Content-based strategic reading instruction within a distributed learning environment
Research conducted in South Africa indicates that many South African students who register for undergraduate study each year are under-prepared for university education and that many of these English Second Language students also have low levels of reading ability. This has an adverse effect on their chances of academic success. These students very often become part of the "revolving door syndrome". In order to meet the reading needs of students in the 21" century, educators are pressed to develop effective instructional means for teaching strategic reading at tertiary level. In order to help students acquire the strategic reading abilities deemed necessary for a successful academic experience, the Department of English at Potchefstroom University implemented a content-based strategic reading module. This module was offered to students via Varsite (technology-enhanced aspect of the module); a learning content management system developed at Potchefstroom University. This system provides an integrated environment for developing, managing and delivering learning content. The purpose of this study was to: discuss the structure and format of the content-based strategic reading module as developed and implemented for delivery within a distributed learning environment; determine what the reading comprehension and reading strategy use profile of first-year students at Potchefstroom University looks like; determine whether the students in the experimental group, who completed the strategic reading component of the English for Professional Purposes course in a technology-enhanced environment, attained statistically as well as practically significantly higher mean scores on their end-of-semester English, Communication Studies, and TOEFL reading comprehension tests, than did the students in the control group, who were not exposed to the technology-enhanced environment; determine whether the students in the experimental group differed statistically as well as practically significantly from the students in the control group in terms of their reading strategy use; determine the scope of the reading problem among the first-year students participating in this study; identify the strengths and weaknesses in the reading assessment profiles of one efficient and one inefficient student; make recommendations in terms of the reading support needed by these students; identify the factors that can affect first-year English Second Language (ESL) students' acceptance and use of the technology-enhanced component of a strategic reading module offered via mixed mode delivery; determine which factors can be considered as statistically significant predictors of technology acceptance and use by first-year ESL students; and discuss the implications of the above-mentioned results for the designing of technology-enhanced courses as well as the support that should be given to ESL learners who must use the technology. In this study a combined qualitative and quantitative research method was used. A Dominant-Less Dominant design was used. The qualitative research approach was consistent with naturalistic case study methodology. For the quantitative research component a quasi-experimental non-randomised pre-test post-test control group design was used. The participants in this study included the entire population of one hundred and thirty-one students taking the English for Professional Purposes module. The students included speakers of Afrikaans and Setswana. These students majored in Communication Studies and Psychology. Ten paper-and-pencil instruments were used in this study. In addition to the paper-and- pencil instruments, various qualitative data collection methods were also used, namely semi-structured interviews, e-mail messages, informal conversations and the researcher's field notes. The data were analysed by means of descriptive (i.e., means, standard deviations) as well as multivariate statistics (i.e., Pearson product moment correlations; t-tests; factor analyses; and stepwise multiple regression). The results of the study can be summarised as follows: The strategic reading module of the English for Professional Purposes course was designed for mixed mode delivery. The structure and format of the strategic reading module consisted of an interactive study guide, contact sessions, and Varsite (i.e., a learning content management system). The results indicated that the students who received strategic reading instruction in the technology-enhanced environment received both statistically and practically significantly higher marks on three reading comprehension measures than did the students in the control group. This was true for successful students, as well as for those considered to be at-risk. The post-test results indicated that the students in the experimental group used certain strategies statistically (p<0.05), as well as practically significantly (small to large effect sizes), more often than the students in the control group. An analysis of the reading assessment profiles of the students participating in this study indicated that they experienced problems across all aspects of the reading components assessed (vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension and reading strategies). An analysis of the successful student's reading assessment profile indicated that his/her profile was far flatter than that of the at-risk student; the successful student had far fewer ups and downs in his/her profile than the at-risk student (i.e., the majority of the successful student's mean reading assessment scores were scattered around or above the norm/guidelines for first-year students). The results of an exploratory factor analysis indicated that computer self-efficacy, ease of use, enjoyment, outcome expectations, usefulness, and quality of resources were major factors affecting ESL students' acceptance and use of the technology-enhanced component of a strategic reading module. In addition, the results of the multiple regression analysis indicated that approximately 71% of the total variance of Varsite acceptance and use was explained by computer self-efficacy, ease of use, enjoyment, and outcome expectations. Usefulness and the quality of the resources also contributed to the total variance, but the contribution was not statistically significant.
- Humanities