Examining the application of a content-based instruction (CBI)
approach in a Media English course for Japanese University students.
Neil Matthew Addison Richard John Walker
Abstract: This paper details research carried out by the authors in the field of Content Based Instruction (CBI). More specifically, this paper examines the attitudes of Japanese university students towards studying a content based media course that incorporates analysis and discussion of both textual and visual critical subject matter. Following a selected examination of previous academic work pursued in this field, and a diagnostic analysis of students’ schematic problems in approaching critical thinking in English, a description of the pedagogic ambitions and rationale of the authors` course is outlined. The paper then proceeds with an overview of the construction and employment of course materials that the authors feel best compliment the teaching of a critical content based pedagogy. The effectiveness of the course methodology is then assessed with reference to statistics taken from student response questionnaire data at two Japanese universities. Recommendations made in light of this data suggest that future research should focus upon rigorous development and testing of course content specific vocabulary to improve student comprehension, and to scaffold and build upon existing learner methods.
Key Words: content based instruction, critical thinking skills, EFL, media studies
1. Purpose of the paper.
This paper seeks to improve English teacher knowledge within the field of content-based instruction (CBI), whilst also aiming to improve the construction of content based course curricula and class materials within the specific context of teaching Media English to Japanese university students. Content-based instruction is a methodology that aims to integrate the teaching of content with language teaching goals, i.e. to ‘concurrent(ly) teach … academic subject matter and second language skills’ (Brinton et al 2). Within the EFL context in Japan, with notable exceptions of Murphey (1997) and Butler, Y (2005), few papers have examined the reasons for CBI, nor evaluated its effects. It is therefore the purpose of this paper to add to existing knowledge by examining the teaching of two (elective) CBI university courses in Media English through the academic year 2011-2012.
2. Content-based instruction (CBI).
Content-based instruction, a methodology that concerns the teaching of both subject content and language, was originally associated with language immersion education in Canada (Grabe and Stroller 6), but became increasingly associated with EFL/ESL teaching in the late 1980s. Since then different models of CBI have come into being, and by 2003 Davies had noted three models in usage: a ‘sheltered model’ where a content specialist and an ESL specialist work together, an ‘adjunct model’ where ESL teachers prepare classes to acclimatise students to classes with L1 learners, and a ‘theme-based’ model where a teacher teaches on his or her own to unlock and build upon the students’ own interests. All three can bring potential advantages or disadvantages for students and teachers, several examples of which are shown in table one below.
Advantages and disadvantages of content-based teaching.
|Advantages of CBI
||Disadvantages of CBI
|The content adds to student interest in the subject and helps them develop a wider knowledge
||Students may feel confused as CBI isn’t explicitly focused on language learning.
|It is useful when teaching ESP classes (English for Specific Purposes);
||Difficulties with a topic may lead to large amounts of mother tongue language being used.
|It can involve students taking information from multiple sources and therefore practice note-taking and integrating discrete skills
||Difficulties in finding resources for low level students to understand
|It can be tailored to incorporate the use of authentic materials in the global media.
||Students may just copy from source texts without attempting any evaluation.
3. Content-based instruction (CBI) in Japan.
Within Japan, Murphey (1997) was one of the initiators of CBI courses, outlining issues and strategies for teachers who wished to implement similar courses. A decade later, Butler compiled a neat overview of CBI in the East Asian context, and warned us of the difficulties of effectively implementing it, noting that ‘one cannot assume that language acquisition takes place incidentally as long as meaningful content is provided’ (238). In other words, she reminded us that ‘meaningful content’ needs to be introduced within a linguistic framework that acknowledges the requirements of a specific group of students. She noted that the effectiveness of CBI, in East Asia as well as elsewhere, is dependent upon (i) program setting and the curriculum, (ii) the characteristics of teachers involved, (iii) the characteristics of learners, and (iv) the availability of resources (Ibid: 231).
4. CBI in Japan: ‘Three problems’ experienced in class by the authors.
From 2010 onwards both instructors taught content based Media English courses to elective Japanese students at two private universities in the Kanto region of Japan. We had been jointly influenced by a textbook called Fish in Water (Shaules, Itoh and. Sanae), which attempted to teach media critique to EFL students and emphasized a critical approach to the teaching of this subject, providing critical readings on various topics and themes related to the media, and scaffolding them with vocabulary. However, the instructors felt this text placed too much emphasis on reading exercises that utilized passive skills, and decided that the book, although thematically unique and innovative, to be unsuitable for the purposes of teaching a primarily discussion based course. Therefore the instructors set about attempting to develop materials that would both seize the students` attention and yet also engender a more analytical approach to media interaction.
However, there were three main problems encountered in these initial forays into CBI: two of them were related to the nature of elective classes, and the other related to the purpose for which English is ordinarily taught in Japanese education, namely: for examinations rather than for analytical/critical thinking. Firstly, elective classes attract students of various English abilities who have different expectations about what the course is about, and secondly, they often have different linguistic strengths. This is very unlike university courses designed for students from a single department and arranged around the students’ TOEIC scores. An elective class can theoretically attract advanced level students looking for challenging content to deepen their English knowledge and also less confident students who have had little chance to practice basic discussion. A course with the ambiguous title of Media English can, after all, be taught in several ways: around news items, around pop culture or, perhaps, an analysis of ‘the media’. What is certain is that the course concerns the media, and that students will come from different departments.
Thirdly, there are problems in relation to the ability of students to think critically about the material in English (or in their mother tongue). Though EFL practitioners now largely consider that Japanese education and society has changed from being one of an ‘authoritarian, hierarchical societ(y) in which the unthinking acceptance of the ideas of one’s teachers and elders is considered a virtue (Davidson)’, to one in which younger generations feel more willing to disagree with elders and to voice their opinions (Stapleton), and one in which the English university entrance examinations have changed from being “narrow, grammar-based, discrete-item test(s)” to being tests for “reading and listening for higher- level meanings and comprehension” (Guest 102), when we consider the lack of discussion or critical engagement in many pre-tertiary EFL classrooms, there would appear to be a role for CBI courses to provide an opportunity to build critical thinking skills.
5. The issue of critical thinking in Japanese EFL classes.
Critical thinking in education was long considered to be the domain of first language teaching. John Dewey, considered by many to be the father of modern critical thinking, described it as the active, persistent and careful consideration of a belief or issue (Fisher) and though later interpretations expanded on his definition, only in recent decades has critical thinking been considered in second language teaching. Initially, researchers such as Atkinson questioned whether ‘critical thinking’ might be a culturally specific practice and inappropriate in some second language contexts, particularly for students from societies that do not prioritize individualistic thinking, such as specific cultures within Asia. Kubota countered this by claiming critical thinking as a universal skill that is not the preserve of western cultural thought. Indeed, several EFL practitioners (e.g. Davidson, Stapleton, and Day) around that period stated categorically that Asian students found little difficulty in thinking critically in English.
In CBI courses, the ability to think critically is often all-important, and though Japanese students often show reticence in displaying opinion, the proposition that Japanese students do not have critical thinking skills is a self-evidently ridiculous one. It would appear that the unwillingness to verbalize opinion is down to two broad factors: ‘sociolinguistic’ rules characteristic of Japanese (East Asian) communication and the purpose of English lessons in private and state education in Japan. What may be broadly characterized as Japanese socio-cultural rules of speaking within the classroom might well act to further reduce the likelihood of participation in environments which promote exchanges of opinion. Kyouikuhou (2005), a ‘western teacher’ situated in Japan, summarises this accepted opinion, observing that: (my) “students rarely will express their opinions freely and out-of-turn. I believe that this has more to do with sociolinguistic rules than it does with critical thinking.”
An explanation given by Harris (43), though referring to Chinese students, also appears to hold some general worth regarding Japanese students. He noted that ‘many are serialist learners by acculturation’ and not by ‘personal inclination’, and inferred that when given the opportunity to experience alternative techniques such as critical thinking, a positive response can be observed. As Widdowson noted, ‘(foreign language) learners have already been socialized into the schematic knowledge associated with their mother tongue: they are initiated into their culture in the very process of language learning’, and that the ‘natural inclination’ of a foreign language learner is to interpret knowledge in accordance to the established association’ (110). Schemata associated with a mother tongue culture may be joined by additional schemata once students are initiated into new types of knowledge.
Aside from these ‘sociolinguistic rules’, we have the related matter of the pedagogies of teaching English in Japan. Murphey, Falout, Elwood and Hood (2) claim that there is a ‘dominant educational paradigm that stifles communication’ and ‘forces learners into silence in EFL classrooms across Japan’, which is unsurprising when we consider Nishino’s study on English secondary school teachers in Japan that showed that teachers tend to believe that ‘grammar, vocabulary and yakudoku (skills) … are more important’ (42) than communication because of their usefulness in preparing for university entrance examinations. More recently, a government survey showed that only 20% of English oral communication teachers at Japanese public high schools taught their classes in English (Only 20%). In such a situation, there is a reduced chance for students to develop the ability to think critically in their second (or third) language. In order to become able to give critical viewpoints in CBI courses, Japanese students must integrate the discrete-level skills taught in the classroom and literally find their voice. Though not underestimating the difficulty of achieving this, it is something which CBI instructors can aspire towards, by scaffolding texts and making the language manageable for students.
6. Creating a ‘theme-based’ content-based course.
Because content-based courses are significantly different from standard EFL courses, especial care must be taken when planning the course to make instruction effective. Using Butler’s (2005) list of four factors that can influence the effectiveness of a course, we shall explain the background to the CBI Media English course in the academic year 2011-2012. As listed in section 6.1, her four factors are: 1. the setting of a program and curriculum, 2. the characteristic of the teacher(s) who teach the course, 3 the characteristics of the learners and 4.the resources available.
6.1. The setting of the program and curriculum.
The teachers were not advised on how to choose the content of the curriculum or how to implement a teaching approach. After two years of using a textbook (see 4.1. above), we decided to use insights obtained from reflections upon the courses to create a new course: a course which focused upon discussion on aspects of the media and events in the media.
6.2. Characteristics of the teachers who taught the courses.
At the time of this course, the teachers were concurrently engaged in teaching a discussion based academic speaking course, in which a blog was utilized as an instructional tool (Addison and Walker, ‘A Qualitative Study’). Together with previous forays into using online material as an instructional resource, they had experience and interest in finding ways to experiment with conventional teaching models.
6.3. The characteristics of the learners and resources available.
Learners were third and fourth year seniors enrolled at two private universities. Together, these students took the course for a number of different reasons. This made the decision to go without a textbook a practical one; the teachers not wishing to saddle the students with a textbook too far above or below the median level of the class. In lieu of a textbook, classroom content was uploaded onto a course blog (Addison, ‘Media Wire’, Walker, ‘Media English’), which allowed for a blended approach that integrated delivery of materials through web pages with more traditional classroom based teaching approaches. This approach allowed students to digest information both inside and outside of class time, which suited the requirements of senior students who are often sidetracked by the pressing issue of ‘job hunting’. Furthermore, in-class videos were used as a means to deepen the effect of classroom instruction. Classrooms at the universities were well-equipped with multi-media equipment and allowed for video clips to be used with ease.
7. Topics in the course curriculum.
It was decided that classes should be theme-based with an emphasis upon stimulating in-class conversation, discussion and analysis. Within this, a focus on fluency was targeted with an expectation that students would move towards offering opinions in a more natural way. It was planned that content used in the class would be uploaded onto the course website in advance of the following week’s class. Online content would cover the theme to be discussed and, when appropriate, expressions and instruction that aide critical thinking. Table 2 (below) lists a sample of the topics which were used over the two semesters, which can be loosely grouped into three categories covering content on: entertainment-based media, information based media and social network systems.
Table 2: Sample of ideas in the curriculum.
|Semester One (Spring 2011)
||Semester Two (Autumn 2011)
|Stuart Hall – Re-presentation, Encoding & Decoding.
||Noam Chomsky: Concision & Exclusion in the News
|Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Message.
||Newspaper Reporting Styles
|From Wordsworth to the Global Village: The World is Too Much with Us
||Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays: The Unconscious and Advertising
|Marcus Cicero and Ralph Nader: Personal Freedom, Civic Freedom & Media Freedom
||Aldous Huxley & Neil Postman: TV Entertainment and Social Distraction.
|The Milgram Experiment– Then & Now: Public Deference to (TV) Role Models
||From Wollstonecraft to Naomi Wolf: Women and Gender in The Media.
8. Teaching materials and approaches.
Class focus centred upon the employment of three specific types of teaching materials: vocabulary, videos, and in-class reading activities.
8.1. Use of vocabulary based materials.
First and foremost we placed a primacy upon vocabulary teaching, making changes in the manner to which content specific vocabulary was taught and presented. Special reference was given to explicating complex ideas to be more comprehensible to students. It was therefore felt that the 3rd and 4th year university students who attended the classes, having already been exposed to several years of English education, would be sufficiently mature to verify an approach which confronted complex analytical ideas in the classroom if ideas were scaffolded and explicated to meet their levels of comprehension. Furthermore, both were inspired and influenced by the research of Byram et al, whose critical and cross cultural comparative approach advocated the employment of key terms and vocabulary. This research therefore took the perspective that in Media English courses which advocate analytical thinking and demand skills which might otherwise be underused in ELT classes, an emphasis upon key vocabulary was paramount. Byram notes that one important contribution to an intellectual perspective is the inclusion of vocabulary that aids students in discussing cultural diversity. This can include terms such as: “ human rights; equality; dignity; gender; bias; prejudice; stereotype; racism; ethnic minority; and the names of ethnic groups, including white groups” (16).
Byram et al’s vocabulary based approach was employed by the instructors to teach students about thematic and theoretic global topics of discussion and concepts. Both practitioners, therefore, introduced key vocabulary alongside course topics and employed a suite of language teaching materials such as vocabulary sheets, gap fills, word searches, multiple choice exercises and reading handouts to complement our students` appreciation of the critical subject matter.
8.2. Use of video based materials.
A considered and tempered approach to video clips was employed, in which pre-viewing time was allocated to priming the students for Western centered content. Furthermore, in order to aid and maximize student comprehension of native level English, the instructors generally reduced the length of the video clips employed. In addition, students were frequently given clear pre-viewing questions or tasks to think about when videos were being employed as a thematic introduction or conversation primer. This was generally taught in unison with vocabulary work specific to the required task.
8.3. Use of in class reading based materials.
In addition to these interactive tasks, students were also given in-class reading activities. These included the simple approach of giving students papers that contained short pieces of information, but with accompanying illustrations, that explained, in clear simple English, the ideas and concepts that underpinned class content. For example, one aspect of the work of Marshall McCluhan was referenced by virtue of his ‘tetrad of media effects’ (Collections Canada), which details how media (new and old) can effect social change.
9. How theoretical content was approached critically in the class.
In line with our intention to use videos, handouts and vocabulary to improve our methodology we carefully designed a series of pedagogic materials to help us achieve our pedagogic ends. Two specific examples of this approach will be given in the following section.
9.1 Marshall McLuhan: The medium is the message.
The rationale behind this topic was to introduce students to Marshal McLuhan`s concept of the Medium as the Message, and to consider what a ‘medium’ entails, whilst discussing in what ways an individual medium can affect society. This was done with the intention of eliciting and developing a consideration of the media beyond that of a consumer or user. It was firstly examined how a communicative act, whether from talk or a piece of literature, alters in accordance to the manner in which it is presented within separate media. After brainstorming ‘mediums’ and verbally defining what the ‘message’ of each medium could possibly be, students were then asked to enact a single communicative act through three different media. Choosing the relatively simple act of inviting a friend to a local restaurant, students were requested to act out the message using a) a mobile phone, b) the instant messenger service on Facebook, and c) a face to face chat. They were given the following questions to consider after starting the activity: ‘What are you looking at?’ , ‘What distractions are there?’, ‘How can you control the privacy of this communicative act?’ and ‘With which media do you i) use more words ii) express more intimate communication, and iii) feel is preferable, physically and mentally?’ The role play allowed groups of students to traverse the motions and effects of different media in an analytical way, and afforded them the opportunity to critique the ‘message’ of each medium.
Following this, students were requested to discuss the positive and negative effects of using different media and to elect one member to write their ideas on the blackboard. The activity was then manipulated to hone in on the effects of each medium on the issue of privacy, with special attention focused on social networking sites such as Facebook. In this context, students examined a quote attributed to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Zuckerberg), namely his assertion that ‘privacy is dead’ and the ramifications of this statement. Students were then given a worksheet in which the broad issues of ‘media’ were discussed, with special attention on social networking websites and the ways in which they affect the world of younger generations. This was followed by a clip from the satirical cartoon news show, Supernews (Trouble with Twitter), in which social networking media ‘Twitter’ and ‘MySpace’ were humorously lampooned. McLuhan’s theories were then developed further by examining how media which carry literature can alter an author’s message. Aware that many students were English Literature majors, members of the class were invited to examine different presentations of Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. Similar to the activity in which a communicative act was explored using separate media, warm-up questions related to the topic were written on the board after which four re-presentations were examined. This included: the original version in paperback (Twain), a version in the discourse of new media in ‘Twitterature’ (Aciman, A and Rensin, E), a clip from a film adaptation (Sommers) and an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry. Students were then asked to list ways in which these media altered Twain’s original message and how they were encoded and decoded differently. As a follow up, students were invited to create and enact samples of four separate representations of a contemporary novel or film.
9.2 Stewart Hall: Re-presentation, encoding and decoding.
The rationale of this class was to build on the students` conception of the `medium as the message` by looking in more specific detail at how this occurs. This was achieved by introducing the students to the media theorist Stewart Hall and by attempting to introduce and explicate his theories of `re-presentation, encoding and decoding`, whilst illustrating specific examples of how the western news media subtly re-presents the news it shows us through the employment of dramatic visual techniques and rhetorical devices. The class was structured to follow on from a prior lesson in which students had studied and discussed film styles and dramatic techniques, such as cinematography, camera angles, music, body posture and gestures. The following class on `re-presentation` then aimed to utilize similar vocabulary, but with the focus shifted more towards its use within the parameters of the news media. This class was initiated with a role play activity in which two students were encouraged to participate in a scripted argument regarding which film trailer (from the previous week) was best, while the teacher played the role of reporter. The other students` reactions, or `decoding` of the event were then elicited by the teacher, and some of their comments were written on the board. The reporter-teacher`s re-presentation of the event was then presented using dramatic music and gestures, whilst the general class reactions to this re-presentation, identified by the teacher as their `decoding` of the event, were once again noted on the board. The students were then advised that the teacher presentation was a media `re-presentation` of the earlier role play event that they had witnessed. Before dissecting the re-presentation and class reactions further, the students were handed a short and simplified reading sheet outlining the ideas and terminology of Stewart Hall and had to complete a gap fill exercise. The class then discussed how the teacher presentation differed from the student role play, due to the employment of music, and facial gestures, while the students` different reactions to the event and the subsequent teacher re-presentation were then also discussed. Students were then placed in groups of three and new roles were mandated; two students were given scripted role play cards and encouraged to disagree about two of the film trailers viewed in the previous class, whilst a third recorded the incident and then re-presented it. Some of these student re-presentations were then read out to the class.
After holding a group based discussion regarding `re-presentation` in the news media, and whether this could possibly affect an audience`s decoding of events, the focus of the class then shifted to the technical specifics of how it does this, linking this class with the vocabulary utilized in the previous movie discussion class. Therefore, a short review of the previous week`s movie vocabulary, such as `jump cut`, `freeze frame’, ‘camera angle`, and `music tempo` was conducted, and students were then shown some film scenes from pictures such as Star Trek , Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Matrix, and were asked to describe these scenes whilst using this vocabulary. Following this students were given gap fill vocabulary handouts and they were required to read the descriptions and connect the film technique with the description. Subsequently a selection of television news You-tube examples were shown, and students in groups had to discuss and identify which type of film technique, or `encoding`, was being employed by the TV news. Their reactions (`decoding`) to the videos were again also discussed. Finally, the focus of the class narrowed to concentrate on two specific types of `encoding` in more detail; voice inflection and facial gestures, such as narrowed and widened eyes. Having been briefly primed in relation to the subject matter of the newscast, the students were then required to view a You Tube video of a BBC newscast (BBC Weekend News with Mishal Hussien) whilst studying a short transcript of the newsreader`s speech. The students then watched the very short broadcast approximately three times and were encouraged to circle words where the newsreader inflected her voice or used rhetorical gestures such as narrowing or widening her eyes. The students then discussed which words were `encoded`, and specific words were emphasized rhetorically. It was found that the newsreader narrowed her eyes when reading out the word `scrutiny`, which the students felt connoted complexity, and widened her eyes when reading words such as `fears` and `risk`, which the students felt connoted surprise and drama. Once again, the effect on the viewer was discussed. Finally, a short conversation was orchestrated by the teacher, in which students discussed the notion of whether `re-presentation` in the media potentially compromised objective news reporting, and moreover, to what extent this `re-presentation` was potentially significant in relation to its effect on the viewers` comprehension of world events.
10. Questionnaire design.
The authors felt that by measuring the students’ attitudes towards the overall instruction of the media course, a useful barometer of the effectiveness of the approach could be established. A course questionnaire was distributed in both instructors’ classes, and, in total, 61 students were asked to complete it. Students were asked not to write their names on the paper nor look at their classmates’ paper and were instructed to place the sheets in an envelope before leaving the classroom. Overall, our questionnaire featured 11 questions. In particular, students were asked to assess the question handouts (Questions 5, 6) the course vocabulary sheets (Q8), the importance of video clips and visual media in adding comprehension (Qs 9,11) and also their overall comprehension of the theories and ideas introduced during the classes (Q2).
11. Questionnaire methodology.
We elected to employ a Likert-style questionnaire, which commonly contains five response options, but which has also been used with fewer than two and up to seven responses (Dornyei 28). The questions were divided into three sections: ‘course topics’, `course materials` and ‘course videos’. A Likert-type scale for the eleven closed questions in the questionnaire was constructed so that students would give a clear positive or negative choice from the four choices. Students could therefore answer with a strong or mild ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ response. One example question is given below:
Example close-ended question from the questionnaire:
5) How easy was it to understand the instructor?
a) easy b) comfortable c) so so d) difficult
In the above example, ‘easy’ was assigned a score of 4 points and ‘comfortable’ a score of 3. These were the two ‘positive’ responses. ‘So so’ was given a score of 2, and ‘difficult’ a score of 1. These were the two ‘negative’ responses. The assigning of more points for a positive score was applied to all of the eleven Likert style questions. Participants who chose a 4 point response for each question would score a maximum of 44 points. With 61 participants, the maximum score for each question was 244 points. Four of the eleven questions concerned teaching and student comprehension, four concerned the effectiveness of course materials, and three concerned the employment of videos. The results of the questionnaire are given in the table.3 below. The results highlight the ‘mean’ score, the ‘standard deviation’ score (SD) and the ‘range’ of each answer.
Table.3: Final Mean Ratings of Students’ Attitudes towards the Course and the Website.
|How interesting were the lesson topics?
|How well did you understand and think critically about the course theories and ideas?
Answer: a little difficult to understand.
|How clearly did the teacher explain the topics in each lesson?
Answer: very clearly
|How often did your instructor ask you questions and encourage you to give your opinions?
|How interesting were the topic discussion questions?
|Did the topic discussion questions make you want to talk?
Answer: yes, definitely
|How did the course reading hand-outs help your understanding?
Answer; very useful
|How did the gap fill and vocab worksheets help you?
Answer: very useful
|What was your opinion of the video clips used?
|How did the use of video help you understand the lesson topic?
Answer: very useful
|Did the video clips make you want to talk?
Answer: yes, definitely
12. Discussion of findings.
The results of the questionnaire illustrated an overall favorable student response towards the course topics, materials and methods chosen by the authors. Question number 1 demonstrated that students were particularly happy with the lesson topics. For example, Q1 scored a mean value of 3.75, which was the second highest rating in our table of results. Moreover, students also demonstrated a positive response towards the topic discussion questions which were generated as a result of studying these topics. For instance, question number 5, which related to the interest level of these topic discussion questions, generated a mean value of 3.49. It can therefore be concluded that choosing to introduce Japanese students to complex analytical ideas in English need not alienate them, and moreover, that with the right approach these ideas can be made interesting and stimulating. Our data also demonstrated that students reacted positively towards the methods of instruction employed, with a mean value of 3.49 scored for question number 3. Moreover, the questionnaire data showed a favorable student response towards the class materials utilized by the instructors, such as reading handouts and vocabulary sheets, and towards the use of visual media such as short video clips. The use of reading handouts (Q7) scored a mean value of 3.18, the use of gap fill and vocabulary sheets (Q8) scored a mean value of 3.19, and the use of video clips (Q9) scored the highest mean value of 3.86. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our data illustrated that the use of visual media, set in the context of a media studies class, proved to be overwhelmingly popular with the students. The usefulness of videos in understanding class topics (Q10) scored a fairly high mean value of 3.63, whilst the suitability of videos for inspiring conversation (Q11) scored a similarly high 3.59 mean value. Research pursued by Canning-Wilson suggests that students enjoy learning language through the use of videos, due to the embedded nature of visual cues within the medium (2). However, despite our methods and approaches scoring highly, question number 2, which concerned the students’ critical comprehension of course theories and ideas, scored a fairly low mean value of 2.42. This data can be interpreted in the following ways: firstly, recent studies have shown that Japanese students prefer interpersonal and intrapersonal topics such as ‘fashion’ and ‘pop music’ (Ó’Móchain, R and Perkins, R), i.e. the type of topics which are not as challenging as the one’s used in this course. Secondly, whilst the other 10 questions deal primarily with students’ conception of the authors` class content and teaching methods, question 2 is different in that it asks the students to directly assess their own sense of ability and progression. This may have been a factor in the relatively low mean score compared to the other data. For example, Dornyei notes that one problem with this form of self-assessment, in regard to questionnaire data, is that people do not always provide accurate responses regarding themselves, noting that “the results represent what the respondents report to feel or believe, rather than what they actually feel or believe” (8). Thirdly, the relatively low response data for question 2 may have been the result of student anxiety towards their perceived, rather than actual, lack of ability in handling the critical thinking demands of the course. For example, unlike test-taking courses in which a specific mark is given, this course focused more upon the teaching and acquisition of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, possibly leading to confusion on the part of some students regarding their sense of progress. Young cited in Ohata observes that student anxiety and negativity can arise through “a lack of self confidence in language proficiency and their perceived lack of knowledge about the class subjects they were studying” (14). More specifically, in relation to Japanese students, Ohata has illustrated in a case study of Japanese students studying abroad that the subjects tended to exhibit a sense of negativity and anxiety due to these specific causes (9). However, it should also be taken into account that the reactions of students to challenging material will inevitably be lower than other responses, due to the intrinsic complexity of the subject matter.
13. Directions for future research.
In conclusion, our data illustrated that the overall student response to the CBI course was very positive, with students rating 10 out of the 11 questions with a mean score of 3 or over. Therefore, our suite of classroom methods and approaches were mainly vindicated by the students` responses to them. However, this positive feedback data was tempered by the disappointing results of question number 2, which focused on students’ critical comprehension of course theories and ideas. This question scored more weakly, suggesting that the authors will need to strive to improve and simplify class materials and handouts further to aid stronger student understanding. One route towards greater student comprehension could involve the continuing development of an online blended learning approach. As our course weblog was a non-compulsory component of the Media studies course, this paper chose not to question the students on their perception of its usefulness. Therefore, future research which would aim to evaluate the weblog would necessitate the instructors mandating it as a compulsory course component. This proposed website would be adapted to contain course vocabulary and required media reading, meaning that it would be necessary to simplify and tailor it to our students’ mean level of comprehension. The difficulties involved in this, especially with elective classes that include a wide range of student abilities, levels and motivations, are large. Nevertheless, whilst this pursuit may hold a number of challenges and difficulties, it presents the researchers with a conceivably practical method of progression and affords a number of potential opportunities to improve student comprehension.
Moreover, being mindful of Young and Ohata`s observations regarding student language anxiety, an important goal of a future research project should strive to equip our students with a clearer sense of their language progress, which, it is to be hoped, they would equate with their overall course progress. A future project should therefore seek to more rigorously test students` comprehension of content course vocabulary. This could be mandated in two ways: the first method would involve administering a course vocabulary exam, whilst the second method would aim to subject students` essay projects to a word frequency test. The results of the vocabulary test would be handed to the students before they completed their course response questionnaires. Supplying students with the results of the former examination would hopefully give them a more clearly defined sense of their own language progress, which may then allow them to respond to question number 2 with greater confidence than before. Conducting a vocabulary exam and an essay based word frequency test would also give the researchers a triangulated set of data which would more fully arm an assessment of student course content comprehension. The adoption of a blended learning approach combined with more vigorous vocabulary testing would afford us the opportunity to teach content more holistically.
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*Neil Addison, M.A is a lecturer at Meiji Gakuin, Bunkyo Gakuin, and Reitaku University. His research interests include ELT intercultural communicative competence and English literature teaching evaluation and materials development.
*Richard Walker M.Sc is a lecturer at Meiji Gakuin, Reitaku and Shibaura University. His research interests include discourse analysis, paralanguage in second language acquisition and the use of new media to improve course content.
Media English Questionnaire:
Please choose one answer from the questions below:
1) How interesting were the lesson topics?
a) interesting b) okay c) uninteresting d) boring
2) How well did you understand the course theories and ideas, such as media re-presentation (dramatic techniques)
a) very easy to understand b) quite easy to understand c) a little difficult to understand d) difficult to understand
3) How clearly did the teacher explain the topics in the lesson?
a) very clearly b) clearly c) not clearly d) very unclearly
4) How often did your teacher ask you questions and encourage you to give your opinions?
a) always b) often c) sometimes d) rarely
5) How interesting were the topic discussion questions that your teacher gave you?
a) interesting b) okay c) uninteresting d) boring
6) Did the topic discussion questions make you want to talk with your fellow students about them?
a) yes definitely b) yes, a little c) not really d) definitely not
7) How did the course information reading handouts help your understanding of the lesson topics?
a) very useful b) useful c) a little useful d) not useful
8) How did the gap fill and vocabulary worksheets help your understanding of the lesson topic?
a) very useful b) useful c) a little useful d) not useful
9) What was your opinion of the video clips used?
a) interesting b) okay c) uninteresting d) boring
10) How did the use of videos in class help your understanding of the lesson topic?
a) very useful b) useful c) a little useful d) not useful
11) Did the video clips make you want to talk with your fellow students about them?
a) Yes definitely b) yes, a little c) not really d) definitely not