Steps to developing effective online research skills in your students


Introduction

Rather than being an emergency stopgap, remote teaching has been an excellent way to help learners develop effective qualitative research skills online. This article provides a brief step-by-step guide as to how I adapted an EAP course lesson on designing questionnaires successfully for online learning with the wider implication being that virtual platforms such as Teams may offer both educators and learners a unique space for online communication, collaboration, and data collection in which learning can take place beyond the confines of the traditional language classroom.

Background to the course

ALPS is an EAP course for third to fourth-year students in which students undertake a research project related to the theme of their choice (Boon, 2020a). The project involves students collecting primary and secondary data, presenting on their findings, and writing up and submitting a short research paper at the end of the semester. In the academic year 2020 to 2021, due to the pandemic, I had to make a sudden shift to teaching the course using Microsoft Teams.


What is Microsoft Teams?

Microsoft Teams for Education is an online application in which a virtual classroom environment can be established. Teachers can create classes, add content, upload worksheets, create, set, and give feedback on assignments, and communicate with learners via text chat or audio, video and screen sharing. For more information, YouTube has many introductory videos on getting started with Microsoft Teams (e.g. https://youtu.be/-C__glsFh7k). From April 2020, my institution informed all teachers they would be using Teams for online teaching. An institutional account was created and students and teachers were added to the application by the media center. I created Teams for all of my classes (See Figure 1) and added members via student identification numbers. I then created separate channels within my Teams for each of the allocated lessons (See Figure 2).


Figure 1: Team for 3rd year EAP course and class avatar:



Figure 2: Individual lesson channels for first semester classes:



Steps in an online lesson about research skills

Step 1: I began the lesson with a “good morning” post in which students wrote their names in romaji (All student names are set to kanji by the institute and it is not possible to change this setting). Then, I had a record of attendance. In this example, I could also check whether students had a copy of the EAP coursebook (Figure 3).


Figure 3: First post in the Lesson 2 channel



Step 2: In the next post in the lesson channel, students were guided to a mind-map example in their coursebook (Boon, 2020b) regarding facilities at their university. They were then encouraged to list many facilities by replying to the post (e.g. cafeteria, library, gym, English lounge).


Step 3: Students read a list of question types that can be used in questionnaire research and then matched the question types to an example questionnaire about a university library. When completed, students posted their answers by replying to the post. For further information about this particular task, please refer to the explanation video - https://halico.jp/research-and-write.


Step 4: After checking answers, students were instructed to evaluate the question types in terms of yielding quality data for primary research (Figure 4):


Figure 4: Task instructions


The task generated insightful comments from the students about the pluses and minuses of using the various question types in research.


Step 5: Instead of doing paper questionnaires in the regular classroom, students were directed to SurveyMonkey (https://jp.surveymonkey.com) and instructed to make a questionnaire based on one of the facilities they had listed in Step 2. To scaffold this task, I provided a how-to video of how to create questionnaires using SurveyMonkey for students to watch based on an example survey I had created using the software (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MG9Z3NQ).


Step 6: Each student created a questionnaire using SurveyMonkey and then posted a link to it by replying to the post. Students then spent the remainder of the class time clicking on their classmates’ links and answering their questionnaires.


Step 7: Finally, students were assigned a homework task to analyse the results they had received to their questionnaires and write up their research in the form of a short paragraph. As an example, students were signposted to an example paragraph related to the library questionnaire in the coursebook (Figure 5)


Figure 5: Homework assigned via Teams assignment function



Conclusion

This article has illustrated the ways in which I adapted a regular face-to-face lesson on the EAP course at the university where I work so that it could be taught via Microsoft Teams. Virtual learning platforms such as Teams offer educators and learners versatile tools for remote teaching and learning. It is hoped that this brief snapshot of my Teams lesson on questionnaires has sparked ideas and inspirations for you of how to adapt material for online teaching and how to develop online research skills that learners will need and can make use of beyond the pandemic.


References

Boon, A. 2020a. Equipping students with basic qualitative research skills. Modern English Teacher 29 (1): 20-23.

Boon, A. 2020b. Research & write. Tokyo: Halico. Photo credits (Display cover image: Unsplash, other images courtesy Andrew Boon)



Biography

Andrew Boon is a professor in the faculty of Global Communications at Toyo Gakuen University, Tokyo, Japan. He has been teaching in Japan for over 20 years and holds a PhD from Aston University. He has presented at numerous conferences, written coursebooks and graded readers, and has published articles on teacher development, motivation, and methodology.


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