Getting into gear for distance education demands a high degree of commitment: from improving one’s approach to time management and catching up on the conventions of academic writing to grappling with the vagaries of contemporary data literacy. Gaining English skills that go beyond basic interpersonal communication, that is, attaining cognitive academic language proficiency, is equally important for today’s graduates, and thus studyFIT has launched an English Learning Support service.
Why English? Why now?
As Germany’s sole public distance learning university, the FernUniversität in Hagen has long concentrated on using German as a medium of instruction. Whilst the university’s commitment to delivering excellent instruction for Germans nationwide and beyond remains unchanged, a number of factors have compelled the institution to review its approach to language teaching. The increasing number of English-language modules offered at the university, the restructuring of research priorities and the drive to meet the internationalisation targets set out not only by the federal government, but also by the FernUniversität in its Internationalisation Strategy 2020 document, necessitate the development of international competencies such as good English language skills and intercultural competence.
To date, language courses for students of the FernUniversität have mostly taken place as face-to-face courses only on the initiative of the regional centres in cooperation with external partners. In many cases, however, these were not available to all students. An initial needs analysis carried out in autumn 2018 indicated that there was a demand – by both students and faculty members – not only for instruction in general Academic English, but also in English for Specific Purposes.
The newly-launched English Learning Support service is a two-year research project for developing a language learning and support framework for students enrolled at the FernUniversität in Hagen. Centred on a self-organised learning environment (SOLE) the service will enable volunteers to try out, free of charge, a language learning application – Altissia – that can be used via web browser or as a mobile application. Additionally, studyFIT, in collaboration with the five faculties, will develop bridging courses to bolster students’ English language competence as they delve into their chosen disciplines.
Some questions guiding the research include:
- Using Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) indicators, what is the distribution of English language competence amongst FernUniversität students?
- In which key language skills do the students gain a perceptible improvement through self-paced learning on the Altissia platform?
- What are the requisite properties of EMI materials produced for use in FernUniversität courses?
- What support measures do FernUniversität students need to sustain English medium instruction?
Whilst the Altissia learning application will be made available to 1000 student volunteers per year on a first come, first served basis, all enrolled students, regardless of their faculty, are invited to have their say as studyFIT develops the five subject-specific bridging courses and formulates a long-term strategy for supporting English language learners throughout their studies. Drop us a line, and be sure to fill out the survey (in English or German) which will appear in your email inbox in February 2022.