A Sociocultural Approach to Developing Online Drill and Practice TOEIC Preparation Materials for EFL Programs

A Sociocultural Approach to Developing Online Drill and Practice TOEIC Preparation Materials for EFL Programs

Ibrahim Farouck
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5876-9.ch005
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A challenging task for EFL programs at Japanese universities is how to select appropriate TOEIC preparation materials for students. The materials selected must be capable of aiding students in developing English skills that will enable them to compete and participate in the global economy more effectively after graduation. Students' academic and social background knowledge have been shown to improve content relevance and learning. However, many commercial drill-and-practice TOEIC preparation materials that are available on the market do not adequately incorporate such background knowledge. This chapter shows how a team of faculty members worked as a community of practice to provide in-house TOEIC preparation materials that also incorporated students' essential background knowledge. An operational test with more than 1400 first year students was conducted, and the results showed that their TOEIC scores statistically outperformed the scores of other students who only had access to commercial TOEIC preparation materials.
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A lack of adequate English ability and intercultural communication skills has been found to be a fundamental impediment to Japanese internationalization. To improve this situation, TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) was introduced for companies and universities in Japan in 1979 (Rebuck, 2003). Since that time, TOEIC scores have been used as authentic proof of English ability among institutions and major companies in Japan. This development has turned TOEIC study into an integral part of Japanese English education, and has pushed many universities to invest in TOEIC preparation materials to support their students. Consequently, many commercial TOEIC preparation materials developed both in Japan and abroad have been flooding the Japanese market. These materials come in two main forms. These are textbooks and online drill-and-practice (henceforth d-and-p) learning systems. Some universities have gone to the extent of establishing Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) classrooms for self-study TOEIC preparation. Others have enabled learning outside their campus walls via the use of the Internet, to further expose students to learning opportunities, and to allow them to interact with their instructors and peers irrespective of time and space to achieve their learning goals.

However, despite the rich array of commercial TOEIC preparation materials available, many universities and institutions find it very challenging, if not almost impossible, to select appropriate TOEIC preparation materials for their students. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of agreed Standard English for international communication which has resulted in the availability of many English learning materials that mostly reflect Western or “English” culture. Thus, some of these materials do not consider the target students’ English levels, academic and cultural background (Howard & Major, 2005), or are basically created by professionals who do not understand the fundamental problems of English learning in particular EFL/ESL countries (Reeder et al., 2004). A lack of background knowledge in second language learning materials prevents adequate comprehension and retention, both of which have been found to improve schema (Long, 1990 and Shibata, 2005). Additionally, as Iimura (2010) noted, such deficiencies lead to difficulty in listening practice that can easily lead students to guess work during TOEIC preparation. This situation usually arises because of an abundance of unknown words, which students do not have the opportunity to use in their daily lives. Therefore, some educators spend time and money finding, selecting and evaluating materials, while others simply adopt what other institutions are using without appropriately evaluating them to find out if such materials are suitable for their specific context.

This chapter will show how a team of English faculty members have worked as a community of practice to provide in-house TOEIC preparation materials (or in-house materials) that took into consideration students’ background knowledge in order to make the content more relevant and motivate students’ learning. Additionally, this chapter will show how the in-house materials have improved the TOEIC scores of students when compared with the scores of students in other cohorts and when compared to national scores. The remaining portion of this chapter will discuss the motivation for this study, the in-house materials development framework, the experiment and the results. Finally, the author will discuss the findings, followed by the conclusions.

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