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:


  • 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’)


  • 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 302015

Let’s say you have thought about your reasons to write, and you want to get started. But how do you start?

I guess the best scenario is that you already feel the urge to share something with a wider circle of people than your immediate environment (family, staffroom, local association), rather than “just” the wish to write without knowing what about.

But even if you know what you want to write about, it can feel like a daunting task if you’ve never written for the “public”. So, how do you start?

Writing for teacher development

In my case, I started by taking notes for myself in private. Writing needs practice and this is a “non-threatening” way of doing it as there is no public.

Then, I started taking notes on my lessons and sharing lessons plans publicly on my first professional blog about my experiences of teaching in the 3D virtual world Second Life. Blogging is a wonderful way of starting writing publicly. The posts can be short, they can be informal and personal. Some people like writing guest posts on other people’s blogs without committing themselves to their own; others might find it easier to write on their own as they can decide what the style will be, the length, the topics, etc. A third option is to write for blogs of publishing houses, online magazines, and similar.

The next, bigger step would be to write an article for submission to a magazine or journal. I would assume it’s easier to write for a professional magazine, as it doesn’t need to be academic, and they will accept shorter pieces as well. Many start by writing book reviews or submitting lesson plans and similar.
A great way of making this task easier is to write a series of blog posts on a topic and then combine these and rewrite for an article in a professional magazine. I did this with my blog posts about teaching in Second Life — my first published article in a print magazine!
I have also rewritten some of my MA assignments for publication, for example, my article on using podcasts in an English course for taxi drivers. Like with the blog post series, it makes the task easier because it’s already written. But it needs to be rewritten for a different audience, which can mean making it less academic or less formal, using fewer sources, shortening the text, adding new sections, removing others, etc.

For book chapters, you can do the same as for articles, but they might need to be more academic; therefore, it might be easier to rewrite dissertations rather than blog posts, because the former will already have references. In book chapters, they also often want some results, some kind of research with outcomes. In most cases, there will be a call for chapters to which you can submit your proposal and if they accept, you write the full chapter. For my first short book chapter, I have rewritten my MA assignment about the taxi driver course for a book on Blended Learning. You can compare it with the one for the magazine in the paragraph above to see how they are different (length, style, formality, images, etc.)
I have also written a longer book chapter completely from scratch based on an editorial brief about technology-integrated ESP lessons.  This has been the most challenging one for me so far.

The next step would be to write a complete (e)book, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon 😉 But I’ve edited quite a few written by others.

Although it might sound very daunting to write articles and book chapters, the great thing is that, in both cases, you will have editors who help you improve your draft, so you are not alone in the process.
Writing to share my experience has been a great experience for me. And when what you write is published in a magazine or book and people appreciate it, it feels like a great achievement and motivates me to do better work.

Writing course materials

Just like when writing for teacher development purposes, writing course materials was a gradual process for me and probably is more many. I can’t think of any example where a teacher who has never written anything would suddenly start writing a whole coursebook. Let me know if you know one 🙂

So, it usually goes something like this (which is how it has been for me):

  • write some extra exercises for your students
  • write extra activities to go with a coursebook unit
  • substitute some coursebook activities
  • write whole worksheets
  • substitute a whole coursebook unit with more relevant content and tasks
  • write a complete course or set of materials for your students with special needs (EAP, ESP, etc.)
  • share lesson plans, worksheets, or courses you have written publicly on your blog (SLexperiments), or a special course website (English for taxi drivers, English citiy planners)
  • write for someone else (a school, publisher, online lesson plan banks, etc.)

Writing course materials for others is still a very new experience for me  and so is the logical (?) next step: editing the work of other writers. But it’s exciting and I’m learning a lot in the process.

Where are you in your writing journey and where would you like to be?

Why I had stopped writing and why I started again

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on Why I had stopped writing and why I started again
Apr 302015

Like many others who have a blog, I have phases when I blog a lot and phases (months!) when I don’t. The last phase was quite long. One reason, as often, was that I’ve been working a lot. But to be honest, I could still have found time to write a blog post now and then. So, it was a bit lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, and having my focus elsewhere.

