An Excellence Gateway case study
This case study was produced by JISC RSC (Regional Support Centres) South East on behalf of the Excellence Gateway.
Published: 11 September 2009
Sector relevance: Further education and Sixth Form colleges
Keywords: Improving teaching and learning, improving responsiveness to learners, blended learning, creating and adapting e-learning materials, inclusive learning, personalisation of learning, developing self-confidence, motivating learners, enrichment activities, support for remote learners, giving feedback to learners, curriculum planning, sharing good practice, equality and diversity, peer review, collaborative projects, Languages, Literature and Culture of the British Isles, virtual learning environment (VLE), EFL
This case study examines how one EFL (English as a foriegn language) lecturer at Southampton City College decided to ‘raise his ILT game’ by making full use of the Moodle virtual learning environment (VLE) to create blog-style resources and interactive forums to increase the levels of engagement, motivation and collaboration for four of his student classes. As a result, his courses have received a Gold Award under the College’s Gold, Silver and Bronze Moodle benchmarking initiative.
About Southampton City College
City College is a further education college in the centre of Southampton, offering high-quality courses at every level to students of all ages. Achievement is high, with adult students achieving a 95% pass rate across short courses in 2008. Full-time students study a wide range of courses including BTECs, NVQs and GCSEs. City College understands the importance of career building and has excellent links with local employers through its work-based learning brand, City Training, the largest provider of apprenticeships in the South.
City College is currently in the final stages of a £35 million redevelopment project with brand new facilities for engineering, hair, beauty, catering, media, performing arts and technical theatre.
David Mainwood has been an EFL lecturer at Southampton City College since 2005. Confident and comfortable with IT, Mainwood had been using Blackboard – the College’s original learning platform – but only on a limited basis and purely as a repository for learning materials.
When Southampton City College made the transition from Blackboard to Moodle, Mainwood took the opportunity to start from scratch and utilise some of the new VLE features to increase interactivity and collaboration in order to improve student engagement. In September 2008, he decided to assemble his resources in the form of a blog, building up each week and tailoring them to his learners’ needs and current ‘real-world’ topics. Around the same time, he experimented with Moodle forums to increase levels of feedback, collaboration and response rates.
"I hoped using ICT in this way would aid the empowerment of learners by not only speeding up the feedback times on their homework but by also giving them a ‘voice’ that would enable them to stay in contact with the teacher but also to collaborate with each other outside the normal class times. In this way ICT could be seen as a way of personalising learning as well as increasing students’ influence on course content."
Using Moodle, students are now able to gain access to classwork, handouts and extra differentiated material. On the main course page there are links to files which can be downloaded as Word documents, PowerPoint presentations or PDF files. EFL students can repeat listening activities undertaken in class by downloading MP3 files and worksheets. The Moodle courses also contain video files and links to other websites, including YouTube or specialist EFL sites with gap-filling exercises or crosswords. Learners may perform online tests and receive immediate results and feedback. The main page is colourful and image-rich in order to encourage students onto a page.
The forum facility, which is linked from the main page, works in the same way as email. Students post messages which are visible by all who visit the page. However, each forum is only visible and accessible to students enrolled on that particular course.
It has always been the case that EFL classes, which are about getting people to communicate in English using the listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, have been characterised by their communicative and collaborative nature. Mainwood observes:
"ICT has added another dimension to this approach with the use of resources like online forums, blogging, email, presentations software and interactive whiteboards. These resources allow students to collaborate on projects which practise the four skills in a variety of relevant and motivating ways.”
During the 2008-09 academic year, Mainwood has been teaching four classes: two Pre-Intermediate and one Upper-Intermediate fee-paying part-time adult groups plus an under-19 full-time Skills for Life Entry 3 course. Mainwood comments:
"For the part-time adult courses, the original idea was to provide two-way access from home. Any dialogue between me and the students was related to work set."
Mainwood had to take a slightly different approach with the under-19 group. As well as making the blog content more ‘teenage-friendly’, he also had to address the relative lack of motivation (compared to the adults):
"I soon realised that the forum wasn’t working as well with the under-19s as with my adult groups when asking them to engage from home. So fairly early on, I got them to use the forum interactively but within the framework of a two-hour classroom session."
