Anna Calvi - OULive materials for an EAP/Business studies module

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Anna Calvi
25 March 2014

Title OULive materials for an EAP/business studies module

 

Narrator

I am the designer of a set of EAP (English for Academic Purposes) materials for the OU module LB160 –Professional Communication Skills for Business Studies. 

Situation

Professional Communication Skills for Business Studies is a 30 points Level 1 module which teaches Academic reading and writing for Business Studies students. This module aims at developing academic writing and reading skills that Business Studies students need.

 

Until last year, LB160 students weren’t offered any tutorials and support was delivered through the Tutor Group Forum. It was believed that since the module taught writing skills, students would benefit most from written interaction. Students, however, complained that they missed tutorials.

 

In May 2014 the LB160 Module Team asked me to pilot two online tutorials with my two groups. I designed these materials in May 2013, piloted them in June 2013  (Phase 1) and designed the final version in March 2014 (Phase 2). LB160 tutors will use the materials in this year’s presentation. There will be four tutorials, but this post will only look at one task consisting of  four steps.

 

The tutorial is run in OULive and is recorded. Each group is of 20 students, though tutorials typically attract a smaller number of students.

Needs analysis:

 1) Skills needed by Business Studies students  

Business Studies students need to develop the ability to analyse business case studies. They need to be able to read and understand source materials about a business and analyse it using a model such as SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). To do this, the students have to extract information from the readings and categorise it using the SWOT table. Finally, they have to use the information contained in each part of the table to write four paragraphs, one per each of the four sections. Two of the assignments and the EMA test these skills using a range of models.

2) Challenges faced by students in gaining the above skills

Having marked hundreds of SWOT analyses, I have identified the following challenges faced by the students:

  • Inability to analyse: many students tend to summarise the source materials and ‘tell a story’ about the business rather than analysing it
  • When analysing the business they have difficulty placing information in the right category
  • In particular, they have difficulty distinguishing between internal (strengths and weaknesses) and external factors (opportunities and threats) 

3) Students ‘characteristics and expectations

  • For many students this is the first OU module and the first opportunity to read and write a formal academic text for many years.
  • Many students expect the tutor to spend the tutorial explaining how to conduct a SWOT analysis.

Task

 Learning objectives:

By the end of this set of activities the students will be better able to:

  • Understand the four SWOT concepts
  • In particular, understand the difference between internal and external factors
  • Categorise information according to the SWOT concepts

Steps/activities

  1. Students brainstorm the purposes of the SWOT analysis
  2. Students drag-and-drop  definitions of SWOT concepts into the correct boxes
  3. Students discuss and then drag-and-drop various features of a business’s internal and external environment into the correct boxes
  4. Students identify/discuss threats and opportunities among a list of items – then they place a tick or a cross next to each item

 Evaluation

The following criteria will be used to measure the success of the task:

  • Level of students’ engagement in the activities
  • Ability of students to carry out each part of the task with minimal tutor support
  • Ability of students to categorise information  and complete TMA 2 successfully

Actions and reflections

Design process

Phase 1: 2013 pilot

  1. Needs analysis
  2. Plan of the tutorial
  3. Research to help design definitions and examples
  4. Design of boards
  5. Reflection + revision of boards (mainly wording, colour, size and appearance of visuals)
  6. Tutorial with students
  7. Reflection on: students’ activity/understanding, my action
  8. Report to module team

 

 

These are my reflections on Phase 1:

Activities

  • The activities were appropriate and interesting for the students
  • The students had very little understanding of the SWOT concepts so needed to support each other a lot and I needed to help confirm that their understandings were correct – I was happy with that and expected it to happen
  • The students engaged with the tasks well – in fact too well! They were so engaged I had difficulty fitting this and another task in an hour.
  • Reasons for overlong discussions:2)  I hadn’t provided a context so students were trying to think of all possible contexts and business types 3) too many items to categorise 4) some items could be interpreted in many ways so more discussion was needed

