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One year INTUIT – What do we get OUT OF IT?

INTUIT, a large-scale innovation project for ICT-enhanced English language learning, has been running for over a year now. What has been achieved so far and which results can be expected in the second year?

These are some of the questions we asked Sake Jager, head of ICT and learning at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen and project manager of INTUIT

The first year, Sake reacts, was used to run pilots in the language centre settings with different softwares. We used programs and websites for testing and practising English language skills and computerized versions of the European Language Portfolio. There is a steady increase in Master’s programmes taught in English, and language centres across the country are facing a tremendous challenge in providing English language training to students and staff participating in these programmes. We are trying to assess which forms of ICT for language learning (or CALL – computer-assisted language learning) can be used to alleviate some of the teaching load for staff, while at the same time giving them more and better opportunities for learning English. We want to make them more independent, or autonomous if you like, without compromising the quality of language teaching.

There are so many aspects to using ICT for language learning that it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. This is especially relevant for English, for which there is most material available world-wide. The focus on student independence and the Common European Framework and the three areas that we have looked at in particular (testing, practicing and portfolio’s) have helped us cut down the number of potential applications and websites to about 8 or 10 that we have used for our pilots.

That’s a very small number. Is that representative enough to make an informed decision about which applications are most helpful?

In my view, what counts most is the experience of institutions using these programs. In fact, in projects reported on in the literature and at conferences the focus is usually on just one program, while teachers who are really seeking to integrate ICT into their teaching are most likely better served by using a whole range of programs. Critical for our purposes is especially what can be done by linking the outcomes of language tests to follow-up materials. We also wanted to find out more about using digital language portfolio’s in this context. It soon turned out that it was not immediately obvious how to use Dialang, one of the best-known assessment programs in Europe for real purposes. We have now developed a working scenario for using Dialang, which can be used – with slight adaptions if needed – in each of the participating institutions. The same applies to several other programs used in the project.

What do you see as the most important outcome of the first-year?<EM?

I would say that the collaboration between the language centres is probably the most important result. The sharing of experiences, expertise and ideas is a good basis for increasing the use of ICT for language learning in each institution. The project has helped to accelerate innovation in this area. Most institutions are now using Blackboard, Dialang, and a methodology based on the Academic Wordlist. Ellips, a web-based authoring program for language learning developed in another innovation project, has found new uses and users. Finally, the language centres know that programs such as Versant’s telephone test SET-10 can be safely used with specific groups of learners. Because we work together we have been able to gain practical experience and insights within a relatively short period and this has sped up the actual use of the programs.

<b>What was the greatest failure?

I think we made one mistake at the start of the project. We thought that we should set up specific teacher training in the CEF and autonomous learning. However, language centre teachers are well aware of the underlying principles and ideas – which is not to say that they always find them easy to apply, particularly within the limited timeframe in which courses take place and the relatively isolated position of language learning in the university system. So rather than familiarizing teachers with these principles, we shifted attention to how these principles may be applied in the institutional context in which we work and how ICT may be used to support certain aspects of such a principled approach.

What is the focus for the second year?

This is a “scaling up” phase. For us, it means that we will use combinations of programs with larger groups of students and more teachers. The pilots will now be run as part of the language institutions’ regular language provision programmes. This is a production environment, requiring high standards and sensible use of technology to support the teaching and learning process. We hope that the first, more experimental stage, has laid a solid foundation for this. Each language centre is now developing one or more Blackboard courses in which the ICT-tools are being integrated. Each course has a so-called Language Tool Box, which contains the specific language tools for the course. We have set up a system, which allows us to exchange these tool boxes between institutions and gradually extend and improve them. By also allowing guest access to each course and setting up teacher workshops we will continue to disseminate the project results among the participating institutions. At the end of the project, we will organize a closing conference open to working in the field.


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