Using short online learning programmes to help students transition between stages

Mr Okke Baumbach, DAAD-Lektor

School of Modern Languages

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

What did you do?

To help language students transition from their year abroad to their final year, I developed a short online course using the VLE.

Graduate Framework

This approach develops the following attributes:

  • Future focused
  • Confident
  • Curious
  • Collaborative

Staff can find out more about the Graduate Framework on the University intranet.

Who is involved?

German language students (20 in 18/19, 20 in 19/20)

Mr Okke Baumbach, Teaching Fellow in German (School of Modern Languages)

How did you do it?

  • I developed a short online programme which consisted of three units (one unit = one week) and which was based on the topic ‘Should I stay or should I go? East-to-West Migration in Contemporary Germany’. I developed exercises for online use which required students to use the core language skills reading, writing and listening as well as specialized language skills such as translation and reflection on word/grammar choices. Each unit consisted of up to 6 core tasks with optional side routes for learners who required a slower progression. These side routes included warm-up and revision tasks that give learners an opportunity to consolidate their existing knowledge whilst also engaging with more advanced topics.
  • The course material was at an advanced language level so that students could gain a realistic impression of the level at which they would be expected to operate in their final year.
  • As students were scattered throughout different time zones, the short programme did not include synchronous speaking activities but several other opportunities for interaction were provided in each unit e.g. discussion and reflection prompts, error correction and peer review tasks.
  • To optimize accessibility, the majority of the material was provided for both online and offline use.
  • Since this module ran as an optional activity outside of the degree program, students were not summatively assessed. However, they received feedback on a short written task. The feedback identified up to three main areas for improvement in the learner’s language proficiency. Identifying these areas ahead of the term allows learners to formulate strategies to tackle these problems. This may also help in reducing anxiety as students can take control of their learning at an earlier stage without having to wait several weeks for the first formal feedback on their language skills.

Why did you do it?

The nature of the year abroad, which is compulsory for students of Modern Languages, can differ greatly from one student to another. Some study for a semester at a German or Austrian university, some go on a work placement in a German-speaking country where they use their speaking but not necessarily their reading or writing skills, others do not spend any time at all in Germany or Austria due to the special requirements of their degree program. Consequently, on entering the final year language modules following the YA, the cohort is very heterogeneous in terms of language competence.

Secondly, students often express that although they are eager to practise their language skills in preparation for the final year modules they do struggle when it comes to organizing their own learning and revision process, selecting suitable material and structuring it in a logical progression.

This creates a lot of anxiety ahead of the final year with learners often wondering what language level they should expect and whether they are sufficiently prepared for it.

The aims of this short online course were therefore:

  • to address these differences in students’ language learning backgrounds following the YA,
  • to provide a structured learning and revision opportunity
  • to give them an authentic impression of what they can expect
  • to boost confidence in their language skills by applying them in a pressure-free environment.

Does it work?

Students actively engaged with the topic and the material and contributed in the message boards in all units throughout the three weeks. The course evaluation questionnaire showed that students felt:

  • the module had a clear structure and organization
  • enough direction was given to work on units independently
  • the module was interactive
  • enough opportunities were provided to practise core skills such as writing
  • the topic was interesting

More importantly, students have found the online module helpful in transitioning from Stage 3 (YA) to Stage 4, in gaining an understanding of the language level at which they will be expected to operate in their final year, and in getting used to operating in the target language at an academic level again.

Any useful resources?

I have found Gilly Salmon’s 5-Stages-Model useful in designing a structured programme of e-tivities: 

Oxford University’s short course ‘Designing Online Courses‘ was also very helpful in developing a good understanding of how online learning works and how to best design a blended learning or online course.

Contact details

Okke BaumbachOkke Baumbach, School of Modern Languages

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