Redesigning a Swedish for specific purposes course

Traditionally, an oral presentation has played a significant role as part of a language course, perhaps because of its dual role in integrating learning with assessment. In fact, it is often one third of a course that students spend on listening to one another’s presentations. This may be due to the fact that presentation skills have been considered to be important elements for use in demonstrating student expertise as well as student ability in commenting on peer presentations.

In this particular context, the course in question is a six-week course in Swedish. The course is organized by the University of Jyväskylä Language Centre and is mandatory for all university students. One of the course tasks is to, in small groups, prepare an oral presentation of 15 minutes for other students. The presentations are expected to be related to themes either covered in this course or themes related to students’ own fields of study.

The problematic issue here is that students often prepare presentations by themselves and the teacher only sees the final product. It is somewhat contradictory that so much emphasis is put on the process of preparing the presentation, but the actual process becomes “black boxed” (cf. Säljö, 2012) for the teacher, despite the fact that it is the process that is much more interesting in terms of learning than the actual presentation.

To “white box”, i.e. to make the process more transparent, one of the Language Centre’s Swedish courses was put on the design table and redesigned in a way that emphasizes aspects such as creativity, problem solving, decision making, communication, and collaboration – in other words, skills and competences that are needed in working life.

In the new course design, the task is for a small group of participants to brainstorm, process and produce a group presentation. Students come up with possible ideas for the theme of the group presentation in the very beginning of the course. Then these themes are brainstormed in their small groups to clarify meaningful and relevant content for the presentation. During the brainstorming, students can access various resources using iPads. The key objectives here are that students learn to form a group, share roles and negotiate a joint idea for their presentation.

The brainstorming phase is started in the classroom, but even throughout the course students are expected to continue working in their small group settings. For meetings outside the classroom, groups can access the videoconference tool (Videochat) in the SpeakApps environment, as well as a collaborative working space for sharing files and conducting asynchronous discussions in the very same environment. When an idea for an aspect of a group’s presentation is clarified, the group will record an oral proposal using the video blog tool (Langblog). Additionally, groups are encouraged to use peers outside of their own groups as additional resources, i.e. to ask questions and provide comments to enhance each group’s generated ideas.

Another problem often raised by course teachers is that instructor feedback provided for students after presentations are delivered comes, in a sense, too late as presentations are already over at that point. In the new design, for the group presentations, students first receive feedback from their peers in the brainstorming phase. Following that, the next “check point” for feedback is a week before the actual presentation when the group records its rehearsal presentation using the videoconference tool. The course instructor views the presentation and provides comments that aim at helping the group to improve its presentation before the final occasion.

Literacy, Digital Literacy and Epistemic Practices: The Co-Evolution of Hybrid Minds and External Memory Systems. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy 7 (1). 5-19.