Producing and Researching Effectiveness of Materials for Computer Supported Experiential Learning in the Area of Advanced Literacy Skills

E-Learning, Literacy & Writing skills

Brief Description

The aim of the project was to produce interactive web-based materials which could be used to support student learning in the context of a tutorial session based module on study skills/essay writing skills for English Studies. Although there are materials on writing available on-line, chiefly from American Universities (for example, from the Writing Lab at Purdue University), there are very few materials which offer the level of interactivity envisaged in the project. The interactive materials on writing that already exist in the UK, VerseWriter and StoryWriter at Sheffield Hallam University, are focussed on creative writing, rather than academic prose. What was envisaged was the production of web-based materials which would have the degree of interactivity of VerseWriter, but would apply ideas derived from research at the interface of linguistics and pedagogy, such as the Speak-Write project based at Anglia Ruskin University (formerly APU), to the specific problem of initiating students into acceptable academic style within the area of English Studies. A significant aspect of these materials is that they are freely redistributable by educational institutions – in this respect they are unlike the Speak-Write project, the cost of whose materials is a major deterrent to use.

Research was carried out on the effectiveness of the exercises in the development of advanced literacy skills. As well as attempting to assess the extent to which the materials developed transferable skills, this research also applied linguistic methods of textual analysis (involving the use of concordancing programs) to assess to what extent the materials fostered increased cohesion and use of modality in essays produced by students.

Background

The School of English at the University of Central England has for the past three years been running a compulsory module for first year students aimed at developing study and writing skills. The module is in large part a response to perceived alterations in students’ preparedness for the demands of formal written assessment in English Studies at university level. Previous expectations that students would simply internalize the stylistic and formal features appropriate to written assignments in response to lecturer feedback during the degree, as part of the normal course of assessment, no longer seem to apply. It is not unknown even for third-year students to submit work which lacks such basic features as referencing or a bibliography, despite having experienced frequent opportunities for lecturer feedback on these issues, and lack of ability to handle stylistic devices which go beyond the simple declarative sentence (such as modalization, paraphrase and quotation, whether embedded or freestanding) is a frequent source of student difficulties.

Project Design

In the initial phases of the project the linguistic features of academic writing that the proposed computer-based materials would aim to get students to recognise and manipulate were identified. Devising the exercises was done by a small committee of the School of English staff. In the final phase of the project the extent to which the materials fostered the development of transferable learning skills was investigated.

Learning Outcomes

Computer supported experiential learning materials in advanced literacy skills can now be readily deployable across most English departments.

Resources

Project leader

Dr Gavin Budge
University of Central England

Research period

2001 – 2006