Massive Open Online Course Helps English Language Learners Improve Writing Skills
By Evan M. Ryan
International students connect the United States with the world. We want international students to be successful in their fields of study and to gain a rich understanding of America. Learning the intricacies of written English increases students’ chances of success in science, business, technology and much of higher education — global fields where English has become dominant.
Beginning last fall, the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs partnered with the University of California at Berkeley to launch College Writing 2x: Principles of Written English, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) hosted on the edX platform to help English language learners improve their writing skills. Berkeley’s Maggie Sokolik teaches the course. She’s an expert in teaching English to an international audience from her time as an English Language Specialist sponsored by the State Department.
Participants in this MOOC learn key critical thinking skills, as well as grammar, how to control a sentence, and how to proofread — empowering them with the educational tools for success in the classroom and beyond. In addition to offering new skills, MOOCs offer students an unparalleled opportunity to “test drive” the U.S. education system and prepare for studying in the United States. The feedback from students so far has been excellent. A student from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, wrote that he would recommend the course because “It is a great means for discovering how the international universities work.”
We just wrapped up the first five-week module. The course started with 55,000 students participating in the online forum from all around the world, including significant numbers from China, India, and Mexico. Twenty-eight thousand were actively participating online in the last week, and just under 8,000 students earned a certificate for the course.
But the course isn’t just virtual. As part of our partnership, participating U.S. Embassies helped us launch our MOOC Camp initiative by hosting in-person, facilitated discussions in tandem with the online module of the course. U.S. embassy officials and their EducationUSA advising staff, English Language Fellows, and local community experts led these discussions.
The combined virtual and in-person approach clearly paid off. As Ms. Eve Smith, a Senior English Language Fellow who works with English teachers in Ukraine explained, “Combining an online course with face-to-face instruction provides the support that [participants] need.”
If you missed the first module, don’t worry. The second five-week module of the course begins on January 16, and you can take it even if you did not take the first module. Want to participate in a facilitated discussion? Get in touch with the Public Affairs Section of the nearest U.S. Embassy. We hope you will join us!