Communicating a written assignment in EMI

In both courses that I am involved in teaching, students are required to produce a portfolio. Students are asked to reflect on their learning during the class, and to link it to personal experiences. They have several entries to write, and then arrange them into a single assignment.

One requirement is to use the APA referencing style for the general layout of the portfolio, and for quoting, referencing and so on. During the first lecture of each course, along with explaining the assignments, we explain what is APA and how to use it. For that, we show the Purdue website and go through some example with them. We also strongly emphasis the importance of using APA, and of including additional sources to their portfolio to those provided during the course. They are, of course, expected to properly list them at the end of the portfolio.

At the exception of a couple of students, all seems to struggle with using APA. In the last set of assignments that I just finished to grade, 90-95% of 80 students lost points for either not using APA at all or using it wrong.  I realize that as I am used to use APA and the Purdue website, so maybe my explanations are not that clear and simple enough. Or maybe I do not spend enough time on the Purdue website. We, usually, show the website during the first session only. Then, students who need further explanation come at the end of the class to ask. It is quite common to have students asking about APA after a few sessions (probably after their first encounter with referencing).  In this case, I go through the website with them again.

Does any of you encounter such issue with explaining APA (or any other referencing style for that matter)? Would any of you have some suggestions of how to deal with that? Thanks 🙂

Use of technology

During the actual class, I use PowerPoints for each lectures. While it is a good visual support (especially for non-natives who might struggle in English), I do see some negative aspects to it. The biggest issue I see is that since students know they will have access to the PowerPoint after the class, they pay less attention and do take less notes (or none at all). To add some perspective here, I did my Bachelor degree in France. We had 3h-4h long lectures with no PowerPoint. We were expected to listen to the lecturer and take note. I notice that students then did not talk, were very attentive to what was being said, took notes and did not miss classes. Since I arrived in Finland, I saw students on their laptops, phones, chatting, knitting, and leaving the classroom at any time. I do not think one can learn something when not properly listening and being distracted by something else. Additionally, I think that one needs to write down in order to integrate what is being said. I probably sound old fashion here, but I see the (over)use of PowerPoints (and other technologies) more as distractions and easing the teacher’s job than doing students a favor. I really doubt PowerPoints’ usefulness, and really wonder whether it isn’t a support you know you have so you pay less attention and don’t take note instead. Funny coincidence, I had one of my students contacting me right after the TACE class to let me know that he would be missing our next contact lecture due to overlapping classes. He had to chose between “Survival Finnish” and “Introduction to Intercultural Communication”. His reason to attend “Survival Finnish” over “ICC” was that in the “ICC” class we use PowerPoints that are accessible after the class. Whereas, in “SF” they have to fill in documents. So whether he misses the class or not he would still get the slides. I think this illustrates my idea that while it can be a useful support, students take it as a replacement of the actual lesson.

Similarly, we are currently recording all lectures from the Introduction to ICC course for students located in Vaasa who did not want to transfer to Jyväskylä. While it is convenient for them and enables e-learning, I don’t think it is an efficient way. First of all, the video is taken from so far away that it is impossible to see the instructors’ facial expressions. Moreover, students who attend the virtual lecture only are limited in their attendance. They can only passively attend the lecture, and have no ways to participate in it. This is a significant limitation since we have activities and always engage in discussion with the students. We expect the students (83 in total) to engage and participate. Therefore, those participating virtually are missing on a lot, and I am not sure it is really beneficial to them after all. Finally, let’s face it, watching a lecture on video is super boring, regardless of how good the lecturer is. I am currently taking an e-course, and no offense to the teacher, but that is one boring class. I do not gain much out of it, and I really feel the miss from not having face-to-face contact lecture.

I do use YouTube videos sometimes. When well chosen, I think those videos might send the message across more effectively than I would be able to do it. For instance, I like showing TED Talks extracts for my lecture on identity and stereotypes. I particularly like to show “The danger of a single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She says it all in very simple words because she is simply telling her own story. I could also tell her story, but that would not have the same impact. So, while technologies can be used from time to time, I think it should remain an occasional thing and not become the new norm. Technology should be used to demonstrate or accentuate a point in the lecture, and not as the actual point. Otherwise it is just substituting the teacher.

This brings me to a news story I recently read, and that I found quite problematic. It was about the end of handwriting lessons in primary school in Finland (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/31/finnish-schools-phase-out-handwriting-classes-keyboard-skills-finland ; http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-30146160). Instead, pupils would be given keyboard typing lessons. I can’t quite remember if it is a trial or something spread to all primary schools in Finland. Regardless, I find it really problematic on several levels that kids would not learn to properly handwrite. I think we are taking the use of technology too far. I am curious to know what you think about this change in Finland 🙂