'English for Excellence': An innovative, comprehensive, web-based and tutor-supported programme of study in Academic English

Authors: Dimitra Koutsantoni and Mihye Harker


This paper is a presentation of 'English for Excellence' (EfE): a web-based and tutor-supported programme of study in Academic English. The EfE is a project initiative jointly funded by the University of Luton and the Higher Education European Social Fund (HE ESF) programme, under the theme of Widening Participation. The paper discusses the research base of the teaching materials, their content and presentation, followed by interim evaluation results of its beneficiary effects on learners.

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (www.llas.ac.uk/navlang), 30 June - 1 July 2004.

Background to the English for Excellence project

English for Excellence (EfE) is a project jointly funded by the University of Luton and the Higher Education European Social Fund, under the theme of Widening Participation. Its aim is to provide support to students from ethnic minority backgrounds born in the UK and increase their academic achievement and subsequent retention. EfE attempts to achieve its aims by providing an intensive, web-based, tutor-supported programme of study in Academic English. The programme has been delivered twice so far, with 41 completers, using original computer-mediated web-based materials. The materials have been formatively and summatively evaluated by the student participants, while student progress was evaluated by pre- and post-tests.

Materials development: content and syllabus

The EfE materials are based on students' learning and target needs as these have been identified through interviews and a diagnostic pre-test, and research in Genre and Discourse Analysis (e.g. Holmes, 1997; Hyland, 2002; Koutsantoni, 2004), and Composition Studies (e.g. Bizzell, 1992).

The materials follow a skills- and task-based syllabus based on the academic writing skills that the students need to develop, and the types of task involved in university study. Skills are taught in the form of tutorials grouped according to focus (writing, vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening), with a suggested pathway through the materials developed in the form of 8 lessons focusing on various aspects of academic writing (e.g. references and bibliographies, academic writing style, etc) (figure 1).

Figure 1: The EfE website home page

The EfE website home page

The aims and objectives of each lesson are stated in its beginning and the tutorials comprising the lesson are listed below. These are linked dynamically to relevant parts in the lesson allowing students to either follow the lesson linearly or directly visit tutorials according to their individual needs. Each lesson finishes with a self-assessment form which students can use to reflect on the lesson and monitor their learning (see figures 2 and 3 below).

Figure 2: First page of a lesson with aims and objectives stated

First page of a lesson with aims and objectives stated

Figure 3: Self-assessment form

Self-assessment form

Materials development: presentation

The EfE website has tried to meet usability criteria, and be easy to learn and easy to use' (Preece at al., 1994). The needs and expectations of learners formed the basis for the development of usability guidance and efforts were made for the website to be seen through a learner perspective (Shield and Kukulska-Hulme, 2003; Felix, 2001). The website utilises colour, highlights, graphics, interactive exercise models, provides timely feedback, and offers communication avenues between students and tutors to facilitate learning and make it enjoyable.

Interim evaluation results: formative feedback

18 students gave formative feedback on each lesson on average. Students were asked to answer what they found most useful and least useful in each lesson.

Students' answers on the first question included:

I found most useful the characteristics of academic writing, the difference of the informal style and preferred formal style. The exercises and tuition are clear and informative'

Today I really gained insight in essay writing and the various approaches to be adopted in dealing with particular essay questions'.

Learning how to integrate in-text references. It was a very useful lesson as we did work on bibliographies and references which I always use'.

Students' answers on the second question included:

Sometimes I was not sure if the sentences were formal or informal'.

For me references is a technique that I have learned and used for over a year, so one whole lesson is too much time spent, sorry... .

How to actually structure a paragraph was a little tedious only because I'm already aware of what should be in that section. However, it may be of greater importance to another person'.

Interim evaluation results: summative evaluation questionnaires

Students evaluated the content and presentation of the materials upon completing the course. The 41 questionnaire responses indicated that 90% of students felt that the content had meet their expectations, while all of the students (100%) said that that it had taught them useful academic English skills, and that they were able to apply what they learnt on their degree courses

83% of the students found the website easy to use, and 66% thought that it worked well. 96% of the students found the instructions easy to follow, while 92% of them thought that the wording was easy to understand.

Interim evaluation results: tests

Student progress was evaluated with pre and post-tests. These comprised a Reading and Summarising Section (marked on a scale of 1-3) and a Writing section (marked on a scale of 1-6)

The average grade on the Reading and Summarising part of the pre-test was 1+, while on the Writing part it was 3. The average grades on the corresponding sections of the post -tests were 2+ and 4.

Conclusions and further directions

The interim evaluation results have shown that students found the EfE materials useful, relevant to their needs, applicable to their degree courses, easy to use, functional, and easy to understand, while students' performance on the pre and post-tests showed an improvement in their writing skills.

The feedback received has informed the redevelopment of the website, and the development of some new material, while the materials are to be tested and evaluated again twice over the summer, with two intensive deliveries of the learning programme.


Bizzell. P. (1992). Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness. Pittsburgh : University of Pittsburgh Press.

Felix, U. (2001). A multivariate analysis of students' experience of web-based learning. Australian Journal of Educational Technology 17/1, 21-36.

Holmes, R. (1997). Genre analysis and the social sciences: an investigation of the structure of research article discussion sections in three disciplines. ESP Journal 16/4, 321-337.

Hyland, K. (2002). Authority and invisibility: authorial identity in academic writing. Journal of Pragmatics 34, 1091-1112.

Koutsantoni, D. (2004). Attitude, certainty and allusions to common knowledge. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 3, 163-182.

Preece, J., Rogers , Y., Sharp, H., Benyon, D., Holland , S., & Carey, T. (1994). Human-Computer Interaction . Wokingham , UK : Addison-Wesley.

Sheild, L. and Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2003). Web-supported Language learning: what makes an engaging, effective and enjoyable language learning website? Paper presented at the Independent language Learning Conference, The Open University, 4-5 December 2003.