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Developing a Set of Competencies for Teachers of English in Engineering Colleges

*G. Venkatraman, Senior Lecturer in English, SASTRA University, Thanjavur 613 402, India

Dr.P.Prema, Professor and Head, Department of Education, Alagappa University, Karaikudi 630 003, India

*Corresponding author

Printing version

Abstract: Experts in English for Science and Technology (EST) argue that the EST teachers face many difficulties in transacting the curriculum because of their lack of exposure to science and technology. In addition to the normal functions of classroom teachers, they have to deal with needs analysis, syllabus design, materials writing or adaptation and evaluation. The study presents a competency framework for the teachers of English in Engineering Colleges, especially in the Indian contexts. The framework will serve as a basis for training the teachers in order that they can teach the specialized subject with ease and competence.

Key words: English for Science and Technology; Teacher competency

1. INTRODUCTION

The teaching of English for scientific, technological, and technical purposes as a specialized activity, is now emerging as one of the most important and rapidly expanding branches of Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) / Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL) (Ewer, 1976). It has assumed greater significance in the globalized context. Richards (1975), has said that Industrialization and technological innovation are a major aspect of national development in many countries in Southeast Asia today, and educators are increasingly faced with the problem of how English teaching programmes can most effectively meet the challenge created by these changes. This has meant not only the planning of new courses and the preparation of materials suited to the particular language requirements of those engaged in Science and Technology, but also a re-examination of English Language Teaching at all levels to ensure that language teaching objectives meet the demands of the society.

Considerable difficulties are experienced in putting these programmes into effective operation on the scale required - difficulties, which are likely to increase rather than diminish in the immediate future. According to Ewer, the crucial reason for this situation is the almost total lack of teachers trained to undertake the work. A majority of teacher training institutions neglect to provide the special training imperative to the teachers teaching English for Science and Technology (EST). Interestingly, they probably do not as yet recognize that such a need exists. Julian (1994) opines that EST teaching is a clearly identifiable mission, making interesting demands on TEFL/TESL professionals, as more and more demanding clients are encountered.

The recent boom in the Engineering education in India has led to acute issues and concerns for the Engineering colleges. They struggle to hire adequately qualified faculty. According to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), approximately 440,000 students were enrolled in Engineering degree programmes in 2004-05 in the country. Studies conducted by industries report that there is a mismatch between the skills students are graduating with and the skills required by the industries. The number of workers required by the IT Industries and Business Process Outsourcing Industries will increase from 700,000 to 2.3 million between 2005 and 2010. The worker deficit will not be for lack of graduates, for multinational companies consider only one in four Engineering graduates employable. The remainder is thought to be lacking technical skills, English competency, communication and presentation skills and the ability to work as part of a team.

In this context, the English teachers of Engineering colleges have a very crucial role to play. Besides teaching English as a subject for comprehension and expression, they have to act as facilitators in shaping the communication skills and personality traits of the Engineering students.

The English teachers appointed in Engineering colleges in India, especially in the State of Tamil Nadu are Masters Degree holders in English Language and Literature with more of literature component than language and language teaching components. Further, there are no formal In-service training programmes designed and conducted to promote the competency levels of these teachers.

2. NEED FOR THE STUDY

A review of related literature shows that the area English Education in Engineering Colleges has plenty of scope for development. We need to place more emphasis on the training and development of English language teachers in Engineering colleges in India. There is a wide gap between the existing system of language teaching and the desired language skills of the students of Engineering and Technology. The students of Engineering and Technology need better language skills to understand their subjects and for their greater employability. Due to expansion of technological education in developed and developing countries, experts calls for intense research into English for Science and Technology.

In spite of the urgent need, there are but a few researches on English Language Teaching in Engineering colleges in India. So is the case regarding studies in Competency Development for English Teachers of Engineering Colleges.

Hence the investigator of this study has attempted to identify a set of competencies required of the English teachers in Engineering colleges.

3. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

This study is important because it is probably the first of its kind in English Language Teaching in Engineering colleges in the country, dealing with the competency requirements of the English teachers. The findings of the study provide useful and practical information to the Technical Universities and to the AICTE to improve the competencies of the English teachers.

