A Business Writing OIL (Online International Learning): A Finland/UK Case Study

A Business Writing OIL (Online International Learning): A Finland/UK Case Study

Simon Smith (Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom) and Nicole Keng (University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2017100103
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Online International Learning (OIL) helps to integrate soft skills into the academic curriculum, as well as providing students with international interaction opportunities. In this article, we evaluate the extent to which telecollaborative writing tasks between UK-based (mostly Chinese) and Finnish students over an online platform can benefit academic writing learning experience and contribute to curriculum and materials design in EAP. In the article, there are two groups of learners from different geographical contexts, Finland and the UK. The Finland-based students are almost all Finnish, while those studying in the UK are mostly from China. In both cases, the target language is English. The students in Finland worked in pairs to create authentic case study materials, and the students in the UK, in what we characterize as “stimulus writing”, produced reports based on the case studies they had been given.
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At the university level in the Nordic countries, the emphasis in English teaching is increasingly on academic skills. Although many university students are fluent and proficient users of English, their level of English is not as strong on the academic register as might be expected (Henriksen & Danelund, 2015). Previous studies have shown that Finnish students appear to be critical and analytical in writing rather than in speaking, and they are generally good at providing detailed feedback to peers in writing (Keng, 2016). The main aim of the academic writing course in Finnish universities (such as the University of Vaasa, one of the partners in this project) has been to assist students in writing their thesis by providing feedback from the teachers instead of training students how to create, adapt and fine-tune their own texts. As Keng (2016) pointed out, the need for academic writing courses is recognized by students, but the skills required are rarely specified and typical writing tasks assigned are not always popular.

UK universities accepting large numbers of international students (such as the first author’s, Coventry University) face different challenges. For example, the standard of English proficiency is often so low that it is difficult to devise academic writing tasks based on authentic discipline materials that students find manageable, so one is sometimes obliged to resort to simplified resources including readings from textbooks. This state of affairs led the authors to devise a case study and report writing task which offered a semi-authentic task in which students from both types of institution could be involved. Because the two cohorts were geographically distant from each other, an Online International Learning approach was decided upon.

Online International Learning (OIL) has been advocated at Coventry University as a form of “virtual mobility” (O’Brien, 2017; Orsini-Jones & Lee, 2018) to embed soft skills into the academic curriculum and provide students and staff with an opportunity to interact with their counterparts internationally. This pilot study suggests that telecollaborative writing tasks between the UK and Finnish students may benefit both cohorts’ learning experience in academic writing, support their writing process and contribute to EAP curriculum design.

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