Given the demographic of younger audience, the UNSW Global FEEC team wanted to re-imagine digital education that would appeal and drive engagement amongst this segment as they transition from high school into foundation studies and university.
The transition to university for many students in this critical age group generally exhibits a higher tendency of stress, as this requires the student to make significant adjustments to their personal, social, and academic lives.
The delivery of the online learning format provided flexibility and enabled the opportunity for students to learn in a stable environment and support in their home countries. Keeping in mind the importance of social support particularly for this age group, the courses were designed to encourage social development and empower learners to exchange ideas, collaborate, engage in independent learning, provide feedback, share emotions whilst improving on time management skills and adapting to new ways of learning from their transition from high school.
Therefore, some of the key challenges include:
What is retained in a format close to the original? What needs to be modified? What needs to be altered significantly? What should be removed completely?
It was not possible to begin addressing these questions until after we saw the new format and tried out various lessons and series of lessons. Feedback from both students and teachers, understanding the various functionalities available via the OpenLearning platform, and re-evaluating to improve each lesson intake were crucial in improving the learning experience of the FEEC program.
Instructions from the printed course-book were largely transferred to the online activities, often with more informal language, presumably in an attempt to increase engagement. However, in the face-to-face context teachers add to instructions as lessons progress and can monitor comprehension. The OpenLearning platform enables the ability to add audio or video files either by reading out the instructions or providing additional explanations as students go through the lessons in an orderly manner.
Originally, the course was delivered via 20 hours of face-to-face instruction each unit each week. What does that mean in an online context? The early decision was to retain this structure of a 10-unit structure with 5 parts, mirroring a 5-day week. However, we soon discovered that mirroring a face-to-face format to an online format did not work. The early challenge was that the lesson content needed to be modified and edited.
Another challenge faced was the role of the teacher and facilitator involvement. It was important that the online delivery included not just asynchronous modes of learning but complemented with high levels of synchronous learning. Given the nature of the target audience is of a younger demographic and from an international background, it was important that they were able to easily reach out to teachers to ask questions, seek feedback, and clarify on tasks. The seamless integration of Zoom within the OpenLearning courses enabled high levels of engagement between student-to-teacher interaction through instruction, monitoring, and supervision.
The design strategy and model involved a close partnership between UNSW Global and OpenLearning team. The FEEC program is delivered online using the OpenLearning platform, with interactive lesson materials and activities, as well as live classes taught via Zoom.
OpenLearning includes a student profile with a designated blog space. It also offers features that allow administrators and teachers to track progress, such as completion of activities and commenting.
The course content aims to prepare learners for university by developing their skills in:
The UNSW Foundation English Entry Course (FEEC) is focused on enabling students be prepared for university and improve their English skills so they can succeed in workforce after graduation.
A key metric to measure the success of the FEEC program was student engagement which was collected through post-course survey. Some of the feedbacks from students were:
I have learned many skills through this course, and I believe it will be very helpful to my future study. -- Liu Mingxun Chris
The teacher of the course was very responsible and Kate gave us feedback on every essay. I think she will be tired after watching all the 13 people in our class. My classmates are friendly, too. We talk and joke every day. The lessons are also very interesting. -- Luo Yichao LaVine
I enjoyed the course. Because there are friendly teachers and students here, who are very helpful in my course. It was an incredible experience for me. I like the teachers, students and teaching content of this course. It was an unforgettable experience. I think I will miss all this. -- Chai Zhiyan
I love Open Learning. I like that it's on a schedule. This tells me very clearly how many tasks I haven't completed. -- Yao Jingyu Lisa
I like its convenience. I am very clear about the courses I want to study, the way of class, the contact information with teachers and the way of evaluation. -- Cai Zhiyan
The OpenLearning program posts events about each week's units, and I do them regularly. At the same time, I can communicate with my teachers and friends. We are also improving our writing skills by blogging. -- Eda Ceyhan
I think this online program is easy for use and also useful, and I like that I can check my progress all the time so I won't miss my progress . -- Ho Yushuan Shane
UNSW Global, owned by UNSW Sydney, offers pathway programs for international learners. Of these, the “Academic English Programs” is a key enabler for international learners to succeed at university by improving their English skills. The Foundation English Entry Course (FEEC) is a 10-week ELICOS course in which students acquire, develop and demonstrate Academic English skills. FEEC students continue into year-long Foundation courses before entering UNSW undergraduate degrees and are, therefore, a cohort with unique needs.