The study reveals that the teachers of English in Engineering colleges require a special set of competencies, over and above that of the teachers of general English. It is hoped that with their proficiency in the set of competencies identified by the study, they will be able to function more efficiently in their teaching assignments. With their functioning with greater awareness of their special requirements, the overall competency of the learners is likely to improve, resulting in a better English teaching-learning ambience in Engineering colleges.

4. SCOPE OF THE STUDY

The study is confined to the teachers of English and Students in Engineering colleges in the State of Tamil Nadu and ELT/EST experts.

5. OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

To identify the competencies required of the teachers of English in Engineering Colleges in Tamil Nadu.

To validate the identified set of competencies with the opinions of practising Teachers, and ELT/EST Experts.

To suggest appropriate measures to develop and implement In-service/Pre-service training programmes to the EST teachers based on the competencies identified.

6. METHODOLOGY AND INSTRUMENTS FOR DATA COLLECTION

Since the investigator is from a Humanities area seeking to identify competencies required of English teachers of Engineering institutions, his approach is empirical. Empirical approaches rely more on observation, enquiry, generalization, validation, repetition, objective analysis etc.

As the present study is exploratory by nature, survey technique and content analysis were adopted. The study followed an eclectic combination of quantitative and qualitative research approaches in line with the observation of Best and Khan (1996) that implementing qualitative method with quantitative approach could strengthen an investigation.

A sample of 150 practising EST teachers from as many as 83 Engineering colleges spread over the State of Tamil Nadu was selected through Cluster Sampling Technique.

6.1. Content Analysis

A content analysis was made on available literature in order to evolve a set of competencies for the teachers English in Engineering colleges. An analysis of the B.E./B.Tech., syllabus and the prescribed English Text Book of Anna University, Chennai was also made. Informal interactions and interviews were conducted with the teachers of Engineering colleges. By all these and based on the experience of the investigator in teaching English in Engineering colleges for nearly two decades, a set of competencies were evolved which were collated to arrive at a final list.

A questionnaire consisting of 73 competencies thus identified was sent to the teachers for their response.

6.2. Needs Analysis Questionnaire to Students

The investigator developed a Needs Analysis Questionnaire to the students of Engineering, consisting of ten items to identify their English language needs. The questionnaire also contained five other close-ended questions pertaining to the competency requirement of the EST teachers. The questionnaire was content validated by Dr. P.Prema and Dr. B.Krishnamurthy.

The survey was conducted on 254 B.Tech., degree students of different branches. The students responses to this tool not only revealed their English language needs but also confirmed that the EST teachers require a special set of competencies.

6.3. Faculty Questionnaire

To test whether the competencies are functional, a Pilot Study was conducted with 20 English teachers of 6 Engineering colleges from Thanjavur, Trichy, Pudukkotai and Thiruvarur Districts.

Based on the outcome of the pilot study, a new Faculty Questionnaire was constructed and content validated by Dr.P.Prema, and Dr.P.Ramani. The questionnaire containing 73 competencies, grouped under various domains with three-point rating scale was administrated to the teachers. There were nine other close-ended and open-ended questions very relevant to the study.

325 copies of the finalized questionnaire were sent to the English teachers of Engineering colleges in the State. Out of the 162 responses received, 150 responses were taken for consideration after discarding the incomplete ones. The respondents were teachers of English working in Engineering colleges in the State of Tamil Nadu with experience ranging from 4 years to 31 years. They are working in Govt./Govt.Aided/Self-financing colleges, all affiliated to Anna University, Chennai.

6.4. Teaching Observation

In order to further validate the competencies identified, ongoing teaching of the English teachers of Engineering colleges were observed by the investigator. 20 teachers were observed from 9 Engineering colleges from Thanjavur, Trichy, Pudukkottai, Thiruvarur, Nagapatinam and Chennai districts.

Teaching was observed for the entire duration of a class in order to ascertain whether the teachers in the actual classroom situation display/demonstrate the competencies identified by the study and whether the competencies are observable.

