EFL students in a Tech communication course

Subject: EFL students in a Tech communication course
From: "lcjohn -at- usthk -dot- ust -dot- hk" <LCJOHN -at- USTHK -dot- UST -dot- HK>
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1993 09:22:53 HKT

I'm looking for practical suggestions from people with experience of this
type: I coordinate and teach a Technical Communication course to science and
engineering students in a Hong Kong institution where the medium of
instruction is, nominally, English, but whose students' language skills are
very weak. I am faced with several challenges:

- the course is given three hours a week for one semester, not enough
time to make much of an impression on their language skills;

- the course is given to 4 of the 11 departments of science and
engineering: where I have been able to get elucidation, each department
(for that matter, each professor in these departments) wants the course
to do something different, and often contradictory or impossible, such
as teach grammar, make them fluent writers, give them career skills
etc.; I don't have the time to design and coordinate 4 different
courses, so I try to develop core materials and gather whatever
authentic materials I can relevant to the different disciplines;

- the course was accepted by the 4 departments because we made the
description match accreditation requirements, which give no allowance
for the special needs of EFL students;

- most of the language instructors on the course are themselves not
native speakers and do not have much experience in technical
communication (neither in report writing, presentation, or much else
that would normally be taught in this type of course); I must make the
course as teachable as possible for these instructors;

- the language centre in which I teach is under constant scrutiny to
justify itself, in terms of measured improvement of students' language
skills and the hours we spend at the chalkface: ideally, I'd like to be
able to set learning objectives that can be met;

- none of the commercial texts I have seen come close to dealing with
the special needs of these students (for that matter, their needs are
very difficult to determine, as it is almost impossible to find out
what they will be doing on graduation and what their job requirements
will be (for one thing, they don't stay in one job long enough, also
students from the different departments are in different years and
semesters of their study (2nd and 3rd year) and their academic/
occupational needs are not the same;

- the students are burdened by round-the-clock assignments from their
major courses and have very little time to do out of class assignments
for this course;

- I tried last year to have students write about and present the
projects they are undertaking in their major courses: this didn't
work - few students were working on projects; when students chose
simulated projects, they flimflammed their way through these without
ever dealing with real world problems.

Well, that's part of the situation. Any suggested work arounds?


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