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Individualized and blended learning: the answers to the

challenges of today’s classroom ?


Jan Den Haese, Daniel Sys and Tania Van den Bergh
Arteveldehogeschool

THIS TEXT DEALS WITH A NUMBER OF PROBLEMS THAT FLEMISH TEACHERS OF FOREIGN
LANGUAGES FACE IN NON-LINGUISTIC HIGHER EDUCATION. IN A FIRST INITIAL SITUATION THE
INCOMING STUDENTS HARDLY HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE; IN A
SECOND CASE, THE LEVEL OF THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE IS INSUFFICIENT TO MEET THE
OBJECTIVES OF THE CURRICULUM; IN A THIRD SITUATION INDIVIDUAL LANGUAGE
COMPETENCIES VARY AND THE GROUP SIZE HAMPERS THE ACHIEVEMENT OF COMMUNICATIVE
GOALS. EACH CASE WILL ILLUSTRATE HOW INDIVIDUALIZED AND BLENDED LEARNING IS
PRACTICALLY ORGANISED TO COMPENSATE FOR THESE SHORTCOMINGS.

1.Teaching German: how to make an opportunity out of a threat


(Daniel Sys, teacher of German, Artevelde College of Higher Education)

1.1. Introduction

In Flanders, the German language as a third foreign language has long


been treated as the black sheep of the family. In the department of
Business Management as well, the German curriculum dropped from 10
study points divided over five semesters of teaching to 6 study points in
two semesters.
The challenge here was : how to generate the necessary knowledge and
skills within this limited timeframe. An extra hurdle was the increasingly
large group of incoming students without any previous knowledge of
German.

This situation led us to formulate a number of preliminary questions:


1. What should our student’s competencies be for German?
2. How well should he perform with regard to knowledge and skills?
3. Which method is best to acquire these skills?
4. How can we test the progress and acquisition of skills in such a short
period?

1.2. Method

Our research is mainly based on two publications:


- Gemeinsamer europäischer Referenzrahmen für Sprachen
- Das Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf (Goethe-Institut)
Both publications indicate what is relevant for our target group and
towards which level our students should work. They also provide
information on the skills to be practiced (oral : speaking and
listening/written : reading and writing)
From this starting point, we drew up a portfolio. Content of the portfolio :
a selection of 221 descriptions of competencies from the professional
context. The selection was carried out based on the Zertifikat Deutsch für
den Beruf, which describes 10 relevant vocational fields for economic
studies.

1.3. Application

Application in German studies for Business Management students


From these 221 descriptions of competencies, the students select a
minimum of 30 per semester.

Advantages of this method:


- The students select competencies on the basis of interest
- They are immediately aware of the expectations of the professional
world and can begin to plan how to meet these expectations.
- They are actively involved in building their syllabus
- By searching for proof to document their competencies, they are –
more so than in a traditional classroom environment- confronted with
language in real situations. (e.g. searching for text samples and audio
materials)

On the basis of their own knowledge they can aspire to A2 or B1/B2 levels.
The Dialang test they take at the start of their studies, is the necessary
touchstone.
The method of evaluation does not rely on linear group progress. The
individual progress of the student is tested. Consequently a beginner can
obtain a good score just as easily as an advanced student. Of course we
are aware that transition from A2 to B1 will take more effort than moving
from A1 to A2.
In spite of the fact that this method could be used in self-study, we have
kept the classroom activities. The most important reasons are:
- In a classroom situation, we can demonstrate various examples of
competencies. This is especially important for beginners of German.
Bearing this in mind, we have divided class groups into beginners and
advanced. Beginners have double the amount of contact hours.
- We also provide more support for the competencies at A1/A2 level via
the course books.

In these contact moments, we focus on the observation of the student’s


listening and speaking skills.
Using the digital platform on q-port (the electronic platform for portfolio
work at Arteveldehogeschool), we have developed an electronic tracking
system, which allows the student to continually illustrate his progress.

1.4. Evaluation

Two years of experience and fine-tuning have shown that two groups of
students get the most benefits from the method: beginners and those who
are most willing to adopt the philosophy of self-study.
The opportunity of this method is that it can be transferred to every
language level and every domain of teaching.
2. Lacunes en compétences linguistiques du FLE: une proposition de
solution.
(Jan Den Haese, chargé de cours FLE à la Haute École Artevelde).

Sans vouloir engager une polémique, il est incontestable que les


connaissances du français langue étrangère chez les étudiants en Flandres
diminuent fortement. Les programmes d’études FLE stipulent que les
élèves, sortant de l’enseignement secondaire, devraient atteindre le
niveau B1 (CECR). Or, une évaluation à l’afflux des étudiants à la Haute
École démontre en général qu’ils se situent au niveau A2, voire A1.

Au sein du département ‘Gestion d’entreprise et assistant de direction’


notre dessein est de pallier ce problème de telle sorte que les étudiants
atteignent le niveau B1 à la fin du 1er baccalauréat.

