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.
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.
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.
"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 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.
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