Now, I decided to get back to writing again — blog posts and articles —  for several reasons:

  • At the IATEFL conference in Manchester, a teacher from Russia said she had been reading my blog. I was chuffed and it made me want to write again.
  • At the same conference, Cleve Miller from and I were telling Gary Motteram from the University of Manchester about a project we’ve been working on, and Gary said that this sounded great, but that nobody was writing about their work. So, I thought it was time again to do this.
  • I’ve also been told by several teacher trainers and teachers (face to face, on Twitter, by email), that they like my article in the Blended Learning book or that it is popular with trainees. I was chuffed again and decided it was after all worth putting in these extra hours to write about the work I’ve been doing.
  • I’ve started thinking of the next pre-sessional EAP course and the things I might want to try out this year, or do better. So, I thought it would be good to first write down what I’ve done so far. Which leads to the next point…
  • Writing about my work also helps me reflect on my work, whether it’s a course I’ve written, technology I’ve used, or anything else I’ve done in the classroom. So, it’s good for teacher development.
  • And, of course, writing can be one way of developing one’s career.

So, as I have some downtime now and I feel that inspiration is coming back, I wanted to get started right away. My first steps:

  1. I made a list of topics that I’d like to blog about.
  2. I wrote my first blog post yesterday and am writing this one now 🙂
  3. I contacted the editor of a professional magazine and suggested an article, and she told me to go ahead and write it.

What are your reasons for writing (or not)?
How do you motivate yourself to write?

Read also: How to get started with writing

Apr 292015

I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

FB status update

I like the work I do and this is one reason why I tend to work a lot. As I also usually work on many different things, there’s always something to do, it never gets boring. For several years now, I’ve also been working during the summers, teaching on pre-sessional courses (which I love doing, but that’s another blog post). When I take off time to go on holiday with my family, it’s usually more a change of location/office for me, with reduced hours of work, but never without any. That’s how it’s been for some time now and it’s been good actually, as I can be in nice locations any time I want as long as there is internet access, and I don’t have to worry about work not being done, not earning an income, etc. A dream!
On the downside of it, I haven’t had any real time off for very long and I seem to have lost the ability to do nothing… or so I thought.

This year, we are in our lovely timeshare flat again, which has got thermal water in the bathroom and is situated in a lovely village where cows eat grass and wild flowers on the pasture and produce the fattest, tastiest milk, where the eggs and vegetables are organic, the cheese is made of the tastiest …, where you can walk in surrounding hills and collect tea leaves… You get the idea. AND, for once, this is at a time when I don’t have much to do as some projects have just finished and others are not urgent.

Sheep IMG_0188

So, I was sitting on the balcony yesterday and suddenly realised that I still am able to do nothing! Hence the Facebook update above 🙂 And I noticed how good it actually is not to be doing anything (work-related).

Then, when I wasn’t doing anything or thinking of anything particular again later (yes, I’m enjoying this now), I suddenly had lots of ideas pop into my mind — work-related ideas! Ideas for new projects, for new blog posts, etc. So, after all, it seems that doing nothing actually means doing a lot.

Now, back to counting the shades of green… or the sheep…


In the meantime, when and where do you have your moments of doing “nothing”?

You can leave a comment here or write on your own blog and share the link in a comment.

Materials writing: feedback is an essential element

 Materials Writing  Comments Off on Materials writing: feedback is an essential element
Apr 282015

Cyanistes caeruleus 3 Luc Viatour

I’ve been writing materials for my students for many years now, including digital material for blended and online courses. One of the benefits of writing for one’s own students is that we have a lot of information about them. We know their needs, we know their skills, we know their interests,  we know how they like to learn, what motivates them, what is culturally appropriate, how much time they have to learn, their work and (often also) their personal circumstances.

Another benefit is that we get immediate and direct and indirect feedback from our students when we use the material we have written for them, whether in the classroom or online. With direct feedback I mean what they tell us about the lesson or activities we have planned or the handouts we have produced. Some students, especially if it is an ESP course, will tell us whether the material were useful or appropriate, whether they think they will be able to apply what they learned in their job, or whether they found the activities interesting and engaging. Some students might even make concrete suggestions for improvements.
With indirect feedback I mean what I can observe: Are students engaged? Do they seem to like the text, the listening piece, or the activities that go with them? Do they make any remarks about the content? I find this kind of immediate feedback very insightful and rewarding.

