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The value of Virtual Learning Environments for Business English

Business person using computerPete Sharma explores some of the different Virtual Learning Environments suitable for Business English teachers.

A colleague recently asked me: “Which VLE should I use with my Business English students?” This started me thinking that there are, in fact, many ways to support the work that teachers do in the classroom. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of these exciting options.

At one end of the spectrum is using a full-scale Virtual Learning Environment. This is a password-protected area on the internet which is used to store and deliver digital materials such as texts, interactive activities, audio, video and links to websites. A VLE is often called an LMS (Learning Management System) or CMS (Content Management System), and contains communication tools. For example, a teacher can post a message to a forum for students to answer in their own time (asynchronous communication), or use instant messaging (synchronous communication).

Two well-known VLEs used by universities are Moodle and Blackboard. Such platforms have a large number of features, such as ‘quiz-makers’. Creative teachers can make their own digital materials with authoring software such as Hot Potatoes, and upload these to the platform.

On my last course, I used the website Edmodo, which is free and easy to join. It is easy to use and allows you to communicate with your students between classes, and post links to websites and other teaching materials you wish them to look at. This was perfectly adequate for this particular course and group of students.

It is important to remember that a VLE is empty until you add material. Let’s look at a different option. Many course books have an access code at the back, allowing access to publisher-produced materials on a web-based platform. Students can download audio files, or do online interactive exercises. Tracking tools allow teachers (and training managers!) to see which exercises students have worked on, and how much time they have spent on each one.

There are other options. Some of my colleagues use Dropbox to share materials. Teachers running writing courses sometimes start a class wiki. A wiki is a website containing editable pages, so students can collaborate on a piece of writing.

There is a lot of choice, and it is important to support your course with something which works for you.  Maybe you want to offer your students 24/7 access to their digital materials, or perhaps you want to create material yourself. Whatever you decide, it is impossible for me to imagine a course which is simply ‘done in the classroom’, without being able to provide autonomous learning opportunities outside class, too. And busy Business English students, who often travel, will appreciate this course enrichment more than most.


Creative Ideas for Language Learning with Moodle

Written by Phil Bird.

Moodle logoMuch has been written about the uses of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in education; here I want to look at specifics – how can Moodle be used to support language learning?

I would like to present here some of the tools and techniques that I have used with my learners.

Interaction with Web Content

Don’t just add a link to a website. If you add it to a forum, you can get some fantastic language production. For learners working at a lower level I have used simple travel information websites to get students to ask for and give travel directions (many cities have public transport journey planners available online). I have also asked students to use online shopping sites to find presents for people in the class, having given them an imaginary £50 to spend.

Forums appear to be best for fluency practice, but as they leave a written record, they work very well for identifying individual students’ error patterns. While accuracy corrections online in a public forum are probably inappropriate, there is nothing to stop you printing off the forum page for each student and marking their corrections on it. For learners who have a low-level of confidence or accuracy in the target language, you can use the forum to get them to plan out a conversation, which they can then try out without that scaffold. For learners working at higher levels you can greater exploit forums for fluency practise. For example, add a few links for travel and tourist information, suggest places to go and the best way to get there (justifying their choices, in the target language, naturally). I have also had students find courses they want to study and job vacancies and explain what they find interesting, or why they think that they are suitable. This could be a great way to get learners to continue practising outside lesson time. Ask learners to debate a topic on the forum and use posts as stimuli for discursive writing.

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