2 Introducing the course
3.1 Learning Units
3.3 Suggestions for method of study
3.4 Download facility
3.5 Audio data
3.5.1 Implementation of audio data
3.6 Additional material
4 Communication tools
5 Lesson content
6.1 Didactical issues
6.2.1 Visual design
7.1 Personal experiences with the course
8.1 Internet Sources
This paper aims at giving an evaluation of the "Camu at y Gymraeg" Welsh learning site, an online course in the Welsh language offered by the University of Wales, Lampeter.
Although it is a relatively new player on the field of education, e-learning is seen by some as the solution to all problems faced by universities today and by others as the end of decent education itself.
While a number of e-learning projects have been established so far and some amount of study has been conducted as to the optimisation of e-learning, few projects are being evaluated for their use, despite the fact that they quite often claim substantial budgets for their funding.
This paper will examine the functionalities offered by the "Camu" course and in turn discuss their implementation and design, offering possible suggestions for improvement. A focus will be on the tools for communication, as this area is crucial for learner motivation and achievement.
2 Introducing the course
The course "Camu at y Gymraeg"1is one of a variety of online courses, ranging from language over literature to history classes currently offered by the University of Wales, Lampeter. To date, it is the only university accredited online course for the Welsh language, earning the learner (upon passing the final examination) 40 credit points, 360 of which constitute a Lampeter University degree. To earn the first 20 credit points, learners have to complete a number of exercises and return them for assessment. For the remaining 20 credits, a written and oral examination has to be passed.
There is a short statement on their e-learning courses, offered by the university of Lampeter, in which their expectations are stated as well as the answers to some common questions.2
The course itself is password protected and requires registration with the university of Lampeter. To register, the prospective student has to print out and complete an extensive form that is then to be mailed to the university. No facility of online registration is provided, as the form has to bear a handwritten signature. As the course is conducted completely online, registration is not tied to any schedules and is possible at any time of the year.
The Course fees range from £49 per 10 credits for European students to £305 for non-Europeans, a fee waiver scheme is available for students meeting certain qualifications (e.g. already student of other European university).
The suggested amount of work for the course is at least 3-4 hours per week, ideally an hour every day, with a maximum of ten years time to complete the course, of which no more than four are to be spent on the first part.
It is admitted that the course is not an easy one, requiring determination to complete the modules, but in the end rewarding the user with credits towards his university degree. According to the introductory statement, the course is intended for absolute beginners, but it is suggested that students attend the Welsh language courses held at Lampeter to practise communicating in Welsh, deal with problematic areas of the course and to exchange ideas.
As is stated, the course is an adaptation of a traditional course designed for small groups of learners working together with a teacher. In order to replace the interactive element lost in a single-learner situation, it is suggested that the user read aloud the unit contents repetitively. The course is designed to be self- propelled but students are assigned a tutor who marks their assignments and offers general assistance with the course. As there is no time frame to be adhered to, there is no homogeneous group of learners, but a number of individual students at different stages of the course. This has direct implications for communication and interaction between students.
The language taught in the course, although this is not stated explicitly anywhere, is a Southern dialect of spoken colloquial Welsh3with explanations as to the written standard.
In this chapter, the main features of the course will be presented, along with a brief discussion of their content.
3.1 Learning Units
The 16 units constitute the core part of the course. They are separated into two parts, each containing eight units and awarding 10 credit points upon completion. To facilitate navigation, an overview of the units is given, stating their main topics both in English and Welsh.
They are to be worked through progressively as each is based upon the vocabulary and grammar already introduced. They are progressively complex, presenting more complex topics after the basics have been established.
Each unit is given in the form of one single document. They generally consist of some new items of grammar, a number of new vocabulary grouped according to their word class, followed by drill and practise exercises. These take the form of tables from which the learner is to construct and practice sentences. They may be followed by a piece of dialogue also available as an audio document including a transcription but no translation. The last point of each unit are the exercises that are to be completed and returned to the tutor for assessment. The exercises come in the form of translation practice, composition of free text passages or cloze4 practise. Both English and Welsh are used throughout the units, with an increasing amount of instructions being presented in Welsh.
Notable is the absence of any reference grammar part, also, no complete list or index to unit contents exists, thus forcing the learner to manually search the units for any specific information. Internal hyperlinking between the units is limited to a few instances where reference is made to previously introduced points of grammar.
The presentation of unit contents is often rather brief, offering little explanation in the way of grammar, items are often presented without further explanation. This may well be a relic from the paper stage of the course as this might easily be supplemented by some (necessary) remarks from a teacher.
The main tool offered for the learners of the "Camu" course, but also available to non-registered users, is an online dictionary5.
To search for an item, the user enters the term he wishes to search for into a field on the page, selects the language to be searched and whether he has entered the whole term, the beginning or the end of a word or part of a phrase. After submitting his input the result of the search is returned from the database. To conduct a new search, the user has to return to the previous page and repeat the process, despite the fact that the actual control elements take up only very little space, making the search and results pages easily combinable for ease of navigation.
Although there are problematic aspects of the design of the dictionary interface, there are a number of very useful features as well. It incorporates features not available in a traditional dictionary, i.e. multimedia support and hyperlinking. Some items are presented along with a sound icon linking to a recording of the expression in spoken form, and a number of items (e.g. most prepositions) are linked to short articles explaining grammatical features. Regrettably, there is no index to these pieces of grammatical information and no other way of reaching then than to search for a word that is explained by them.
A list of previously searched terms is kept, allowing the user simplified access to frequently searched items, although even searches are retained that did not yield any results (e.g. due to misspellings or wrong language selection) thus possibly decreasing the usefulness of this feature.
The dictionary lacks any phonetic transcriptions for its items, offering little help on the pronunciation of those words that are not accompanied by a sound clip. The reaction speed is generally quite high, with few searches taking longer than a second to process, overall making it a worthwhile complement for a paper dictionary, but not a substitute.
1[INT 1] Camu at y Gymraeg.
2[INT 2] Frequently asked questions - Open and Distance Learning.
3King, Gareth. 1993. Modern Welsh - A comprehensive Grammar. New York: Routledge. pp.3.
4i.e. "fill-in-the-blanks" exercises
5[INT 3] Geiriadur ar-lein.