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Online study material 
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Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:38 am
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Post Online study material
I'm currently working as part of a team developing online study material for a chain of language schools in China. I have to say I'm not entirely sure how useful online material is to students. The exercise formats that are technically possible seem quite repetitive and limiting, and it's easy to imagine students starting keen, but running out of motivation after a while. Does anybody agree/disagree with this, or have any comments/suggestions about how online material can be made as useful and student-friendly as possible?

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Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:10 am
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
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I've made some on-line materials for students that match the vocabulary sets here on MES-E. www.marks-english-school.com/games.html

The idea was students could practice at home and it would be both fun and educational. I really thought the games were fun and worth the effort. But, in reality, students start off playing the games every week and then a few weeks later, they never come back ...

As positive as I'd like to be about the whole thing, studying is studying and self motivation is pretty hard in the long run. It might be fun and it might be a format that attracts students, but in the end, it's studying.

Right now, that area really only gets hits from teachers actively using clas time to visit the page and have students play the games. I'm not sure that there are many self-motivated people coming to that page.

I think it's an attractive selling point and many people are looking for on-line activities like that when they sign-up for something. I think they are worth creating.

It's kind of like a gym membership. If you are really motivated, you can make great progress by yourself, but the majority actually learn less than studying by themselves at home.

(statistically you are less likely to exercise if you have a gym membership. Ironic, isn't it?)

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Thu Feb 21, 2008 12:58 am
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I think optional extra online games like yours, Mark (nice graphics, by the way!) are great. Use them if you like studying in that way, not if you don't. What I'm thinking about is programmes where the online component is core, and students or their parents are parting with their hard-earned cash to access it. This method of delivery suits language schools because it's cheap and it reduces the need for foreign teachers (a major issue in China, where they just can't get enough). But can we as writers make it genuinely good, and not a disappointing turn-off in the long run? I really hope so, and any suggestions will be very welcome!

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Thu Feb 21, 2008 2:00 am
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I think the same results supplemental programs like mine see, apply to fully automated programs delivered on-line. The highly motivated will do well, but they'd do well on their own with a book and some CDs. The general public will tire faster with an on-line program than with an actual teacher. (No research to back it, but) I think the interaction with a teacher acts as an external motivator. Students feel the expectations of the teacher and respond with, at the minimum, an effort not to disappoint. They have a set time, a routine, and they know someone is expecting them.

Another option is a half and half program. Students do activities and learn on-line but have an on-line 'live' lesson once a month with a NS teacher. Maybe even an informal chat session with a native speaker but not nec. a teacher. It would give students a chance to practice what they learned and if they have that lesson at the end of the month, it would act as a motivator throughout the month.

Quitting is more difficult as well with regular programs. Students have to admit they are quitting, but with an on-line program they just cancel service or never go back.

If possible you might want to work some support into the program that creates a sort of follow up/regular check-up. It could mean one person (not an English teacher, just a person) in charge of regularly contacting students and monitoring their progress. They could send emails asking about understanding of materials, difficulties with any task and or software, how the students feels about their language development, and so on ...

I also think it's is important to keep the interfacing simple. Big buttons with short text that take me directly to where I want to go. I 'tested' one on-line learning system. I chose what I wanted to do and after 4 pages of lots of reading in English, I finally got to an exercise. I can't imagine students are going to find that helpful.

On that front, I'd suggest skipping any effects (fading, fancy intros, long lead ins.) They are fancy and wowing at first but after a while they are annoying and take up the student's time. - I'm not sure how much you have to do with what's under the hood, but I thought I'd add that in as I continue to procrastinate :)

I know I'm not much of a moral boost for this idea, because like you sort of said, I think they are just glorified worksheets. They don't really offer much more beyond some bleeps and fireworks. Also, the makers want to get the programs up and running as fast as possible, so you end up with the same activities for each section and just text has changed. However, I also understand that it's difficult to make a full program individually customized to each target language objective (let alone hard to come up with ideas that make each one come alive.)

Are you just in charge of the content? What's the time frame for development?

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Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:18 pm
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Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:38 am
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Thanks for those thoughts - some useful points there. The basic format is one hour + per week online work followed by a lesson with a teacher (who may well have little teaching experience beyond a two day "training course"). The online part carries the teaching load, and the lesson is mostly practice. This format is decided by the client.

Within that framework my writing partner (and wife as it happens) can do it as we see fit. The donkey work of turning the online exercises into web-pages will be done in China. I'll certainly be suggesting avoiding slow-to-download bells and whistles.

I feel quite a responsibility to get this right. The students will be investing sums of money which in many cases they can ill afford in the hopes of improving their lives, and I would hate to disappoint them.

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Wed Feb 27, 2008 7:12 am
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Joined: Mon Jun 09, 2008 7:29 am
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There are some nice games on "magic vocabulary.com". What I know is that kids or even adults love computer games but after a while they get bored... But when it takes two to play a game and there is a winner, then it's much more interesting... Of course to make it last, students have to change partners regularly... There is a game like that called "snakes and ladders" on the above site. I was also thinking that all these mes bingo games -even the paper game- could be transformed into on line games -played by pairs ...


Fri Jul 11, 2008 7:34 am
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