Designing undergraduate course materials collaboratively

This is the latest of several previews of talks to be given at the upcoming ELTAM−MaWSIG conference in Skopje, Macedonia, on 30 September, 2017. Here, Mira Bekar introduces her talk.

For more details about the event, click here.

When I heard about the ELTAM−MaWSIG conference on materials design, I was excited – at that time (during the spring semester of 2017), for the first time in my career, I was asking my second-year students to try to develop their own materials. An opportunity had emerged for my Macedonian students to collaborate with international students from a US university. The collaboration was not going smoothly since my students’ grades were minimally affected by their work on the project, and the American students received no reward at all. In addition, my students were dealing with the challenge of the ‘cruel paradox’ (Sheldon, 1988); in other words, students often prefer materials from commercial course books to materials created by teachers themselves, since teacher-developed materials may appear unprofessional or incomplete.

The first challenge, then, was to keep students motivated to collaborate with students from another country when there was minimal assessment attached to the activity. The second was to reassure students that what they produced would be valuable. I saw this activity as a way for students to develop their critical thinking skills and delve deeper into the meaning of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a key component of curriculum transformation and requires active participation from all stakeholders in decision-making processes related to education.

Despite these concerns, my students and I believed that teachers and advanced-level students should collaborate and produce authentic materials which will suit the needs of local students. Students were engaged in the process of creating tasks for argumentative writing, idioms and easily confused English words – work done in collaboration with the US students. One of the students stated, ‘I love this method of studying. It is very helpful. I think that pictures last longer in our memory than definitions do. I had fun making them at home but was afraid that my colleagues may find this method boring and funny…’ The production of argumentative writing materials should consist not only of ready-made handouts for the students, but of mapping out the overall flow of the class through teacher−student interaction and discussion.

We all agreed that discovering the appropriate way to teach a rule is not by its definition, but by knowing the local context well, for example, knowing what your peers consider a ‘fun learning activity’. My talk will show how students created drawings of easily confused words in English and how they built a unit that would help their peers to develop better argumentative writing skills and techniques.

Reference

Sheldon, L. E. (1988, October). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal, 42(4), 237−246.

Mira Bekar is an Assistant Professor at Ss Cyril and Methodius University, Macedonia. Her work involves teaching English as a Foreign Language; specifically, she teaches listening, speaking, translation and writing, applied linguistics, and research-based academic writing. In addition to academic writing, she carries out qualitative research on online interaction, online written communication and various genres conceptualising language as social action.

 

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