1.) I just started a full-time position at the company I've been consulting for over the last few months. (Teachscape)
2.) While getting acquainted with my new company, I came upon a learning module covering the exact topic I was going to post a few lines on.
Teachscape has just come out with a "Module of the Month" feature to show off their professional development tool. This month's module is "Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback." I was struck by the first exercise.
- Think of a skill or concept you are learning or are trying to learn. . . . For example, you may decide that you want to learn another language.
- What is your learning objective? In the language example, your objectives could range from simple conversational skills to fluency in reading and writing high-level, academic text.
. . .
How will you get feedback on your progress? Do you have access to external measures (other people or measurement instruments) as well as self-assessment?
That should be an easy first exercise for me, since it was what I was planning to write about, but the more I thought about it, the less I felt sure I could answer well. In general, I have seen few language courses of any kind, whether online, independent, or in a class, that ask the student to consider the ultimate goal of learning a language.
Initially, this isn't a huge problem. The student needs to learn some basic vocabulary, the fundamentals of sentence structure, writing rules, and pronunciation. After getting past the basic skills, though, different students may have very different goals.
I'm not sure whether the writer of the exercise above was aware of it, but the examples of simple conversational skills compared to fluency in reading and writing high-level, academic text are not on a simple linear continuum.
While it is easy to imagine someone with strong conversational skills finding it difficult to read and write academic text, it is just as possible that someone with a strong knowledge of the academic language would be hopeless speaking a modern idiom. I have experienced both problems, from being asked to translate a few paragraphs of Chinese, only to discover that it was Tang Dynasty Classical Chinese prose, to being asked at the last minute to give a business presentation in French, on the strength of a knowledge of Flaubert and Victor Hugo.
I tend to think that technology could be used to address this problem. As usual, I'm hung up on the idea that it should be possible to find authentic content appropriate to the student's goals and abilities. The hard part is not so much searching for the content. There's plenty of it available on the web. The problem is properly modeling the current abilities of the student and the preferred content the student wants to be able to understand.
What I'm unsure of is whether it's worth creating a tool that would search for appropriate authentic content, or just providing as much content as possible, and let the student decide which is appropriate.