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Academic Writing and the success of the Languag Tool Box

Edith Schouten is working at the Language and Communicationcentre of the Radboud University Nijmegen and INTUIT project member. She is one of the teachers who have used the INTUIT Language Tool Box in their courses. The Language Tool Box is a 'tool kit' containing materials for language learning that are currently used at language centres in some Dutch universities. In the Tool Box materials are grouped together and because it is web based, students can access it everywhere, provided they have an Internet connection. The INTUIT questionnaire, held among students, showed that students of Academic Writing - the course that has been taught by Edith - are very positive about the Tool Box. We interviewed Edith about how she and her students have experienced working with the Language Tool Box.


The students in your group are very positive, can you say something about the group?

There were fifteen people in my group, but one student quit early. All students in my group are PhD students who have signed up for the course themselves. Ten students have a background in medicine, two are doing research in the Social Sciences, one is doing research in Management Sciences and there is one PhD working in the faculty of Arts.There were five men and nine women; all of them are Dutch. For some people this course was more or less obligatory, but most people have signed up voluntarily via a form in the PhD guide of the university. Most of them were motivated and looked forward to improving their English.


We have noticed that your students often use the Tool Box outside class, how have you used the Tool Box in your course?

In the first class I gave an introduction on Blackboard, because some people were not familiar with it. During the classes there was only a teacher's pc available, so we could not work with the computer and the Tool Box in class. I did show some exercises in class and I explained where the tools were located and how they could use them. Students were asked to work with the tools and do the exercises via obligatory self study, and there were also some optional features. At the end of each class I showed them their homework ('assignments' in Blackboard) via a beamer, in order to prepare them for the assignments. I also asked students for a response at the beginning and end of every class, hoping that people who do not seem to like it may like it more due to the enthusiasm of others. Outside class, students were asked to study parts of the Tool Box via 'assignments' in and do the exercises, and these were - generally speaking - done well. This may be caused by the type of students, because they were no 'ordinary' students; they were all motivated and had already started writing an article. It is also possible that this is because I limited the amount of tools, because I have hidden all buttons that were not relevant to this course. Because of this the Tool Box had a clear structure and was well-organised.


As was said before, the positive attitude of your students is striking. Did you already notice this during classes?

I already guessed that some people would be positive, but this is more than I had expected. Their attitude was also very good, but they were no ordinary students. They already indicated that they needed some help with writing in English and they were very happy that the solution was just a few clicks away!


Now some questions about working with the tool box: what went well?

What went particularly well was arranging what was happening in class, what was from the reader and what had to be done with the tool box. That was a lot of work, but I think it is important to ensure that this is running parallel, so that all parts are connected well. The students especially liked the practical components of the Tool Box. They were really happy with the tools on grammar and punctuation, things that really offer a direct solution when writing an article.


And which things did not go well?

The questionnaire shows that there is one person who never used it, that's a pity. I was afraid that the differences in proficiency level between students might cause problems, but that turned out not to be the case. You can also see this in the results of the questionnaire, because many people indicated that the level of the tools suited their own level. Maybe we should consider working in a language lab, giving everybody a chance to work with a computer, but I wonder if that's desirable and relevant for this course. A disadvantage is that the Tool Box is not available for students anymore after the course has finished because their Blackboard account expires. Some students have indicated they would like to use the Tool Box in the future, but they do not have access to the Tool Box anymore. I told them to save relevant links under 'favorites', but it would be easier if they could have access to the Tool Box itself longer.


These experiences are very positive in general. What is happening next?

First of all I stay alert on things that might expire, such as accounts and links. I'm also going to use the Tool Box in other courses given by UTN, such as Presentation Skills. The Tool Box is already being used in some other courses offered by UTN. In some of these courses it is just an extra option, and we have the impression that we cannot get full potential out of it when it is no systematic part of a course. We hope that one day we can give every client of the language centre access to the Tool Box, and we are working hardto realise that!


Thank you!



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