Digital literacies: The future of course design in English for Science and Technology


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This is a presentation that was given at the joint conference held at Polytechnic University, Hong Kong in December 2012: The 1st International Conference of the Chinese Association for ESP & The 4th International Conference on ESP in Asia.

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  • CH So, what do we mean by English for Specific Purposes? Well, as summarized here, ESP can be defined as having 3 absolute characteristics and a number of variable characteristics. The core features of ESP are that 1) it is designed to meet the specific language learning needs of the learner; 2) that it draws on the methodologies and activities of the disciplines that it serves, so that, for example, a course in English for science will draw to a certain extent on relevant methodologies from science; and 3) that it targets the language, discourse and genres relevant to such disciplinary activities. However, ESP may vary in the extent to which it 1) is related to specific disciplines, for example, whether it caters to a specific academic discipline like physics or biology or whether it caters more generally to general academic English; 2) the extent to which it uses different methodologies from general English teaching; 3) is designed for adult learners or 4) intermediate to advanced learners; and 5) the level of knowledge of the language system that it uses.
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  • LM/CHThe second approach listed here is project-based learning. This is an approach which is usually traced back to Dewey, who believed in learning from reflection on experience and in which learning is usually organized around one or more projects which students complete. Project-based learning is seen as student-centered as well as fostering co-operative learning and peer teaching as students work together in order to help one another learn. Because of this co-operative aspect project-based learning often involves the development of ‘communities of learners’ who collaborate with one another on their learning processes and products.The fourth approach listed is the multi-literacies approach. This approach is derived from scholars in the new literacy studies tradition, especially the so-called New London Group who provided a manifesto for 21st century learning that took into account the many developments in literacy which have come about as a result of changing forms of representation that have emerged because of digital media and globalization. The main idea here is that given this changing landscape, literacy education (which includes language education) must change and adapt to include a wider range of genres and expressive modes than was previously thought necessary.
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  • CH: The course takes a project-based approach, involving students in the completion of a simple scientific experiment (designed by a member of the science faculty and often carried out in the science labs), which is documented in two main ways – first, as a multimodal digital video scientific documentary, second, as a scientific report, similar to a lab report. In their video project, students work together in order to research their topic, collect data, design a storyboard and script, film, edit and share their work. In this process we see many elements of co-operative learning at work, with students working in collaborative teams, peer teaching and working autonomously out of class in order to get their projects done. Then, in the scientific documentary the content from the video is re-worked or re-contextualized into a scientific report which is individually written up by students.
  • CH: In essence, the course engages students with two main genres – the scientific documentary (we provide them with an example by the BBC from YouTube) and the written scientific report (e.g. RA, final year project, lab report). The two genres are designed for different audiences, both specialist and non-specialist, and use different media, video and print, and as such they use a range of different rhetorical techniques in order to get the attention of the audience. In class activities attempt to sensitize learners to the use of language and rhetoric in these genres by engaging them in the analysis of authentic examples, before they draft their own versions as part of the project process. As students come up with texts which they will incorporate into their videos and reports, they are provided with individualized feedback, focusing on diverse issues of language use (e.g. appropriate grammar and word choice) as well as language skill (e.g. presentation skills, pronunciation and intonation etc).
  • CH The course also engages with digital literacies by incorporating practices in digital media, that both draw on new forms of representation (videos that incorporate visuals, sound, text, presentation and narration) as well as being made available to an authentic online audience through YouTube.
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  • CH: We’ve identified three different ‘discoursal identities’ that students inhabit in their videos (through the way that they represent themselves, how they talk and the kinds of multimodal representations that they create) – the scientist, investigating a startling fact, the reporter investigating a social issue and the metaphorical ‘traveller’ on a ‘journey of experiment’. What is really interesting about the new identities that they adopt is that they are all expert identities – the students act as teachers,breaking out of the role of novice academic writer to become expert guides explaining their projects to a wide, non-specialist, authentic audience. We maintain that because we
  • CH: It’s worth mentioning the way that the students choose a range of interesting locations, situating the experiment firmly in the realm of their everyday lives, how they also position themselves cleverly as experts, first asking their ‘interviewees’ (friends from class) whether they understand why the bread appears different, then returning to them and providing the answer at the very end of the video. The video also includes some scientific visuals, with the students constructing an analytic animation that describes the process of yeast respiration in scientific terms, with the visuals used of a typically ‘scientific’/diagrammatic kind.
  • To conclude it is interesting to consider how digital media is reshaping the communication landscape, and it bears mentioning that although this is most visible in the popular context, it is clearly happening in more academic contexts as well, with the new forms of representation in multimedia playing a role at the highest level of the academy, as we can see in the use of visual essays and experiments in some journals as well as in innovative dissertation practices, for example fine arts dissertations (Starfield et al, 2012). Furthermore, digital media have increased the potential for ‘ordinary’ people to participate in science and technology and at the same time provided scientists with unprecedented opportunities to reach out to the public. Therefore, an important skill for aspiring scientists is the ability to explain their work to non-specialists and there is room in EST course design to target this skill in innovative ways. A pedagogy which draws on the 5 approaches we identified earlier – learner autonomy, PBL, genre, multiliteracies and ethnography – and which we hope to have illustrated here, can address the skillset that students now need as they go out into a world which has greatly changed since initial courses in EST started appearing over 50 years ago.
  • Digital literacies: The future of course design in English for Science and Technology