Last year, I had the opportunity to work for and write lessons plans and material for project-based lessons for a group of vocational colleges in the Middle East. The material was delivered as PDF (teacher’s notes, worksheets) and had an online component for the students. It was the first time that I had to write lessons for students I didn’t know personally and lesson plans for other teachers, who I didn’t know, who were at an institution I didn’t work at. For the first time, I thought about coursebook authors who always find themselves in this situation. How difficult, I thought, not to receive any direct feedback! Of course, their materials are piloted and feedback is collected from teachers and students, but it just isn’t the same as walking into the classroom with one’s material and plan and trying them out. How would I know whether my material engaged the students, whether the teacher’s notes were clear, whether the timing was good, and the objectives were achieved? Without the immediate student (or teacher feedback), an important element was missing for me.

Then, I saw the colleges’ monthly newsletters and I was extremely happy to see pictures of students displaying what they had created in the project-based lessons that I had written! How nice it was to be able to see what students and teachers had actually done with the material! Sometimes, they had taken it further than I had planned for them. For example, I sometimes suggested that they work together with other classes or that they hold an exhibition to display their work to make it all more real and motivating, but I wasn’t sure whether they would be able or were allowed to do this. However, in one lesson based on health, where their task was to interview each other and create health posters, they had involved the whole school, interviewed teachers on their eating habits and gave every interviewee a health snack as a little present. Another lesson was about writing up their favourite recipes. What they made out if it was to actually bake and prepare other types of food and have a garden party with teachers and students where they shared the food.

How often does it happen that material or course book writers get to see this kind of thing? It made me feel very happy.

Another reason why I liked  this particular project was that the teachers were encouraged to provide feedback and could do so in the “staffroom” on the platform. I received feedback and questions from the teachers who were using my lesson plans and I could react to these by explaining the rational behind a lesson plan, helping them with some aspects, or, even better, by immediately making changes they asked for. One teacher, for example, suggested that one activity was not possible in their city, so I changed the lesson plan quickly slightly to make it work for them. This was easily possible because the lesson plans and materials were distributed digitally. It wasn’t a print coursebook.

Of course, it can also be challenging to receive such feedback if it comes across as criticism. One has to be open to this and ready to make changes where appropriate and possible. But for me, so far, it’s been a very rewarding experience.

What are difficult circumstances in teaching?

 Learners, Teacher Development  Comments Off on What are difficult circumstances in teaching?
Apr 232015

1500x1500-abstract-dfg4001I attended two plenary sessions at IATEFL in Manchester. One was good; and my simple criteria for this is that it made me think. The other one was a complete disappointment… This is maybe why I didn’t go to the one by Harry Kuchah. But lying in bed with a cold and not able to do much work, I thought I could spare an hour and watch the recording. I’m glad I did. Kuchah’s talk or, as he calls it, story is definitely worth watching and listening to.

He starts out by giving definitions from the literature of what “difficult circumstances” generally means (30-50 students in one class, few resources, …). Then, he shows us images that show what his difficult circumstances were (200 or more students in one class, no materials, no facilities, …). Adapting to the difficult local teaching and learning circumstances, he managed to get what we, in more “privileged” circumstances (meaning smaller class sizes, lots of resources, technology in the classroom, etc.) hope to achieve in our classrooms: learner autonomy, real collaboration, student-teacher partnership, authentic materials, responsibility for one’s own learning, sharing, etc.

He also talks about how he took what he learned during his MA studies in the UK and applied it to the local circumstances and how he has helped other teachers make the best of their circumstances. His research and the research “community” of teachers and students he built is remarkable. It shows how when teachers (and students) are involved in research and when teacher development takes into consideration local circumstances, it all becomes more meaningful and real change takes place. I suggest you watch the recording for details on his research and the outcomes. Again, just like above with what he achieved in the classroom, the outcome of his training sessions and his research is just as relevant for us as for those teachers in the local context of Cameroon.

I am truly impressed and inspired by Kuchah’s achievements. However, one thought that also kept popping up in my head was this: I wonder sometimes whose circumstances are more difficult? Sometimes, I look at students such as those of Harry Kuchah and envy their teachers as the students seem so motivated. To me not having technology or coursebooks is not that challenging. I like working with the language (needs) that emerge in the classroom from the students. I’d find the large class sizes very challenging, I admit. But I think the main challenge we have in many “better off” countries is learner motivation. If learners are motivated (and teachers, obviously), I feel, other problems can be overcome more easily.

Anyway, take the time and watch the full story: I wanted to embed the video, but it doesn’t seem to be allowed. You can watch it here.
(At the same link, you can also download the slides and handouts.)


Images take a central stage

 ESP&EdTech, Materials Writing  Comments Off on Images take a central stage
Apr 212015

There seems to be a growing interest in images in coursebooks. Several sessions at the IATEFL conference in Manchester focused on this topic.