6.5. Interview Guide

An Interview Guide for the purpose of interviewing the ELT/EST experts was developed. The interview guide was subjected to content validation by two experts - Dr. P.Prema and Dr. S.Senthilnathan. The schedule consisted of seven items.

The findings of the interviews helped the investigator in cross validating the identified set of competencies.

Thus, a multi-linear approach has been adopted by the investigator for the research problem.

ANALYSIS OF DATA

The data obtained through the Faculty Questionnaire and the Students Needs Analysis Questionnaire was subjected to Percentage Analysis, Factor Analysis and t Test techniques.

8. MAJOR FINDINGS

A SET OF COMPETENCIES FOR TEACHERS OF ENGLISH IN

ENGINEERING COLLEGES

PART - 1: GENERAL COMPETENCIES

The EST teacher

1

understands and familiarizes the learners with different rhetorical functions of Scientific English like description, definition, and classification

2

teaches the correct use of linguistic features like the use of stative verbs, passivity, modals etc.

3

teaches the semi-scientific and semi-technical vocabulary and checks the learners understanding of the technical vocabulary

4

is able to carryout needs analysis

5

is able to design the curriculum for English for Science and Technology (EST) courses

6

is able to develop syllabus

7

is able to produce materials for learning in EST context

8

has skill in producing materials for language teaching from Science/Engineering texts

9

is able to choose appropriate methods / strategies for teaching EST like pair/peer work, role play, group discussion and so on

10

makes course evaluation

11

is competent in teaching a range of language functions of particular relevance to Engineering and Technology.

12

modifies/generates principles of EST based on his professional knowledge.

13

has the ability to understand the special linguistic features of EST like objectivity and the use of impersonal language etc.

14

uses the communicative learner-centred approach while teaching the EST material.

15

is able to design, develop and conduct need-based communication skill courses.

16

is able to conduct short-term course in Technical Communication

17

is able to use Language Laboratory to teach the suggested activities.

PART II: SUBJECT-SPECIFIC COMPETENCIES

DOMAIN 1: LISTENING SKILLS

The EST teacher makes the learners:

18

identify the purpose and scope of a lecture

19

identify the topic of the lecture and follow topic development

20

recognize the role of discourse markers

21

recognize the key lexical items related to subject/topic

22

deduce the meanings of words from context

23

recognize the function of intonation to signal information structure (for example: pitch, volume, pace)

24

listen to short and long conversations in different domains of activities like, discussing new inventions and products etc.

25

listen and take notes

DOMAIN 2: SPEAKING SKILLS

The EST teacher

26

is expected to conduct task-based activities, group work and so on to generate discussion and provide learners with practice

27

makes the learners concentrate on structuring discourse, visuals, voice and signposts as well as language, for effective oral presentation

28

conducts discussions in pairs on scientific and technical topics

29

conducts discussions in groups followed by reporting

30

teaches how to describe/explain/define/classify objects

31

teaches structures related to giving instructions

32

conducts role-playing activities like interviewing and being interviewed, explaining and convincing on Science and Technology topics and so on

DOMAIN 3: READING SKILLS

The EST teacher makes/teaches

33

the EST learners extract information accurately and quickly form Scientific and Technical texts and understand their macrostructures

34

selecting what is relevant for the current purpose

35

skimming for identifying main ideas, supporting ideas and examples

36

scanning for specifics

37

identifying organizational patterns

38

understanding relations within a sentence and between sentences

39

predicting, inferring and guessing the meaning

40

processing and evaluating the information during reading

41

transferring or using the information while or after reading

42

to read and interpret graphic information

43

discourse markers which are predominant in certain Science and Technology discourse like: cause and effect, conditionality, subordination and so forth

DOMAIN 4: WRITING SKILLS

The EST teacher teaches

44

writing brief and extended definition of technical terms

45

writings like narration, description, enumeration, process, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, argument and so on

46

transcoding

47

paragraph writing

48

summarizing

DOMAIN 5: PROFESSIONAL SPEAKING SKILLS

The EST teacher

49

develops professional presentation skills

50

trains the students for job interviews

51

develops group discussion skills for job interviews

52

conducts mock interviews

53

conducts and evaluates debates

DOMAIN 6: PROFESSIONAL WRITING SKILLS

The EST teacher teaches writing

54

business letters

55

business memos

56

technical reports like feasibility report, market survey report, investigation report, progress report etc.

