Over the last five years, my reflections on teaching have largely centered on approaches to task-based learning and teaching in ESP/EAP. In more recent times, my attention has been drawn to localisation of transnational curriculum and blended learning in English Language teaching environments (read more on this in the Cambridge Papers (2013) here).
I came across a terrific, online resource recently, relevant to my teaching context in Vietnam, which inspired consideration of how these approaches to teaching may in fact complement each other in practice.
In particular, I wondered how an extended task might successfully integrate face-to-face and online learning experiences. In other words, testing a 'blended task-based' approach.
The Local Context
The resource that inspired the conceptualisation of the lesson series below features RMIT University architecture and design students from Melbourne and Vietnam, who worked on a collaborative, community development project in Central Vietnam. Click to watch it here.
The Lesson Idea
The short film was a stunning visual aid, which really helped to tell the story of not only the community project, but the learning and teaching experience too.
Having successfully worked with video production tasks in class before, I was keen to explore the idea of blending face-to-face and online learning experiences across the entire task cycle.
Below is a conceptualisation of how I might use the YouTube clip above as a springboard for an oral presentation task in an EAP/ESP setting.
Drawing firstly on the principles of task-based learning and teaching (see Nunan, Ellis, Willis cited in our 2012 article here), the 'task' for English language learners in the lesson below promotes the following primary communicative goals:
- Conveying new ideas and processes clearly
- Using persuasive oral presentation techniques successfully
The basic premise of TBL is that it flips the traditional teaching approach of presentation, practice, production. Instead, learners 'produce' something first, using the language resources already available to them. This places the focus on emergent language needs, which in turn becomes the teaching syllabus (see Scott Thornbury's views on this here).
The idea of incorporating a blended approach in the lesson, most closely aligns with the definition espoused by Krause (2007, cited in Bath & Bourke, 2013):
"Blended learning is realised in teaching and learning environments where there is an effective integration of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning as a result of adopting [...] the use of technology combined with the best features of face to face interaction." (p.1)
It includes considerations of 'purpose, appropriateness, multimodality and sustainability' and micro-level considerations for lessons as outlined by Gruba & Hinkelmen (2009) in their seminal work on Blended Learning in the Second Language Classroom.
Laurillard's (2002) framework concerning the action dimensions or potential for technology in tasks is quoted below (cited in Gruba & Hinkelman, 2009 p32):
• Pre-task: Narration and Interaction (Introduction to Task)
• Task: Adaptation (Doing), Communication (Planning), Production (Reporting)
• Post-task: Communication (Analysis), Adaptation (Practice).
The notion of the flipped classroom is also used, as described by Lisa Gentry (2013). See the 'Further Readings' section.
Over the course of two weeks, groups of students design their own visual aid featuring an idea for a community project in their region, which they will pitch to their classmates.
The task conditions are as follows:
- The visual aid and presentation should demonstrate the pros/cons of the project
- The overall project must include roles for all group members
- The visual aid must be able to be shared with classmates in a private online forum
Topics that might be a good fit for the task within the EAP curriculum at my institution may include, for lower levels, the topic of study abroad (Education) and for upper levels, topics such as international education, alternative energy or population growth (Globalisation).
For ESP classes, preparing new business proposals or sales presentations would provide the appropriate context for the task.
As the task integrates online and face-to-face learning experiences, the teacher will need to establish an online collaborative space for the class to share their work and ideas.
i. The Pre-Task Stage
The teacher posts the video clip to the class online space in Week 1.
Students write their responses to some focus questions, sharing their opinion of the video. This could be done as a live discussion in class or online via a Blackboard blog/Google doc/Facebook post, for example.
The teacher shares the task outline and communicative goals described above (see 'The Approach' section) with learners in class. Learners should have a chance to ask questions and clarify the task.
FREE online tools and mobile apps such as Fotor.com (photo collages), Magisto.com, iMovie (movie clips) and Pikochart (infographic generator) could also be posted for learners to explore in your collaborative class forum online.
ii. The Task Stage
Learners form teams and begin conceptualising their own community project, their approach and design for their visual aid, using whatever resources they have available to them.
Some time should be given in class to allow the teacher access to discussions and learners access to clarification. Alternatively, discussions could occur via a shared Google doc/blog.
At the end of Week 2, learners present their visual to the class in an oral presentation (8 minutes), live in the classroom. Alternatively, learners could video their presentation and post it online.
Ultimately, teams will share their visuals online and other teams have a chance to comment or vote on the winning idea. The teacher provides positive, collective feedback to the whole class in class.
iii. The Post Task Stage
Learners share their individual written reflections of their 'triumphs' and 'challenges' of the task immediately after the presentation stage, in class, via a 5-minute 'post-it' reflection (see here).
Learners then share a more detailed 'reflection' with the teacher via Google docs, where the teacher can provide formative feedback to each student on their task performance or contribution.
Depending on the language that the teacher notices emerging during the task, you can 'focus on form' in later lessons. Based on the communicative goals stated, possible areas of focus may include:
- use of cause and effect language or conditionals
- language relevant to describing a process
- tips on staging and signposting in presentations
- the use of rhetorical questions in persuasive presentations
It may be appropriate to 'repeat the task' in the following weeks but in a slightly different mode. For example, working in pairs, learners could re-draw and re-tell their project to each other in class (pen and paper), with greater focus on form and accuracy.
Alternatively, in a full repeat task, groups could participate in an interclass task where they pitch their refined project to an unfamiliar group of students (from another class), who take on the role of new business financiers (similar to Dragon's Den).
As an alternative online repeat task, learners could post a video animation online of their project (see Moovly.com, for example) and share it with other classes to comment and vote as above.
From Theory to Practice
While it takes a bit of setting up, my learners always respond with enthusiasm to production or design tasks. The post-task stage is always a particularly motivating experience as students see evidence of their learning in action.
View this presentation by Lisa Gentry on the Flipped Classroom
Bath, D. & Bourke, J. (2013). Getting started with Blended Learning. Griffiths University: NSW.
Gruba, P., & Hinkelman, D. (2012). Blending Technologies in Second Language Classrooms. Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kırkgöz, Y. (2011). A blended learning study on implementing video recorded speaking tasks in task-based classroom instruction. Turkish Online Journal of Education, (10)4.
Tomlinson, B. & Whittaker, C. (2013). Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design and Implementation. British Council Collection of Papers: Cambridge UP.
This blog post represents the views and reflections of the author only and are not intended to represent the views of a particular institution.