    1. 1. Digital literacies: The future of coursedesign in English for Science andTechnologyLindsay Miller & Christoph A. HafnerDepartment of English, City University of Hong Kong International Conference on ESP, PolyU HK, Dec 13-15, 2012
    2. 2. IntroductionThe rise of ESP post 19501. The expansion of scientific, technical and economic activity around the world after WWII.2. The development in the way languages are taught post-1960.3. A greater understanding of how learners learned languages (strategies and skills)
    3. 3. A classification of English courses
    4. 4. A definition of ESPAbsolute Characteristics:1. ESP is designed to meet specific need of the learner;2. ESP makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the disciplines it serves;3. ESP is centred on the language (grammar, lexis, register), skills, discourse and genres appropriate to those activities.Variable Characteristics:1. ESP may be related to or designed for specific disciplines;2. ESP may use, in specific teaching situations, a different methodology from that of general English;3. ESP is likely to be designed for adult learners, either at a tertiary level institution, or in a professional work situation. It could, however, be used for learners at secondary school level;4. ESP is generally designed for intermediate or advanced students.5. Most ESP courses assume basic knowledge of the language system, but it can be used with beginners.Streven’s (1988), Dudley-Evens and St John (1998:4-5)
    5. 5. Historical perspective of ESTApproach Significant publicationLexico-grammatical approach C. L. Barber’s (1962)The communicative use of language Allen and Widdowson (1974)Notions and Functions Bates and Dudley-Evans (1976)Use of authentic materials Philips and Shettlesworth (1978)Task-based learning Herbolich (1979)Team teaching Jones and Dudly-Evans (1980)Discipline-specific teaching methods Widdowson (1983)
    6. 6. Textbook developmentStage ExamplesFirst-generation EST textbooks (1960-1968): The Structure of Technical English. (Herbert 1965)Second-generation EST textbooks (1969-1978) A Course in Basic Scientific English. (Ewer and Latorre 1969) The Focus series (Allen & Widdowson, 1974) Nucleus series (Bates and Evans, 1976)Third-generation EST textbooks (1980-1989) Interface: English for Technical Communication, (Hutchinson & Waters 1984)Fourth-generation EST textbooks (1990- 1999): English for Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (Glendinning & Glendinning 1995). Swales & Feak’s (1994) Academic Writing for Graduate Students.Fifth-generation EST textbooks (2000 -> ) Communication Skills in English for the Medical Practitioner (McCullagh, & Write 2008) English for Nursing (Grice & Greenan, 2008)
    7. 7. Future Directions in EST1) Learner Autonomy ApproachHolec (1981) defined it as the ability to take control over one’s learning.2) Project-based Learning ApproachCooperative learning (Ning, 2010), Communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991)3) Genre-based approachSwales (1990) and Bhatia (1993) ‘thick’ description of texts (a deep functional analysis), and a betterunderstanding of how texts are constructed within social contexts for their intended audiences.4) Multi-Literacies Approach“…One of the resulting challenges for ESP researchers will be to find ways to facilitate practitioners’conceptualization and operationalization of a more broadly inclusive multiliteracies approach tofostering and assessing genre competence...” Belcher (2004: 177)5) Ethnographic ApproachSocial structure and individual agency (Flowerdew and Miller, 2008)
    8. 8. Case StudyThe new EST course designOverviewEnglish for science introduces students to the genre knowledge andEnglish language skills that they need for scientific communication in arange of local and international contexts. The course aims to developstudents’ ability to locate and critically read a variety of scientific textsand appropriately communicate through speaking and writing thefindings of scientific projects to both specialist and non-specialistaudiences. Drawing on a range of authentic texts in the domain ofscience, the course will introduce students to common rhetoricalstructures in scientific communication as well as the typical vocabularyand grammar needed to express these structures. Students will learn toreport the findings of a scientific study using a range of genres, modes,and media formats, including written scientific reports and multimodalscientific documentaries.
    9. 9. English for science project A1. Reading/data A. Digital video project collection B3. Editing/ A2. Scripting/ proofreading storyboarding B. Written scientific reportB2. Writing A3. Performing/ recording English for science B1. Reading/ project A4. Editing outlining A5. Sharing
    10. 10. Genres and functional language Analysis Drafting and reviewing Individualized feedback
    11. 11. Embedding digital literacies• New forms of representation – Visuals, sound, text, presentation and narration• New, globalized audiences
    12. 12. Architecture of the technologicallearning environment
    13. 13. Agency, investment and newidentities
    14. 14. Example student project
    15. 15. Future directions for coursedesign in EST• Digital media in popular culture• Digital media in the disciplines• Embedding ‘digital literacies’ in EST
    16. 16. Conclusion• Q&A