The present paper outlines the requirements modern employers specify for the professionals, describes the necessity to apply problem based learning (PBL) in teaching foreign languages, states the notion of PBL and activities which are used to implement it in educational process. It also focuses on the steps of PBL including the roles of students and teachers as well. The activity WebQuest is presented as being a rather efficient one in developing language skills for the students of technical educational institutions being non-professionals in foreign languages to become a part of the world-wide community.
Key words: teaching foreign languages, technical students, problem based learning (PBL); WebQuest.
21st century labour market is characterized by the demanding situation which requires modern professionals to obtain a wide scope of knowledge including high level of English being the major factor contributing to fast career development due to great opportunities to become a part of the world-wide community. Knowledge of English is essential in regard to further training abroad while nowadays there are a lot of professional training courses held for foreigners; contacting with foreign partners as English is considered to be the international language helpful in the situations when employees do not speak the language of the country which they have the business partners from; professional development in case of participating in scientific conferences usually having English speaking sections, even travelling opportunities.
Consequently, modern universities must educate the professionals whose knowledge of English will develop into life-long language skills enabling them to use all the opportunities of professional development. To make it possible educational institutions need to develop a continuous English learning program which includes an integrated in-class and out-of-class language activities system that helps nurture students language skills .
During the process of developing the mentioned program teachers can face various problems. Such as low level of education provided by schools, a small and constantly reducing number of classroom hours given for the discipline under discussion, teachers’ drill-and-practice approach, low motivation of students, etc.
Unfortunately, the level of knowledge obtained by students in Russian schools is rather low in regard to the subject “English language”. And the situation is worsening from year to year. It is partially due to the fact that it is required in Russian schools to base teaching process on the school books created by Russian teachers, which results in low motivation to learning the subject by students and teaching the subject by teachers while the material is not authentic, books are dull, the tasks are not structured properly.
Due to the requirements by authorities teachers have to apply drill-and-practice approach in their job as there are not enough lessons and, as a result, no opportunities to master the right amount of material and develop proper skills.
Students of non-linguistic specialties obtain low motivation in learning English because of Russian mentality built upon several reasons including the iron curtain, which caused lack of stimulus for several years, great difference between Russian and English languages making the latter rather difficult to study, heavy workload concerning students’ major subjects at educational institutions, etc.
One more problem for many English teachers is how to encourage genuine interest among students to continue to learn and use the English language once the examinations are over. It goes here about increasing students’ motivation being a rather complicated task due to the fact that the discipline is not considered to be the major one in the syllabus.
Thus, to cope with all these problems and make it possible to sustain students’ interest in the language learning process and to motivate students to learn and appreciate the language, teachers are to find practical ways to make the educational process diverse and challenging by means of applying creative and innovative teaching techniques.
Such techniques can be represented by the problem-based activities, e.g. project work, case study, the silent video (students must view the video, interpret what is going on, and then find language to support what is being shown visually), designing a website, creating a video, etc.
Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method that makes students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge . In problem-based learning courses, students work in teams and solve complex and authentic problems that help develop content knowledge as well as problem-solving, reasoning, communication, and self-assessment skills . In other words, the main concept of PBL is that problem situations:
- arise interest to the subject and desire to find a proper solution while the basis of such tasks is the problem in the scope of students’ professional or social interests;
- make students analyze the stated problem distinguishing its known and unknown factors;
- make students make assumptions in regard to problem solving;
- make students prove the validity of assumptions.
Student’s interest is raised when they work on a task motivated by their own concernment, challenges, or sense of satisfaction, i.e. when the problem to be solved is an engaging one, the one which provides students with the proximal and tangible goal of applying their knowledge to solve a concrete problem, when the learners are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying.
There are 4 problem based learning steps illustrated in Table 1, which also contains guidelines to address the questions connected with teacher’s roles in this process [4,5].
PBL steps; teachers’ and students’ roles
· Creating a problem situation which contains a set of challenging moments preventing learners from the fast solution finding. The problem must be rather difficult but doable;
· Introducing students to the problem (ensuring it is clear for them);
· Introducing the vocabulary related to the problem (usually based on the material connected with the topic in a syllabus).
