Engaging English: A Targeted Way to Learn English

As school lets out for the summer, many high school graduates find themselves looking forward not only to their summer vacation, but also to entering a college or university in the fall.  However, as Dan Levin of the NY Times points out, for some upcoming freshman, their acceptance is the result of hours of preparation in addition to a significant financial investment.  This is especially true for international students.

With China sending more students to American colleges than any other country, the competition for spots at the top schools has soared… [And] as a record number of students from outside the United States compete for a limited number of spots at the most selective American colleges, companies…are seeking to profit from their ambitions.

Parents in China enroll their children in programs that offer a money-back guarantee of university acceptance (the money back amounting to upwards of$15,000).  These companies work with students starting as early as their freshman year of high school and “design extracurricular activities for the students; guide them in essay writing; tutor them for the SAT…and train them for the Test of English as a Foreign Language [TOEFL exam]….Often [students] have poor English language skills and have done little with their free time beyond homework.  Yet their parents often demand the Ivy League.”

 As students work with these companies to improve their college applications they often also turn to a variety of web-based products in an effort to improve their English language skills. Our own  EngagingEnglish.com is an example of a supplemental resource for students seeking to improve their English reading skill.  This online service provides targeted reading by matching readers to appropriately difficult texts, based on the Lexile Framework for Reading  and their selected interests.  Engaging English also provides immediate feedback and tracks users’ progress – motivating continued achievement.   Look for the new version available in early July with enhanced features and improvements.

Libraries in the Digital Age

In a time of rapid change for print media, libraries are finding a variety of ways to continue to connect with their patrons.  Though much has been written on the move away from print resources toward digital media, library visits and circulation have actually climbed nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2008.  Tough economic times have brought users to the library for free computer access and to take advantage of free movie and music rentals. And now libraries are finding even more ways to meet customer expectations by increasing Wi-Fi availability, lending Kindles to patrons, and offering music-downloading for personal digital devices.  Education Week  recently wrote about a number of libraries which have begun developing iPod applications for an iPod-friendly generation.  Some libraries are now even managing Twitter accounts to inform patrons of library services:

Now, the digital sphere is expanding: 82 percent of the nation’s more than 16,000 public libraries have Wi-Fi—up from 37 percent four years ago, according to the American Library Association.

…A growing number of libraries are launching mobile websites and smart-phone applications, says Jason Griffey, author of “Mobile Technology and Libraries.” No one keeps tabs of exactly how many, but a recent iPhone app search showed more than a dozen public libraries.

Here at MetaMetrics, we know the importance of accessing content through multiple mediums.  Our own Engaging English offers a personal and interactive learning platform for users wanting to strengthen their English speaking skills.  Users read targeted, online content across a wide spectrum of interest areas as a way to improve their English  and prepare for the reading demands likely to be found throughout their professional lives.   Because Engaging English is entirely online and self-guided, users have maximum convenience and flexibility in establishing responsibility for their own reading growth.   Best of all, Engaging English is accessible on mobile devices, offering the users the ability to access content in a way that is most convenient and applicable to them.

The ability to access content across a variety of mediums – online, e-readers, smart phones, notebooks, etc… – has become vital to many student users.  Many have an expectation that content should be readily available through whatever format they choose to access it.  That’s why it’s good to see so many libraries taking steps to remain relevant and indispensable in a digital age.

Engaging English: Lowering the Barriers

As online learning courses continue to grow in popularity, many institutions of higher learning have begun to provide online degree programs for distance learners.  Even on-campus student populations now embrace online options.  According to this Education News article, public support of online learning is growing rapidly.  As the article points out, although public opinion is fairly static from one year to the next on most issues, in just one year (2009 to 2010) the public’s perception of the value of online learning has grown ten percentage points.

 In response to public demand, universities have steadily expanded their online course offerings to include a wide range of academic areas, notably foreign languages.  Many schools are now offering more hybrid courses, courses that provide a combination of online and classroom learning.  This uptick in hybrid courses has resulted in an increase of web-based products now available to support online learning.  According to the New York Times:

These days, online programs and CDs…are grabbing the interest of people attracted by their convenience and relatively low cost.  But more schools are offering their own online-only language courses as part of extension programs. (more…)

Engaging English: Preparing for the Future

For the past 46 years the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) has been used to evaluate “the ability of nonnative English speakers to use and understand the English language as it is heard, spoken, read and written in the university classroom.”  This test is now the standard used by more than 7,500 colleges, universities and agencies in 130 countries.  Many students intending to study in the United States are required to complete this test in order to confirm their ability to function within an English-speaking environment. 

And it’s not just universities.  Some companies are taking the English proficiency requirement a step further.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported (subscription required for full access) that Rakuten, the Japanese rival to Amazon.com, has developed a plan requiring all business to be conducted in English by 2012.  This requirement goes far beyond an expectation of minimal proficiency.  Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, is requiring that all employees speak and correspond only in English.     Although the decision is not without controversy, many other Japanese based companies including Sony, Nissan Motor Fast Retailing Co., Mitsubishi Corp., and Nipon Sheet Glass Co. have already implemented similar policies.  (more…)

Next Generation Search Engines

In Fortune magazine’s July 29th story entitled Google: The search party is over, author Michael V. Copeland with Seth Weintraub chronicles Google’s rise to dominance of the Internet and probes the options for an encore performance.  Said differently, what can Google do to feed the growth engine it created?

The article is full of possibilities but one struck home for me as I read it since it parallels something we are working on to help English language learners improve their reading ability.  The concept is elegantly simple; create a passive search engine that automatically collects all the news, images, videos, blog posts, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates in a single place for your convenience.  Flipboard for the iPad is a great example of this new paradigm.

Now, imagine you are a Chinese high school student learning English and preparing to attend a university in the United States.  Intuitively, you know that reading more results in reading better but where do you start?  Enter the passive search engine concept.  It delivers reading content targeted to your reading ability and your interests directly to your laptop or mobile device every day.  Content would include magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites and e-books.  Periodically, it would mine your reading experiences to determine how much you’ve improved.  Then, it would raise the difficulty of the content it sends so that you’re always perfectly targeted to achieve optimal growth.

Flipboard seems to be at the intersection of search engines and social networking.  However, applying this next generation search engine to education could result in personalized learning platforms similar to the one described above.  To learn more about this new service for English language learners, please see www.EngagingEnglish.com.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.