I attended two:

  1. Maximising the image in materials design by Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones (MAWSIG PCE Day)
  2. Can a picture tell a thousand words? by Hugh Dellar

The main message for me in both sessions was that in the past images in coursebooks were mostly used for decorative purposes, but today, they are often more central to the unit (Ben and Ceri), in fact, sometimes even the driving force for a whole page or eve double page (Hugh Dellar). Having trained as a photographer and having worked with images a lot, I was happy to hear this.

Hugh Dellar listed the following functions that images can have in coursebook:

  • to illustrate the meaning of lexis > limited, often nouns and actions BUT these are often not problematic to sts, – these don’t help sts speak
  • to test sts have remembered lexis
  • to serve as decoration
  • to act as prompts for grammar drills / practice > peculiar use of English (he is cooking)
  • to check receptive understanding
  • to set the scene for role plays
  • to generate language and ideas
  • to generate discussion, opinions, stories, etc

He suggested that the last three are the more interesting uses.

I would say that all uses, including decorative uses of images are good if the images are chosen well and don’t confuse the learners. But I agree that images can and should sometimes have a more central role.

Due to my personal interest in images, I have often based a whole lesson around them, sometimes around a single image. Not only do learners often feel engaged by images if they are well-chosen and meaningful, but as their isn’t much or any text, a lot of language emerges from the learners.

I’d like to give one example of an image and how I used it for a lesson. This is just one example, and in this case, it was I who chose the image as I felt strongly about it. However, I also knew my students and their interests well and knew they would have a lot to say about the image. Of course, learners can be asked to bring their own images to the class and possibly even create their own questions and task around them, or simply talk about them.

In this case, the image was that of a new church that was being built in my city then, but not many people knew about it yet, and this was crucial as otherwise the activities I had planned wouldn’t have worked. It’s also important that it has got some relevance to the students. In this case it was an image of a local building in a newly developed area. Also crucial when choosing an image is that it shows something controversial or something that would trigger highly emotional reactions. The architecture of the church was extremely unusual and it was planned as an ecumenical church, another hot topic for many.

Here are two images of the church — the one I used was black&white and there was no green park and no glass windows.

Maria-Magdalena-Kirche im Rieselfeld

Maria-Magdalena-Kirche im Rieselfeld

I had several students who were taking general speaking classes and liked talking about different topics of interest. I don’t remember the complete lesson plan, but I started by showing the students the image which I had cut out from a local newspaper and asking the students questions about the building:

  •  What kind of building do you think is this? (Answers varied from museum to prison to bunker; none said church).
  • When do you think was it build?
  • Where do you think is it located?
  • Which adjectives would you use to describe it?
  • How does it make you feel?

Once they new what it was, I had prepared more questions:

  • Do you think it was designed by a male or female architect? Why
  • Would you want to visit / attend mass in this church? Why/Why not?
  • If you had the chance to talk to the architect, what would you tell them?
  • What would you change about the church so you’d like it more?

I had more questions ready which gave the students the opportunity to produce and practice different grammar, vocabulary and skills.However, I didn’t always go through my list of questions with the students. Sometimes, they wanted to talk more about one question or aspect of the church or the controversy, etc. A student who was a regular worshipper was interested in different questions or aspect than one who was more interested in architecture, for example. Sometimes, a student would take over and make it completely their own lesson, talking about things I hadn’t thought about.

I used the image mainly in general English speaking lessons, but it can easily be used for practising other skills. The students could, for example, be asked to write a letter to the mayor, the architect, or the newspaper to state their opinion, etc.It could also be used in ESP classes with a different set of questions.

The lessons with this particular image were always interesting for the students and for me; the discussions were never the same and I always learned something new from my students too.

This is only one example of a lesson based around an image. It could have been done entirely differently. What also works well is image comparisons with multiple images. Another “classic” image activity: The teacher brings some personal images and tells stories about them; then, the students are asked to do the same in the next lesson. I’m sure you know many more. I’d be happy to hear about your favourite image activity.

Can such lessons flop? They certainly can. There’s a lot that can go wrong when images are used, which might be worth another blog post…

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 — 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”.


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.


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.



Barrett, R., & Malcolm, J. (2006). Embedding plagiarism education in the assessment process. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2(1), 38-45. Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2013]

Carroll, J. (2005). Available at: [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: [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: [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: [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.