· Being introduced to the problem;
· Emphasizing the existence of several solutions and the necessity of choosing the best one providing sound reasoning;
· Giving students access to resources for searching information needed, e.g. Internet, books, magazines, etc.
· Grouping students, preferably in groups with different language backgrounds and proficiency levels.
· Exploring what they do and do not know about the problem (students analyze the knowledge they have on the issue under discussion, strive for getting more information with the purpose to find solutions and prove them with reason);
· Arranging teams and distributing responsibilities.
· Assisting and consulting students; work if it is required;
· Observing students’ participation in the activity, on the language used in the process, pronunciation and grammar,
· Preparing feedback on the mentioned factors.
· Generating possible solutions to the problem;
· Exploring the resources with the aim of finding information for reasoning.
· Encouraging students to present and share the results of their work;
· Organizing follow-up activities providing feedback on students’ work during the whole process of activity fulfillment;
· Assessing students’ participation and success in the activity.
· Considering the consequences of each solution and selecting the most viable one;
· Presenting the results of the activity.
Thus, we can state that teachers play a very important role in arising students’ interest to studying while their major task is to provide pedagogical background of the learning process and they are responsible for making educational process vivid, interesting and challengeable.
One example of problem based learning we would like to describe in greater detail is a WebQuest being an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. This teaching technique is rather old. The model was developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995 and since then tens of thousands of teachers have embraced WebQuests as a way to make good use of the Internet while engaging their students in the kinds of thinking that the 21st century requires. The model has spread around the world, with special enthusiasm in Brazil, Spain, China, Australia and Holland . Nowadays, it is being widely applied in Russia as well.
A WebQuest is distinguished from other Internet-based research by the following characteristics:
- it is a classroom-based activity;
- the teacher preselects the sources, emphasizing information use rather than information gathering;
- most WebQuests are group work with the task frequently being split into roles .
This makes WebQuest a convenient resource to be implemented in the process if education while it enables teacher base it on the requirements of the syllabus, material being studied, individual peculiarities of students and assist learners’ development rather that control it.
In addition, WebQuest has a number of benefits in regard to the skills required for the future specialists who will:
- need to be able to work in teams;
- move through several careers in the course of a lifetime;
- face more and more complex societal problems (and will need the skills to solve them fast and properly);
- work with the amount of information which will come directly from a growing number of sources without filtering or verification.
To make a conclusion we can say that tomorrow's workers and citizens will need to be able to struggle with ambiguity. They will need to commit themselves to a lifelong process of learning, honoring multiple perspectives and evaluating information before acting on it. Tomorrow's workers and citizens are sitting in our classrooms today and using WebQuests in our classrooms can help build a solid foundation that prepares them for the future .
1. Supyan Hussin, Nooreiny Maarof, and J. V. D'Cruz Sustaining an Interest in Learning English and Increasing the Motivation to Learn English: An Enrichment Program // The Millennium MICELT 2000, 3rd Malaysia International Conference for English Language Teaching, 15–17 May 2000, Melaka
2. Official site of the Buck Institute for Education URL: http://bie.org/about/what_pbl
3. Problem-Based Learning, Stanford university newsletter on teaching, Winter 2001 Vol.11, No. 1 URL: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/cgi-bin/docs/newsletter/problem_based_learning.pdf
4. Gorbatova T. N., Kudryashova A. V., Pybushkina S. V. Utilizing problem based learning technique in teaching foreign languages to technical students / Molodoy ucheniy — 2015. — Volume 8
5. Julie Mathews-Aydinli, Problem-Based Learning and Adult English Language Learners, Official site of Center for Adult English Learning Acquisition, April 2007 URL: http://www.cal.org/adultesl/pdfs/problem-based-learning-and-adult-english-language-learners.pdf
6. Official site URL: http://webquest.org/
7. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebQuest
8. Official site of Educational Broadcasting Corporation URL: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/webquests/index_sub1.html