An example of one such classroom-based activity was to get the students to individually research and select a holiday online. The students then had to evaluate their chosen holiday and look at each other’s work with the aim of collaboratively selecting a single holiday for the whole group.
Image 1: Screenshot of a page in the Moodle VLE
Image 2: Screenshot of a page in the Moodle VLE
Image 3: Screenshot of a page in the Moodle VLE
Image 4: Screenshot of a page in the Moodle VLE
The ‘blog-style’ resources combined with the Moodle forums have gone down well with students across all the courses. Mainwood remembers how the logins for EFL students “went through the roof”. This high level of participation has been recognised by the College itself with the e-Learning Team awarding Gold Awards to Mainwood’s VLE courses, as part of its Gold, Silver and Bronze Moodle benchmarking initiative.
The College e-Learning Team also entered Mainwood into the JISC RSC South East’s Hi5 e-Learning Award, held on 3 March 2009 for what the judges described as “a great example of how appropriate and timely use of e-learning can engage and motivate students”.
To help ascertain the effectiveness of his EFL delivery, Mainwood gave 13 part-time students questionnaires on their activities on the VLE. All except two said they liked posting homework on the forum. All except two said it made them think about their mistakes and try to correct them. All bar one said that posting homework on the forum had helped them learn English with one saying it was “very, very good”. Other comments included:
- “helped checking”;
- “good for writing”;
- “help me to show my mistakes and I remember them”;
- “can improve my English and remember”; and
- “I think it’s fantastic because I can learn listening and writing.”
Mainwood lists other key advantages:
- Monitoring of student activity
- Faster turnaround of marking, which increases motivation
- Overcoming teenage reluctance to write on paper by tapping into their enthusiasm for using computers
- Students’ ability to observe each other’s work and perhaps learn from it
- Instant feedback through Moodle statistics to see what works and what doesn’t
Mainwood highlights some of the problems encountered in setting up and running these Moodle courses:
- Some EFL students are very poor, have low IT skills and not all of them have internet access at home
- The time taken to create and upload the resources – particularly repetitive tasks
- The inability to automatically see student work or resources on all the other courses in the College without being given specific permissions
For other tutors contemplating doing something similar, Mainwood advises:
"You have to sell this to both adults and teenagers. Don’t just assume that they are going to engage with it straight away. Not all adult part-time students may feel comfortable using the resources so participation should be voluntary. If a part-time student chooses not to participate in the online activities from home, it must not affect their understanding or participation in class work nor when submitting homework. Also beware of letting the resources blog become so long that it begins to be difficult to navigate.
"Increased workload is an issue. It’s not so bad servicing the forum as it is similar to paper marking. However, creating and uploading electronic content on a weekly basis is almost the equivalent of running an additional half-course for every group you have."
As to future developments, Mainwood is thinking about recording students speaking English using Audacity then uploading them to Moodle so that learners can listen to each other and use the forum to feedback and interact.
Mainwood's closing comments:
“The possibilities are massive. If you can get the students to create their own materials and share with each other, you are maximising engagement, interactivity and collaboration…and that always produces the best results.”
- Southampton City College website
- Moodle website
- Blackboard website
- JISC RSC South East Hi5 e-Learning Awards website
- JISC RSC South East website
- EFL websites:
- Learning English with the BBC
- All about British Life and Culture
- Dictations – Native Speaker Dictations
- The Grammar Aquarium
Read other related case studies
- Southampton City College: Southampton City College strives for Gold with Moodle benchmarking scheme
- Barking College: ESOL getting more out of Moodle
- Varndean College: Maths on Moodle sets e-learning standards at Varndean
- Amersham embeds exemplar e-learning into ESOL programme
- MidKent College: ‘Net-savvy' tutor engages sports students with Moodle
Disclaimer: The Regional Support Centres (RSC) and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) support the development of educational e-learning. In the case study, we may refer to specific products, processes or services by trade name, trademark, manufacturer or otherwise, or link to websites or supporting material. Such references are not endorsements or recommendations and should not be used for product endorsement purposes.