57

proposals

58

short project reports

59

user manuals and product descriptions

60

technical articles (conference papers, journal papers and research papers)

DOMAIN 7: SPECIAL GRAMMAR ITEMS USED ESPECIALLY IN

SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

The EST teacher teaches

61

expansion of nominal compounds

62

the impersonal passives

63

use of modal auxiliaries in technical English

64

conditional sentences

65

use of connectives in technical communication

Out of the 73 competencies given in the Faculty Questionnaire for validation, 65 competencies that is 89%, have been identified by the respondents as Necessary with more than 80% response. The remaining 8 competencies, which received less than 80% response, were deleted.

9. EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS

  • Based on the set of competencies developed by the study, a curriculum for In-service teacher training may be developed and validated for the teachers of English in Engineering colleges in India, especially in the State of Tamil Nadu.
  • As the study has established the competency training needs of the teachers, the AICTE and the Technical Universities in the states may take up the set of competencies identified by the study as a framework for conducting Pre-service training programme to the aspiring EST teachers.
  • Similar to the Refresher Courses conducted by UGC Academic Staff Colleges, either Summer/Winter Schools or Short Term Training Programme for training the EST teachers based on the special set of competencies developed by the study, may be attempted by the AICTE.
  • As Academic Staff Colleges offer mostly knowledge-based training, Competency-based training programmes may be organised to the EST teachers by experts of specific orientation.
  • In M.A. English programmes ELT/ESP courses may be offered as two papers. If it is done, it will become a professional course.
  • Universities should seriously consider introducing P.G Diploma programmes on English for Technical Teachers.
  • The Dip.TESP (Diploma in Teaching of English for Specific Purposes) programme which was offered (now abandoned) by the Technical Teachers Training Institute (TTTI), Chennai, now known as National Institute of Technical Teachers Training (NITTT), must be revised and offered again, with the focus on the set of competencies identified by the study.

10. CONCLUSION

As Sternberg and Elena (2003) rightly hold, the study of competencies is the beginning point in the development of expertise, as it provides a baseline for novices, or at least non-experts. The investigator strongly believes that the outcome of his study will definitely help the teachers of the specialized subject - English for Science and Technology. To conclude with Julian (1994), the only requirement is that the EST teachers should have more energy and willingness to respond to this challenge and prove to the scientific and technological community, how much they have to offer to them. The present study is a small effort towards awakening the EST teachers to this challenge and the great prospects that await them.

11. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The first author gratefully acknowledges the valuable suggestions given by Dr. B.Krishnamurthy, Professor of English, School of Education, SASTRA University, for the preparation of the paper.

12. REFERENCES

1. Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. 2006. English for Engineers and Technologists. Chennai: Orient Longman.

2. Rasak, Norizan Abdul and Mohamed Amin Embi. 2003. A Framework of IT Competency for English Language Teachers in Malaysian Schools. <http://www.eltrec.ukm.my/iJeLLT>

3. Richards C, Jack. 1976. Teaching English for Science and Technology. Singapore: Singapore University Press.

4. Robinson C, Paulin. 1990. English for Specific Purposes: The Present Position. New York: Pragamon Press.

Bio-Data

The first author G.Venkatraman, is working as a Senior Lecturer in English in the School of Humanities and Sciences, SASTRA University, India. He has got 20 years of experience in teaching English to the students of science and technology. He is currently working on his doctoral programme on Competency Development for Teachers of English in Engineering Colleges. He has got 19 papers to his credit which includes one in the University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), in November 2005. His areas of interest includes: ESP, EST, Teacher Competency etc. E.mail: gvsastra@hotmail.com

Dr. P.Prema is currently working as Professor and Head of the Department of Education in Alagappa University, India. She has got more than 30 years of teaching experience. She has produced 10 Ph.Ds., so far. She is a pioneer in the field of Childcare education.

 

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