1. 1. Heloisa Collins

    Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo

  2. 2. Rosinda Ramos

    Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo

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This paper focuses on the discussion of requirements for an interactive design of a Computer-Mediated Distance Learning (CMDL) course in English for Specific Purposes (ESP).
Such requirements constituted a problem for these
course designers both from the point of view of
the items of design directly related to a BBS-sponsored course and from the point of view of the
profile of the clientele, in this case Brazilian business people taking a Correspondence Course in
English. Business people in Brazil, among other
types of professionals involved in ESP courses,
stand out as those who show special preference for
CMDL courses. As Boyle (1994:116) points out,
‘the teaching of ESP would seem to be an area in
which distance teaching methods could make a
useful contribution, insofar as students are often
relatively few in number, geographically dispersed, and with responsibilities at work and at home
that cannot be neglected’.
Distance learning is, then, of interest to adults with
a high level of motivation, who may prefer to
study at a time that is convenient to them, at a pace
that suits them and in a place and manner of their
own choosing (Keegan 1990).
In the context of ESP, DL has been reported as a
‘neglected mode of instruction’ (Boyle op
cit:115). In fact, little has been written about ESP
at a distance (Lambert 1991). Reports and articles
about CMDL courses are even more scanty.
However, attention to CMDL design issues has
been gaining importance due to the recognition
that CM pedagogical interaction is a promising
new type of communicative event. This attention
signals that designers realise that they must not
adopt a naive transfer of previous experience to
this new mode of social interaction. Materials
designed for the traditional classroom will be presented to students with the support of face-to-face
interaction. If these materials are simply carried
into the CMDL situation, where immediate negotiation of meaning is not possible, failure of some
kind will certainly follow.Our observation of input materials of two very recent CMDL courses
(Damski 1994 and De A’Morelli 1995) confirmed
these impressions. Although exceptionally rich in
terms of the amount and quality of content, those
programmes show little concern for the learning
human on the other end of the line. Questions such
as ‘How much are students prepared to cope with
each time?’ and ‘How relevant is this course from
an interactional point of view?’ do not seem to
have been very important. Those programmes successfully provide their students with interesting
and possibly useful manuals, but cannot claim to
offer a satisfactory interactive context for promoting learning.
Therefore, issues such as the ‘language of instruction’, ‘length and clarity of tasks’ and ‘adequate
flow and amount of input to students’, though
relatively non-problematic for the experienced designer of face-to-face courses, assume special relevance in the body of topics that deserve further
investigation, analysis and discussion in this new
Such questions, therefore, need to be addressed (cf
pilot experiments at the Catholic University of São
Paulo: Ferreira 1995, this session; Sa 1995, forthcoming MA dissertation; Avollio 1996).
The paper will address the following items of
CMDL course design:
1. the process of wording ‘instructions to tasks’
and ‘introductions to input materials’, as well
as of organising both into a coherent instructional unit;
2. the analysis of the final drafts of instructional
units from the point of view of their interactive
3. the description and discussion of the type of
impact such materials had on students.
1. Successive drafts of the process of design,
with special emphasis on ‘the language of
instruction’, ‘the language of introductions to
input materials’, ‘the organisation of the units’;
2. Samples of interactions between students and
Analytical Procedures
Data analysis procedures were as follows:
1. Analysis of the transformation (re-writing) of
drafts with special attention to:
1.1 linguistic markers of the background, assumptions and knowledge (BAK) (Woods
1992) underlying previous experience in course design, and
1.2. linguistic markers of development of awareness of the new design context;
2. Analysis of formal linguistic choices with an
interactive function in the final drafts of each
instructional unit, according to a systemicfunctional perspective of language (Eggins
1994) and recent research related to interactive
efficiency (Collins & S. Thompson 1994; S.
Thompson and Collins 1994; G. Thompson
and Thetella (1995) .
3. Analysis of the amount of student participation (number of private and public messages
sent to the course conference) and of the
amount and type of students’ questions about
the instructional units (technical-operational
questions were not considered).
Results indicate that
Successful face-to-face course designers tend to
rely heavily on previous experience. Initial drafts
of Instructions and Introductions to Input Materials are marked by background, assumptions and
knowledge related to negotiations of meaning in
the traditional classroom. As the awareness of the
specific requirements of a CMDL course becomes
more explicit, ‘instructions’ and ‘introductions to
input materials’ in later drafts reveal an attempt to
anticipate the queries and needs of a concrete,
distant interlocutor. Likewise, organisation of
tasks and input materials, initially planned on the
traditional basis of information+odelling+production, gradually assumes a structure based on interaction.
Formal linguistic choices with an interactive
function, as observed in the final drafts of the
‘instructions’ and ‘introductions to input materials’, assume a dominant role and are displayed
through a complex web of interpersonal features
from different systems. In that sense, they are
different from information-based instructional
units that tend to use imperatives (a choice within
the mood system) as almost the only interpersonal
At this point, results of the impact on students are
still being analyzed. Initial observation of the data
reveals that students’ questions tend to be related
to a critical awareness of what it means to write
for different purposes and different audiences.
Although this matches these designers’ expectations, further analysis is needed to detail and enlighten the initial observations.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Bergen

Bergen, Norway

June 25, 1996 - June 29, 1996

147 works by 190 authors indexed

Scott Weingart has print abstract book that needs to be scanned; certain abstracts also available on dh-abstracts github page. (

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (16), ALLC/EADH (23), ACH/ALLC (8)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC