Find out about ELE_net's current projects and activities.
ELE_net has been carrying out a number of studies assessing English levels among AKU students. The first study was with master’s students in three different locations (Dar es Salaam, Karachi and London). This study compared the English levels of students on different programmes and year groups.
The test used for this this study was Password Knowledge. This is a test of the test taker’s knowledge of academic English in higher education settings. The results can be benchmarked against other international tests of English language, such as IELTS and TOEFL. AKU is now using Password as a common admissions test.
The results of master’s study placed 85% of the students tested in the B2 band of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The visa requirement for higher education study in the UK is B2 in all four language skills (Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing). IELTS is currently the only external test that can be used for this purpose.
The other test studies have focused on the undergraduates in SONAM, P. The first of these was a benchmarking study across all SONAM, P programmes and year groups – nearly 700 students in total. A follow study was carried out in February 2016 focusing on the BScN second year students. This study revealed the amount of progress the students had made in their knowledge of academic English after a year’s study at AKU.
In close collaboration with AKU Human Resources, ELE_net is piloting several English courses for AKU staff. These are part of a wider plan to provide more opportunities for AKU staff to enhance their English language skills. Approximately 140 staff are involved in this pilot project. Participants are mostly based in Karachi and are selected from a wide range of occupations and departments.
ELE_net is working with three external providers to run the pilot courses. These are the British Council, English 360 and Pearson. The courses being offered are:
two online British Council courses (Pathways and Select)
an online Pearson course (English Go)
a blended course for staff working in the Design Office using English 360 – an online platform with pre-loaded English language materials
a face-to-face course for AKU drivers run by the British Council (due to start in April).
All the course participants take a test before the course and at the end of the course. This is to help assess the impact of the course on their English levels. The test results also allow us to benchmark English levels with international standards of language proficiency.
Once the pilot courses have been completed and evaluated, ELE_net and HR will consider how to expand access to English language courses and support across AKU.
ELE_net designed and delivered an English improvement course for a group of staff members from the AKU Design Office. The course focused on developing the participants’ skills in using English for Occupational Purposes. The main objective of this course was to provide a language-rich environment to encourage the participants to develop their English skills needed to communicate more effectively in their work environments.
The course content focused on developing the participants communication skills by exposing them to scenarios that simulate their work environment. These scenarios were developed from the needs analysis undertaken by the participants. A broad range of activities and materials were used to improve the participants’ speaking skills.
The course followed a blended approach and included ten 1.5 hour face-to-face classes and 6 hours of online learning tasks per week. The course was hosted on an online platform called ‘English 360’. This platform also contains thousands of hours of online material designed for improving English language skills.
All the course participants actively participated in the course, and their eagerness to develop English language skills was commendable. During the course, the participants became more confident in speaking English and their fluency improved as a result. This improvement was remarked upon by the Head of Design. He felt that the participants had conquered their fear of communicating in English and were more willing to use in the workplace as a result.
ELE_net is very pleased with the success of this project and looks forward to expanding its English support services to other departments.
ELE_net organized a workshop in April 2016 for the SONAM, Pakistan English language team. This team is responsible for the English provision on SONAM’s academic programmes - amounting to around 3,000 contact hours a year.
The workshop was facilitated by Diane Schmitt (third from the left). Diane is a Senior Lecturer in English as a Foreign Language at Nottingham Trent University. She is also the Chair of BALEAP, a UK-based professional organization supporting the development of those involved in Teaching English for Academic Purposes (TEAP).
The workshop covered a number of areas related to TEAP but mainly focused on the work BALEAP is carrying out to support professional development. Of particular interest was the TEAP accreditation scheme offered by BALEAP. This gives individuals the opportunity to apply for BALEAP fellowship by compiling and submitting a portfolio of work to evidence how they meet the requirements of the BAELAP competency framework.
ELE_net is planning to join BALEAP. When it does, the SONAM English team and others involved in TEAP at AKU will have the opportunity to gain BALEAP fellowship status. For more information about the scheme or other benefits BALEAP membership provides, please email ELE_net@aku.edu.
In November 2015, ELE_net launched the first online course to be made openly available on the VLE for any student across the AKU campuses. The Learning English for Academic Purposes (LEAP) course was developed for AKU students who need to improve their English language skills for academic study. ELE_net delivered three iterations of this 12 week course, with over 150 students participating online in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan and the UK.
The course content was based on interactive, online learning materials developed by the University of Southampton, UK. These materials (technically known as learning objects) were designed to support the development of language skills for study in English medium higher education contexts. Course materials made use of text, audio and video based content, in addition to visual elements such as charts and graphs. The course also provided opportunities for students to interact and practise their language skills in discussion forums and synchronous chat rooms.
Providing open access to this course represents the first step taken by ELE_net to address growing concerns about the English standards of many AKU students. Based on the principles of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), the LEAP course provides an opportunity to extend widespread support in academic English to students across AKU.
This project generated valuable feedback from course participants to help develop and improve the LEAP course in preparation for its relaunch in late 2016. More information and registration details will be posted on the ELE_net web pages nearer the time.