Toutefois, certaines contraintes s’imposent.


Vu le nombre restreint d’heures de cours, il nous est impossible d’insérer
des cours de rattrapage dans le curriculum. En outre, la charge des
professeurs ne permet pas non plus de soutenir systématiquement les
étudiants dans l’apprentissage du français général.
Il nous reste donc à chercher une méthode à la fois pédagogique et fiable
afin de remédier à cette situation.
Finalement, nous avons opté pour le blended learning.
Cette approche présente plusieurs avantages. D’une part, l’étudiant est
amené à se responsabiliser en travaillant de manière autonome. Il peut
également s’entraîner à son propre rythme. D’autre part, la diversité de
types d’exercices au niveau des quatre compétences et un feed-back
immédiat permettent à l’étudiant d’approfondir ses connaissances
linguistiques et de réfléchir sur ses progrès.

Nous avons choisi le logiciel Softchalk Lessonbuilder pour différentes


raisons. Ainsi est-il particulièrement adapté à notre propos. Citons
quelques applications : les différentes formes d’exercices rendent
l’apprentissage plus attrayant pour l’étudiant, la possibilité offerte à
l’étudiant de refaire des tâches et le feedback lui permettent de mieux
cerner ses difficultés, le suivi des progrès de l’étudiant est facile à tracer
par le professeur.

Il va de soi qu’une évaluation à la fin du 1er baccalauréat est organisée afin


que le professeur puisse juger du niveau atteint par l’étudiant.
Etant donné que cette méthode n’est introduite qu’ à partir de l’année
académique 2007-2008, les résultats sont encore partiels.
Toutefois, ils sont prometteurs dans la mesure où nous remarquons une
évolution positive entre le niveau obtenu au début du 1er baccalauréat et
atteint à la fin de l’année académique.

Mission accomplie ? Non, ou du moins, en partie. Nous continuerons à


épurer la méthode de telle manière que l’étudiant puisse continuer son
apprentissage dans les meilleurs conditions.

En outre, nous envisageons de développer d’autres applications pour les


années suivantes de façon que l’étudiant diplômé ait une connaissance
linguistique du français langue étrangère au niveau B2.
3. The blended learning approach for Business English
(case: curriculum English for PBA Business Management – Marketing)
(Tania Van den Bergh, teacher of Business English, Artevelde College of Higher
Education)

3.1. Context of the blended learning approach

Business English is taught in the three years of studies for the Professional
Bachelor in Business Management, specialization Marketing. Over the last
decade, the group size of EFL classes has grown to 35 students and over,
with teaching objectives that focus on the communicative (oral) skills of
the students. Traditional classroom teaching did not provide all students
with enough time to participate in genuine oral activities like business case
study discussions, to achieve the oral fluency goals. As a result, a blended
learning approach was created in which an amount of self-study was
complemented by work in smaller classroom groups (max 10-12).
The curriculum for marketing students consists of 4 Business English
courses, two of which in the second year of studies, corresponding to a
total of 17 Study Points (about 510 hours of work).

3.2. Blended learning for English in the three years of marketing studies

In the first year of studies, a partial self-study approach is used for


receptive skills. It is course book based (‘Intelligent Business’, Longman)
and driven by the teacher. Students are tutored in class in small groups.
They engage in oral work and produce group writing tasks.
The self-study tool is changed in the second year of studies, in which a
software package is used (‘Market Leader’, Longman) which allows
students to monitor their own progress in reading and listening. The
classroom activities are built around small business case studies that
involve the functional English needed in their future profession. Web
assignments are used to encourage research skills and self-reliance.
The final year of the curriculum utilizes visual material to further listening
and reading skills. BBC business programmes are used as a basis for self-
study work and in-class case studies focus on marketing problems that
have to be resolved in group. Students get individual feedback on their
oral work and produce individual writing assignments.

3.3. Portfolio usage

Throughout the studies, an electronic portfolio is used to monitor the


progress of students, to allow them to set their own targets for
improvement of their English language knowledge and to encourage them
to engage in stimulating English activities of their own.

This student portfolio contains in each year:


- Level test results
- Own SWOT analysis and action plan for English
- Results of students’ self-study activities
- Tasks corrected after teacher feedback
- Own additional English activities
- A self-evaluation
3.4. Conclusion

Blended learning has been used in the three years of the curriculum
Business English for marketeers, in order to compensate for larger group
size and individual variations in English language competencies.
End tests show that students achieve the required CEF level (C1) at the
end of their studies, with fewer classroom-bound lessons. Student polls
reveal a genuine interest in ELL because of the student’s own reflections
upon his progress and his own creativity in compiling the portfolio. An
additional advantage is that students indicate a willingness to continue
with their own English activities (web activities, TV broadcasts etc.) after
their studies; this is certainly the basis for a Life Long Learning attitude
towards their English language skills.