Learning English Online - "English for ICT"

With the increasing demand for the employees who are fluent in English in both public and corporate sectors, the government has felt the necessity of empowering its community with English knowledge. Accordingly, year 2009 has been declared the year of English and ICT.

English for ICT which is a compulsory component in the Foundation in Information Technology (FIT) program, and which is available online through a Learning Management System (LMS), is a course meant to fulfill this objective by providing the necessary language skills for those who wish to proceed in higher education, and engage themselves in the field of Information & Communication Technology. FIT program is a bridging course primarily aimed as a qualification to register for the Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) program conducted by the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) and is delivered using distance learning technologies, via an on line environment.

Before designing the course, a needs analysis was conducted based on the test marks of the orientation program for fresh internal students of UCSC (2007) to determine the areas where students needed further improvement. The course consists of 2 parts, where Part 1 focuses on basic language skills, basic grammar, and interactional skills while Part 2 provides knowledge on advanced skills such as academic & technical writing, presentation skills, public speaking skills, general business communication, vocabulary development etc.
The course English for ICT is based on the learner-centered concept where the student is guided to learn on his/her own via an online environment called, the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). “Fear and shyness inhibit second language acquisition to a great extent”, (Krushan 1985). This is where the VLE supports the learner to overcome such obstacles by communicating with the teacher or other students using a nick name or an imaginative character.

The VLE motivates & guides the learner by supporting many interesting web based features such as audio & video resources and interactional learning objects such as dynamic visual features. Learning contents and activities are organized on the VLE in order to facilitate collaborative learning. Students can interact with the teacher or other students in several ways. The teacher’s role has been limited to that of a guide or a facilitator. Students are provided with interesting online content and activities which can be easily understood. The students can make self- assessment by trying out the online quizzes and assignments. The final test consists of an e-test and a practical test. From 2008, since the course was launched six batches have sat for the FIT finals and most of the successful candidates have already registered for the BIT degree conducted by UCSC.

Currently, a considerable number of participants are accessing the learning contents using the VLE based on MOODLE, a free and open source course management system. Features of the course has been improved by including voice forums including features for students to pronounce words, make speeches etc. by recording their voice & posting them into the forums so that they could be checked by the teacher as well as the other students enrolled to the course.

Managing a large number of students, assessing them online (summative evaluation) and developing an online system to assess learners’ writing will be some of the other future challenges we will have to meet.