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Title: An investigation into designing online language learning materials to support the academic reading of international Masters degree students
Author: Hu, Jie
ISNI:       0000 0004 2693 6560
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis provides a case study of a new approach to courseware design described as a mixed approach. This mixed approach is based on orientation to a problem (or opportunity) and rounds of design, implementation and evaluation. The mixed approach is informed by principles of being iterative, understanding the perspective of users, listening to feedback, being stakeholders, and involving users from the commencement and draws on an understanding of instructional design, user-centred design and participatory design. The context in which the study took place is the support of international students with English as a second or foreign language following Masters degree programmes at an Institute of Education within a local university. Courseware was developed which aimed to develop students’ reading skills and fluency in reading academic texts. The context is a topical issue, with increasing numbers of international students coming to study in universities in the UK. In the orientation phase of the courseware development, the nature and scope of the problem were explored through interviews with students and tutors. A wider orientation to the problem was then achieved through a review of learning theory (general orientation), reading and language issues (linguistic orientation) and the main ICT themes (applied orientation). Drawing together the orientation enabled the design and development of the first version of the courseware 2006-2007. This was evaluated through mixed methods: interviews with users (n=6), observations and computer test scores. Interviews, however, were the primary source. Data was coded and aggregated, then compared and contrasted. It was found that students reported positively on their use of the courseware product (titled CAR 1), however suggestions for improvement were made including providing more guidance and more explicit reading skills support. The courseware was adapted in line with this feedback and further evaluated (2007-2008). The revised product (CAR 2) was more positively received. A key difference between the two versions was the adoption of an explanation, practice, feedback model in CAR 2. Issues relating to the design of courseware are discussed. Two models of courseware development are provided. The first is a prescriptive framework set out the steps to be undertaken when following the mixed model. The second is a holistic model developed after the study which sets out the various factors which came together to shape the design and implementation of the courseware. It was found that the design is not ‘value free’ but shaped by the context and by the designer’s past experiences and tacit beliefs about teaching and learning. Issues relating to the development of reading skills are discussed throughout the thesis, though it is stressed that the trials were too short and the methodology was not appropriate for identifiable gains in reading fluency to be evidenced. The mix of cultural and social problems, language processing problems, L2 acquisition and training background problems, support problems which students faced are, however, described. The research showed that there were particular features of academic texts which students should not be assumed to understand. It was also found that some tutors felt that the language demands were too intense for some students. As regards the courseware, students felt that it was useful in supporting the development of reading skills. They valued the explicit teaching of skills and strategies and modelling of strategies such as skimming, scanning and speed reading. Useful features, or affordances, within the courseware were interactive feedback, easy access to several authentic texts, repeated practice, and links to opportunities for further study. However, the courseware needed to be integrated more fully into the course programme, and there needed better branching so that users could follow personal routes to and through material. Context remained important and online support might only mitigate the structural difficulties which international students’ face. Recommendations are made towards better support for international students.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Sidney Perry Foundation ; Churches' Commission for International Students ; Professional Classes Aid Council ; Coats Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: LB2300 Higher Education