University of Gloucestershire
Francsi Close Hall
Tel: 01242 516381
Email: astibbe @glos.ac.uk
- Course/unit/module title: EZ102 Language & Ecology
- Course title: English Language
- Level: I
What does the teacher do?
The teacher gives first year students the opportunity to engage with, and contribute to, the international research community, allowing them to take on the idenity of a researcher right from the start of their time at university. The reason for developing this approach in the Language & Ecology module is that the module aims to help students gain critical awareness of the texts surrounding them, and an ability to respond creatively to them - something which requires them to take an active role as researcher rather than a passive role as student. This is a genuine role as research since the students have an opportunity to share their insights with the wider research community. The research community in turn has something to gain from student contributions because students can critically analyse aspects of their language and culture that others have yet to examine. Students can also offer new perspectives and directions for seasoned researchers to consider taking forward. Not all students’ work is illuminating or insightful, of course, so the key to this approach is that the facilitator works with the students to select the highest quality contributions, edit them, and only make those available to the community.
From October 2006 to January 2007, 31 students took the Language & Ecology module, and were encouraged to take part in the international research community through working with the Language & Ecology Research Forum - the main international forum for research in ecolinguistics. The Forum links together a network of scholars, has an online journal (Language & Ecology ISSN 1745-3631), a range of resources, and a dedicated section for the EZ102 Language & Ecology module was created. Right from the start it is suggested that students think of themselves as contributors to the research community, actively exploring the texts which surround them and sharing insights with the community.
Students were encouraged to use the resources of the Forum, in particular the on-line journal, for learning about ecolingusitics, and gear their writing and classwork towards potential contributions to the Forum. It was important that the contributions were of high enough quality to be useful to the community and future students, but at the same time it was essential that all students had the opportunity to contribute. The students’ contributions were therefore split into five kinds: a) a reference of a book they found useful b) a short anonymous comment about the course c) a paragraph length ‘insight’ about Language and Ecology d) a full article exploring one aspect of ecolingusitics e) a article of high enough quality to be accepted into the actual online journal Language & Ecology. The facilitator selected and edited all the entries, extracting them from students coursework, assignments and learning logs, and worked with students to ensure that their entries were high quality. Because of the design of the resource, all students who were imaginative could contribute something, and many of the comments in the ‘insights’ column were from students who were near the bottom of the class in terms of grades.
In order to encourage students to develop the writing skills to contribute articles to the Forum, the first assignment involved students in reading a selection of articles written by the facilitator (there are 16 of these to choose from). It is these original research articles which the course was based on, so there is a clear match between lectures, active learning activities, and readings. The intention is that through reading a selection of articles and listening to a series of short lectures, the students will gain an understanding of the methodology used, as well as one particular academic writing style and way of laying out a paper. For the second assignment, students are encouraged to use the short, accessible articles in the on-line journal as a model, and work to produce similar articles using similar methodology, but applied to different texts - ones that they find personally meaningful.
Analysis of data is practiced in active learning activities in every class where students immediately apply the methodologies they have learned to a wide range of texts. These texts are genuine ones — torn out from recent magazines or second-hand books, advertisements taken from junk-mail, etc. - and students analyse them in groups according to specific criteria, before sharing the results among groups in a variety of ways. The result is that students, if they’ve come to class and completed assignment 1 successfully, are already familiar with the methodology, with the layout of a straightforward journal-style article, and are already practiced at applying the methodology.
To read the insights and articles written by students see (http://www.ecoling.net/courses.html). At time of writing (Jan 2007) the insights and full articles are being edited and uploaded one by one, and all should be ready by the end of February 2007. After February, the international community will be invited to respond to the students’ work, with responses also published on the website. This will hopefully give next year’s students encouragement, showing that it is possible for students to contribute to the research community as an integral part of their learning.
Hot tips and things to look out for:
This approach works best when students are becoming critically aware of texts that they are familiar with, rather than struggling to understand new genres understood better by the lecturer than students. Not all components of the approach will be transferable to all situations, but it would certainly be possible to set up one or more of the following components for most courses: a) an online edited series of articles based on the best work of students b) an online edited series of brief insights extracted from students’ work c) an approach which involves giving students a range of similarly written articles which use a similar methodology as reading, and then encouarges them to write a similar article applied to original data d) the use of active learning to help students develop the analytic skills they will need when facing original data e) co-operating with an on-line journal to publish students’ contributions e) cooperating with a well-known on-line forum to create a space where insights from the course could be featured.
Does it work?
Does it work? The evaluation of the active learning process was extremely positive, the quality of students’ work was on the whole, high, and students who actively contributed to the forum expressed the fact that they were pleased to be included and that it boosted their confidence. Overall the evaluation for the module was extremely good, and the module was shortlisted for a Green Gown award. At this stage, most of the entries for the student pages are being edited and will appear soon, so more research will be needed to find out whether the research community actually finds the students’ work useful.
What problems/issues have arisen?
What problems/issues have arisen? No problems have arisen but there is a balance to be made between including the work and contributions of a large number of students, while at the same time producing a high quality site which is of genuine use to the community. It is, of course, demanding of the facilitator’s time, but that time is well repaid in terms of ideas and stimulus for research, as well as raising the profile of the course and University in the wider research community.
Details of support material/course work/assessment methods
The Language & Ecology Research Forum (www.ecoling.net)
This case study is also available as a pdf: Involving students in the international research community….pdf