Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Virtual English Language Adviser (VELA) How it can be used

Sarah Toogood, HKUST Language Centre

I have often read about the VELA project, but it was really lovely to finally meet Sarah Toogood and hear about it firsthand. The purpose of Sarah’s presentation at this conference was to show the audience the current state of VELA.

VELA is a kind of database which helps students to build a learning plan by linking strategies with materials through “pathways”. It was originally developed as tool for advisers, but it was soon realized that it could also be used by the students. The students do not have to use VELA alone, they are encouraged to use it with their teachers, other learners and with advisers at the “Drop-in Centre” in the SAC. Students work through 6 steps:

Step 1: Identify a skill and interest area from the menu
Step 2: State the problem
Step 3: Clarify the cause of the problem
Step 4: VELA suggests ways to practise language and students discover what works for them. Users take a quiz at this point to make sure they understand about the three practice types (focused, transfer and general)
Step 5a: Strategies and materials – Focused practice (teach yourself something)
Step 5b: Strategies and materials – Transfer practice (make a conscious effort to use what you have learned)
Step 5c: Strategies and materials – General practice (expose yourself to the language)
Step 6: Personalise your plan. VELA gives users a copy of the choices in the form of a plan including materials choices, time allocation, progress checks and objectives. Learners review and modify the plan and show it to a friend, teacher or adviser.

Sarah uses metaphors to help students to understand the process, for example step 2 is likened to visiting the doctor – you have to share your symptoms or problems. The materials suggested in step 5 are like a recipe. Sarah used the example of making an omelet. Once you know how to make a basic omelet, you can adapt your recipe and become more creative.

Students and teachers at HKUST have been very positive about using VELA. One student commented “It [VELA] provides me with the chance to set a goal of learning and think about what I want to learn.” Another commented “I could choose any of the language focus in this project. It made the project more interesting to me… I tried some new methods to construct my learning plan.”

Sarah encouraged us to try VELA and to let her know how we get on.

Login from http://vela.ust.hk
Click on Guest
Change the skin colour
Check “What’s Available” to see which of the 1000+ paths are available (they are working on more)

NEW Download the latest version of adviser guidelines for creating a VELA plan here (PDF).

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