e-Resources Reclaim Joy of Language Learning

Hong Kong is known for its examination-oriented culture. Taking English language education (ELE) as an example, teachers sometimes have to resort to spoon-feeding their students with vocabulary, grammar rules and sentence structure to fulfill curriculum requirements. Despite the fact that students may score high marks in exams, they are denied the joy of learning and may lose the motivation for self-learning. A team of HKBU scholars from the Department of Education Studies at HKBU is attempting to bring radical change to this situation.


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Dr Anita Poon Yuk-kang


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Each unit consists of tasks that are related and can only be completed in sequence


Commissioned by the Education Bureau (EDB), in 2010, Dr Anita Poon Yuk-kang, Associate Professor of the Department of Education Studies, conducted an evaluation of the ELE curriculum reform. The results showed that Hong Kong students lack self-learning ability and that schools do not adequately address learner diversity. Dr Poon and her team members, Professor Sandy Li Siu-cheung and Senior Lecturer Mr Tony Lai Kwok-hung of the Department of Education Studies thought the solution could lie in e-learning so they embarked on a research project with the EDB to build ELE online assessment resources with an emphasis on connecting reading and writing skills for primary students. Between October 2015 and January 2017, four primary schools took part in a trial run of the research output.


Dr Poon acknowledges that online materials are neither new nor rare in Hong Kong. Merely producing an electronic version of materials brings no fundamental change to ELE, so the team proposed integrating assessment with teaching and learning to create a "learning, teaching and assessment" (LTA) framework with the aim of changing the examination-dominant culture.


Ongoing task-based learning

The project produced two outputs: an online platform and e-packages for ELE. The online platform is a website that can be accessed via personal computers, tablets or smart phones. The e-packages include several units of theme-based tasks underpinned by Task-Based English Language Learning, a new method of teaching English. The learning process involves a set of communicative tasks that are directly linked to the curricular goals they serve, and aim at solving various communication problems. Each unit in the e-packages consists of more than ten reading or writing tasks, which are related and can only be completed in sequence. For example, a task requires the learner to read an email, and then based on the information in the email, the learner is requested to fill in a reply slip. The small progressive tasks help prepare the learner for the final task, which is usually a summative writing task with certain guidelines. This new pedagogy is able to integrate the teaching of reading and writing skills.


Dr Poon emphasises that e-tasks are different from boring and repetitive drills. They are designed to be interesting, motivating and related to daily life. Some tasks are graphic rich, training the learner to decode visual information instead of words. Other exercises involve interactive elements, such as instructions to drag and drop the correct answer instead of just circling it. Overall, the units simulate real-life scenarios, providing a sense of authenticity and helping the learner to deal with different real-life situations.


Mutual benefits for teachers and students

The website design promotes self-directed learning, and students are encouraged to complete the tasks outside of class. If they face any difficulties, the system provides instantaneous feedback in the form of annotations to help them address the problem, thus enabling students with different learning abilities to complete the tasks according to their own progress. Therefore, Dr Poon considers that this platform can help address learner diversity. Since the platform allows teachers to simultaneously review the progress of students when they are doing the e-tasks, teachers can provide extra support according to students’ needs. Teachers can also compare and analyse the statistics across different classes and then assign level- appropriate e-tasks to their students.


"The online platform not only benefits the students, but also enhances the professional knowledge of teachers," says Dr Poon. The e-packages come with pre-tasks and post-tasks, which serve as a guide and help the teacher to prepare their students for the tasks. It also provides extra training on certain aspects and promotes teachers' professional development.


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The e-tasks are interactive, graphic rich and related to daily life


A shift in exam-focused culture

The research project successfully developed and piloted two outputs. To carry out a systematic and in-depth impact assessment, Dr Poon's team launched a Knowledge Transfer Partnership project to introduce the website and e-packages to one class of students in a primary school for a whole school year, from September 2017 to August 2018. Interviews and surveys with teachers and students were conducted to gauge the impact. The results showed changes in the deep-rooted assessment culture. Students preferred assessment tasks on the e-platform to traditional textbook exercises because it eliminated unnecessary drills. The annotations also helped them develop their self-directed learning ability. Besides, the skills acquired from the e-tasks also helped students gain confidence and independence in English reading and writing. The teacher admitted that the "assessment for learning" orientation of the e-platform and the e-packages changed her perspective towards assessments. Through the data analysis provided, she could easily identify the weaknesses of her students and adjust the teaching method to suit their needs. Hence, the use of these e-resources led to improvements in both learning and teaching.


After the team successfully concluded the pilot project, the team organised a seminar and workshop to promote the new pedagogy. The event held in March 2019 attracted 56 English teachers from 39 primary schools. A survey conducted after the seminar showed that more than 80 per cent of the attendees thought that the e-packages are interesting and interactive, and can help promote self-directed learning. In fact, three schools were so impressed that they expressed interest in implementing the pedagogy in their schools. The five-month implementation was completed in July 2019 and the team recorded positive outcomes in line with previous trials.


In a testimonial letter, the EDB indicated that it would introduce the e-resources to primary school teachers in future professional development activities. Describing this project as "a small step to change the exam-oriented culture", Dr Poon hopes more schools and teachers will adopt the LTA framework to ease student stress and help them reclaim the joy of learning.


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At the workshop, teachers try out the e-tasks