Completed Projects

Title   Funding Amount Funding Source Duration

Joint HCLS and USYD project on "Mapping learner pathways to improved English language writing performance"

  1,865,000 Office of the Chief Information Officer, CityU


Evaluation of the Language Companion Course (LCC) Project
[Previously known as "CityUWill": City University's Web-based Interactive Language Learning Project]

  2,464,220 English Language Enhanced Fund from the University Grants Committee


Modeling Meaning in the e-learning Context

  563,000 CityU Teaching Development Grant


Joint HCLS and USYD project on "Mapping learner pathways to improved English language writing performance" (2008-2010)

The goals of this project focus on curriculum and pedagogy. As far as curriculum is concerned we aimed to outline the systems of genre central to undergraduate teaching and learning in the disciplines of biology and linguistics at CityU, to consider the stages of each genre and outline the key linguistic (and multi-modal) features of their realisation, and to propose a learner pathway leading students from the first year program through to their capstone thesis.

As far as pedagogy is concerned we aimed to draw on these genre descriptions to enhance the existing LCC comment bank with genre sensitive parameters and to develop resources for on-line modelling and joint construction of these genres in order to improve the effectiveness of student/tutor interaction.

Our initial plan was to appoint 2 post-doctoral researchers, one specialising in text linguistics and one in educational linguistics. As it turned out the two leading applicants for these positions were both skilled in text analysis and language teaching, so that one was able to concentrate on biology and one on linguistics, with respect to both curriculum and pedagogy.

Our work on systems of genres was inspired by a long tradition of work in functional linguistics mapping secondary school disciplines. An outline for the genres of science is provided in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Secondary school science genre systems

Our work on learner pathway was also inspired by this tradition. An outline for genres of history is provided in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Secondary school history genres learner pathway>

Our work on teaching literacy was similarly inspired by a long tradition of work in functional linguistics on language learning and the development of a teaching/learning cycle for teaching reading and writing across sectors of schooling. One canonical model of this pedagogy, involving deconstruction, joint construction and independent construction stages is presented in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Teaching/learning cycle for teaching genre

Our main challenge in this project was to develop LCC tutor/student interaction so that students were given models of writing and sometimes an opportunity to write with their tutor before tackling an assignment on their own (thus emphasising 'prevention' rather than 'cure'). We also faced the challenge of moving the deconstruction and joint construction stages of the teaching/learning cycle from a face-to-face to an on-line environment, and to adapt them, were necessary, to a tertiary EAP literacy context. In addition the LCC comment bank needed to be extended to accommodate the text-based focus of these interventions, and reading activities had to be developed in relation to the challenges of English academic discourse for the CityU student cohort. Our work on both curriculum and pedagogy was conceived as an action research project, involving coordination with CityU biology and linguistics teaching staff and ongoing in-service of Sydney-based tutors in relation to assignment specific genre-structure and feedback cycles. Alongside Dr. Sally Humphrey and Dr. Shoshana Dreyfus the project involved Dr. Ahmar Mahboob and Professor J. R. Martin as team leaders, and related research by three PhD candidates (Szenses and Yilmas, USYD, and Pun, co-tutelle CityU/USYD).

Evaluation of the Language Companion Course (LCC) Project (2007-2010) [previously known as 'CityUWill': City University's Web-based Interactive Language Learning Project']

The Halliday Centre for Intelligent Applications of Language Studies has been coordinated an evaluation of the LCC project since Semester A 2007/08. The evaluation is aimed at determining how successful the LCC is in improving students' writing ability in English by investigating language tutors' comments and student progress and performance.

A range of methods have been employed in conducting the evaluation. In addition to reviewing the coverage of comments given by the language specialist coaches with different cohorts of students, we have also begun a corpus-based study of students' essays with the aim of tracking students' progress. The primary focus of our investigation addresses the question of whether and to what extent students' participation in LCC helps them to achieve improved academic writing ability in English. In addition, a survey was administrated at the end of the semester. Moreover, students' performance was compared across courses and assignments to measure students' progress.

In order to understand the three major parties' opinions on the LCC service, questionnaire surveys were distributed to the students and language coaches and face-to-face structured interviews were conducted with subject teachers. This set of data was particular useful for understanding some findings obtained in comparing students' written work.

Modeling Meaning in the e-learning Context (2006-2009)

Biggs and Collis (1982) describe learning outcomes in terms of verbs ranging from the 'unistructural' - identify, name, state - to the 'extended abstract' - create, formulate, generate, hypothesize, reflect, theorize. Each of these intended-outcomes-as-verbs represents a way of speaking (i.e. way of meaning) which if successfully acquired by learners must be evident in their linguistic repertoire. Investigations of how these outcomes-as-verbs manifest themselves linguistically have already been extensively reported on in the systemic-functional literature, particularly in the work of Halliday and Martin (1993). Our aim here is to look at the role played by collaborative learning in a Blackboard(Bb)-mediated environment when it comes to, first of all, expanding and developing the learner's linguistic repertoire (i.e. its formative role), and second, providing a repository of performance data as the basis for continual assessment of the learner's achievement of those outcomes (i.e. its evaluative role).

Our first step is to make explicit the interacting systems of choice, including linguistic, institutional, and technological, by which meaning is transacted in a Blackboard(Bb)-mediated environment. When it comes to transacting/exchanging meaning in the Bb-mediated environment, there is in fact considerable complexity and variation. Not only in terms of the subject matter (i.e. field of discourse), but also in terms of those participating, their backgrounds, roles - the exchange taking place between student(s) and teacher, or just among the students themselves (i.e. tenor). The mode of interaction varies, ranging from the synchronous, e.g. text-based internet chat, instant messaging, to the asynchronous, e.g. discussion boards, email, file exchange, course blogs/journals. Some variation concerns the technology being used, e.g. mobile technology, pod-casting. Our goal at the outset, then, is to make the systems more explicit, and therefore more accessible to evaluation in terms of learning outcomes. The insight gained from our analysis and description of 'meaning transactions' in the Bb-mediated environment will contribute significantly to efforts aimed at achieving a qualitative assessment or profile of the learner's linguistic repertoire.