Participants

  • Only 4 students attended – the tutorials had been set up too late and students had prior engagements
  • Very active – are all Business Studies students so chatty?
  • One student was 19 and had little confidence, the others were in their 30s and 40s with a great deal of work and life experience. It took me several phone conversations to build her confidence and self-respect.
  • The 90% of the cohort watched the recording

Extent of success

  • Great appreciation on the part of the students – objectives met
  • Good TMA2 results – but how far were these due to my work on forums and how far to the tutorial?
  • The session allowed to highlight features of vocabulary e.g. difference between complimentary and complementary.
  • The activities clearly need to be simplified!

Phase 2 – 2014 – design formal materials for LB160 tutors and their students

 This time I was contracted to work with a colleague to develop the final materials. We decided to use my initial design but introduced the following changes:

  • We reduced the number the items to categorise
  • We gave the analysis a context: the business is a UK company producing office supplies
  • We only used classic opportunities/threats items that could be easily categorised
  • We placed my less obvious items in a new board to be used only with stronger  students who need an extension activity
  • I wrote a set of tutor notes to explain exactly how each activity could be run.

The boards have now been reviewed by a critical reader appointed by the Module Team. On the basis of her feedback we made the following changes:

  • We corrected a couple of typos
  • We simplified the tables eliminating distracting colours and frames that could lead the students to place flashy tables in their assignments.

Extra content

Embedded Content

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Michael Smith
10:07pm 25 March 2014


HI Anna,

I think this is a really clear, well designed narrative. I think that the piloting and testing with a small group is a very wise move indeed. The careful reflection and evaluation of the pilot is a real strength and I would agree that simplifiying the task and giviing a context to the materials is a wise move. The only area that I would perhaps look at would be the context of the task, is a UK perpsective appropriate, perhaps a well known international company may be beneficial to give any international student a way in.

I think tutor notes are a great idea and would help should anyone have to take over the module.

Michael 

zorah abu kassim
3:15pm 26 March 2014


Hi Anna,

I am impressed! Your narrative is really detailed and I still am coming to grips for even pasting and copying URL's in the discussion forums.

I also want to apolosize if I missed you at doing OU Live for Block 1 Week 4 activiites . I did come online but perhaps the time difference is not really convenient ? Would still like to hook up and chat sometime if you are interested. I know you are probably busy as I am also busy too.

regards

Zorah

Hugo Teixeira
8:26am 27 March 2014


Thinking about our reflection questions... I see no evidence of assumptions. The entire process is measured and intentional.The effects of the design are clearly grounded in evidence. Anna and her team measured the level of students’ engagement in the activities, ability to carry out each part of the task, and their ability to categorise information in TMA02. I find the teamwork inherent in designing the activity very positive. In the past I have used instructional technology in a very informal way, and it's fascinating to have an intimate look at how the professionals at OU design, pilot, and refine activities. I think it would be refreshing to work with a time like Anna's.

Thanks for sharing!

Lisa Brennan
10:33am 27 March 2014


This sounds quite familiar to me, and once I post my cloud you'll probably see the similarities too. It's a very clear process, and well-described by Anna.  At least one pilot, or test-run seems to be necessary for activity design like this, because no matter how well planned and designed, there's almost always something that only shows up when you actually run it through for real.  And, in my experience, as in this description, it's usually something that needs simplification!

If the tutorial focuses on easily identifiable strengths and weaknesses, how well do you think the skills learned in the tutorial will be transferred to tasks where the students need to perform a SWOT analysis on less concrete examples? Perhaps there's room for another tutorial? Tutorial A - to focus on the basics of how to conduct a SWOT analysis and Tutorial B - to tease out the intricacies of less clear-cut examples?

It's always heartening when the students enjoy and engage with the activities, and the fact that they performed well on the TMA is also suggestive of the usefulness of Anna's tutorial.

