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Grant students independence and enhance written communication skills

Dan Hasan
April 13, 2022
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Class Size
250
Instructor Workload
Learner Workload

Context

This English course, “Informing Management in English” in an industrial engineering program saw students work towards a B2 level of English (following the CEFR framework) over eight weeks, learning to communicate effectively with management at a company. 90 second-year students, mainly 18-25 year-old Dutch natives with between A2 - B1 command of English, were divided between three classes of around 30, with two teachers for the whole cohort. All instruction was given in English to provide an authentic and immersive learning environment. The first six weeks were dedicated mainly to teaching, with four on-site sessions of 90 minutes and 2-3 elective online sessions of 45 minutes. The last three weeks focused on exams. Since the pandemic, this course was delivered in a blended, rather than purely on-site format, with the school wishing to keep this blended format for the future.

Due to the high amount of students per teacher, it was “impossible to give feedback on so much work” in the available timeframe. This prompted Avans Hogeschool to try Automated Feedback, integrated into the Brightspace LMS, as a means of providing instantaneous, personalised feedback on writing skills such as appropriate use of business-like language, to every student who requested it. The aumoatically-generated feedback suggestions could then be used by students to iterate on improved work for their final submissions.

Constructive alignment

Learning objectives

- Students can communicate effectively with management at a company, both in spoken and written English up to a B2 level.

- Students can demonstrate spoken and written communication skills with relation to process optimisation.

Learning activities

In order to improve their written communication skills, students individually wrote a series of three emails to the management of a company as part of a larger group project looking at that company’s processes and bottlenecks. The first email introduced the student group and their aims working with the company, the second identified a cause for process optimisation, and the last detailed both short- and long-term solutions. All emails were to be written in a clear, concise and informative manner, using business English.

These emails were started in class during the first three lessons and were finished as homework within the first three weeks, with class time partially devoted to addressing questions raised from this homework. Afterwards, lessons focussed on spoken communicataion, until the the oral and written exams in week 8. The written exam saw students work with a case study and write an email similar to those they had practiced in the first 3 weeks. Throughout the course, the instructor avoided powerpoints and focussed on hands-on activities, word games, and practice-based learning, creating a more interactive and engaging learning environment. 



For each of these email-writing activities in the first three weeks, students were able to use Automated Feedback to gain instantaneous feedback suggestions on criteria such as sentence length, punctuation, wording, and word count, among others. They were able to accept, ignore, or dispute these suggestions (leaving a comment as to why a particular suggestion might be eroneous) and iterate at will on successive drafts before the final submission.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Learning activities based on the Bloom taxonomy are mainly at the level of:

Understanding
conventions of written and oral communication for business English

Applying
learned rules and received feedback in written exercises

Creating
a series of emails adhering to the rules and conventions for communication

Assessment of learning outcomes

The homework assignments of the first three weeks were not graded; these acted as formative assignments. The speaking and written exams at the end of the course each accounted for 50% of the total grade. Both exams needed to be passed in order to obtain credit.

Notable outcomes

– Despite the Automated Feedback tool not being compulsory, around two-thirds of students made use of the tool for each of the three homework assignments, demonstrating that it was perceived as valuable.

– The instructor found that the processing of feedback between students, for example when comments or opinions on work were exchanged in class, ran more smoothly after a few occurrences, suggesting that “autonomy and confidence should be built up at multiple points throughout the course”.

– It was reported that students were now asking for less feedback from the teacher, as more was able to be generated through the Automated Feedback tool and through peer feedback, “they got used to it and were able to do it themselves, knew how it worked, and knew that their reflections afterwards would be read.”

"The tool helps us to see students, to see where they’re at and who we might need to contact to offer more help." – Rosalind Van Aalen, Avans University of Applied Sciences

The role of the instructor

• A mention was made by the instructor at the beginning of the course, telling students that the tool was available to check a limited number of elements in their writing.

• For students who had checked their work with the tool, analytics were generated allowing the instructor to get a sense of general student activity and performance on the assignment.

• The instructor remarked that they would like to make the use of the tool an explicit part of the assignment process, asking students to show received feedback and how it was used to make improvements. This is already in place in other courses delivered by the instructor.

Added value of technology

The instructor noted that the tool was more accessible than similar writing-check tools such as Grammarly, pointing to the consistency of grading and the assignment-marking process, as well as heightened visibility on student activity. Giving students the opportunity to take responsibility of their own learning process with this tool heightens student autonomy and allows writing to improve without requiring the instructor to individually address each student's work.

Possible variation

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