notes of what they were reading for their project work. Note-taking skills are also addressed and practiced in the reading lessons. Universities, moreover, often have special self-study or self-help pages, which students can be referred to. Additionally, there are websites such as UEfAP, that offer tips and exercises on how to go about academic reading, note-taking, and other skills.

However, none of the resources I have seen so far looks specifically at reading and note-taking skills for articles and books that are available in digital format. Also, none of them show what kind of digital tools can be used for reading and note-taking on screen. And finally, what kind of differences there are if any between reading and note-taking on printed/copied articles or pages and reading and note-taking on screen on the PDF document. This is, of course, not to say that there isn’t any research on this. There is, for example, plenty of research on reading online and the difference (e.g. cognitive) between reading online and on print, particularly when reading text with hyperlinks. However, although this is very interesting, in this post I am more interested in the practical or, if you want, technical side of reading e-texts.

My own experience

When doing my diploma course (DELTA), most of my reading and note-taking was on paper. I did do some research and reading online but the school was not subscribed to any online journals, all the books and journals were in print format in the school library.

As an MA student, I had the choice, which had me think about the best way of reading and note-taking.

Stage 1

I had access to plenty of online material, however, in the beginning, I printed out all the articles I was going to read in detail and proceeded to take notes on them with highlighters and pencil. On the front page of each article, I would, at the end, briefly summarize the article and/or write keywords so I could, at one glance, see what it was mainly about and when and where in my assignment to use this particular article. At this stage, it was extremely efficient. Towards the end of an assignment, when I needed a reference or information here and there, and, thus, only needed to dip into some articles, I read and highlighted relevant bits on screen, sometimes also adding some notes, which, however, took much longer than doing it with pencil on paper. Where the digital versions of printed articles came in very handy, though, was again when I needed bits of specific information and didn’t know exactly in which article there was anything relevant. I would simply search on my computer with the search tool called “Spotlight” (on Mac), which indexes all the computer’s content and is extremely efficient in finding relevant material. Once I had the search results, I would open the articles and could immediately see where the search term (word or phrase) was used and read around it. This saved me hours of searching and reading compared to printed articles or books.

Stage 2

The method above meant printing hundred of pages of articles and book chapters. So I started reading and highlighting more on screen using tools such as Preview (Mac; comes pre-installed), Adobe Reader (Mac, Win; free), and Skim (Mac; free).  Each of them has some different features and there functionality can change over time and, but all of them have similar annotation tools such as highlighting text with color; adding notes and symbols; and drawing circles, rectengulars, and other shapes around text. Some save the annotations separately and allow one to export them, others overwrite the original PDF file. It is more a personal preference which of them one chooses to us.

Annotations Skim

What I didn’t like

After using this method for one or two courses, I noticed that I missed the “third” dimension: the possibility of browsing quickly through pages and seeing my annotations almost at one glance, making different stacks, and, most of all, having a visual image and memory of what is where.
So, I went back to printing and annotating on paper…

Stage 3

Because of circumstances, I lived away from home when doing my dissertation. This meant I had no easy or free access to a printer. So, I adopted a “no paper” policy and didn’t print out out even a single page, not even when proofreading (which did worry me a bit). But it went surprisingly well this time. Perhaps because I had got used to working digitally over time, and because I had, now, an iPad and the GoodReader app (~£3,20/$5.00), which, combined with the free version of Dropbox (which I had been using since the start of my MA), helped me organize my reading and allowed me to read and annotate my articles anywhere I was and synch between devices (in this case my iPad and MacBookPro).

GoodReader also allowed me to send the annotations to myself via email. I created a copy of my dissertation outline file with all the headings and sub-headings and would copy and paste the highlighted sections  from the articles into the appropriate sections in my outline. When I was writing a particular sections, I had this document open and could easily read and transfer the information, paraphrase, summarize, or copy from there (if I wanted to directly quote someone) into the actual dissertation text file.
(WRITING: In a different post, I will describe how I went about writing my dissertation and which tools I used for that.)

So, this is how I went about reading and annotating (electronic) articles and books. I’ve talked with other colleagues on the course and know that many, just like I, started experimenting with different ways of note-taking using different sets of tools while doing the MA course.

My Students

Last year, all my international students on the pre-sessional course in the UK had a laptop and a smartphone, and more had iPads compared to the previous year. However, only one student in my main class showed me electronically annotated articles. All the others had their notes in their paper notepads. Whether this is a conscious preference or whether they don’t know how to use their devices to annotate PDFs I don’t know but want to find out this summer and spend some time to explore with them ways they can use their devices to read and annotate.

How to go about integrating “electronic” note-taking skills?

I’d love to hear from other colleagues how they go about making students aware of such note-taking tools and how they integrate practising using these in their (EAP) classes considering the restricted time available.