Anna Calvi
11:23am 27 March 2014


Thank you  Michael, Zorah, Hugo and Lisa,

Here are my answers to your comments:

Michael - the company I used is fictional. I had to give it a context that the students would understand to help them categorise the items. Only a very small minority live outside the UK and these are usually either soldiers or expats so they know the UK context well. But I take your point : a  more international group would have benefited from an international example. The tutor notes are for the tutors who will run the tutorals (I am one of them!) - they need to print them off and use them during the lesson to remember what to do/say.

Zorah - This is my last MAODE module and I have been studying education for many years. You will develop your skills too - in the meantime if you think that my posts are useful , just use them for your own development.  Regarding the meeting, I'm sure we will find another opportunity.

Hugo - Yes, I think that working as a member of a team is very good. It leads to better quality materials and it's very enjoyable too. The flip side is that it is very time consuming. The process of piloting re-writing and reviweing is common practice at  the OU and has a marked effect on quality. Regarding assumptions, some are implicit in the needs analysis, but more explicit assumptions could have been placed after the learning objectives. If I were to do a proper job, I would probably write 3000 words! 

 Lisa - I expected you would recognise this typical ELT process and look forward to reading yours. Regarding the use of less concrete examples, the students will never look at these. The assessment engages them in the analysis of  real companies and they will have to read and analyse several authentic texts about them. We have also produced a slide which lists some less clear -cut situations, but I haven't included in the tutor notes for this H800 task.  But yes, the process should take the students form a general view of the model to an  analysis of clear-cut examples to an analysis of  less clear-cut examples - the challenge is to fit everything in an hour as we only have one timetabled tutorial to prepare students for this task.

Anna

Aidan Wallis
5:03am 29 March 2014


Hi Anna,

Its a great idea to pick the well known SWOT model to teach analysis.  You talk about dragging and dropping...did you use any particular software?

Thanks

Aidan 

Anna Calvi
11:23am 29 March 2014


Hi Aidan,

    The OU Live whiteboard is interactive. So the  words and images I place on it can be moved around the screen.  I have posted the screens in the TGF. You will see that the items are outside the SWOT table so the students can drag them to the approaprate box.

Regarding the use of the SWOT model, this has been chosen by the designers of the course and it is therefore dealt with by the coursebook. My role was to create tutorial activities that consolidate and provide opportunity for practice. A further opportunity is given by a forum activity which asks the students to post the SWOT of the business they work for. This usually shows a weakness in distinguishing internal and external factors and in expressing them using clear and concise phrases, so I hope that the introduction of tutorial actvities  will help students to master these skills.

Anna

Sandra Barthorpe
10:11am 30 May 2014 (Edited 10:14am 30 May 2014)


Hi Anna

It is good to see the process which occurs prior to the general roll out to tutors. I thought this was very in depth and has a strong Task element, which is clear and promotes interaction form the students.

I am particularly interested as you are using OULive for these tutorials, and this is the medium in which I conduct my tutorials.

My main question is with reference to  the evaluation within the Tasks :

  • Level of students’ engagement in the activities
  • Ability of students to carry out each part of the task with minimal tutor support

Can you determine who is actually interacting when they move the items around the screen or is it more about the discussions which follow? Are students allowed to move an item once it has been placed in the SWOT table before discussions?

Also this was with 4 students if you had more what would the logistics be like? Would just one or two dominate the interaction with the whiteboard / discussions. Could you keep to a reasonable time limit for discussions without compromising the Learning Outcomes? Would you make use of Breakout rooms for initial interactions on the whiteboard, then bring them back for discussions?

I ask this as I can see from your reflections in Phase 1 that in fact you had too many items to sort and time became a dificult factor to control. Possible use of a 'stopwatch on the screen could help here. 

In Phase 2 I also see that you introduced context and reduced the number of items to sort.

How would you get students to access the ' extension' piece, are you thinking of placing it in a breakout room?

I was really impressed with this.

Cheers

Sandy

 

 

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