A Formative Evaluation of a Task-based EFL Programme for Korean University Students


5.3 The Study

5.3.1 Deficiency analysis: "Who are the students?"

Consideration of the initial learning needs of the students in the present study begins with a brief description (situational, cognitive and affective) of the Freshmen (1st year) students as they entered the programme (March 1997, 1998, 1999). This initial information was mostly collected by the author by interviewing students in the pilot year (1997), or was already known to him after three years of teaching at Andong University. Lee's (1991) PSA of Korean high school students was also a source of reference (cf. section Freshmen students

When arriving at Andong National University, new students were mostly aged 19[3] (Korean age[4]), and came from farming communities centring around Andong – a small city of c. 150,000 inhabitants. The World Bank Atlas (World Bank Website) states that Korea is a high income economy (GNI: $10,500 per capita), but farmers (6% of the workforce in 1998) had not been major players in the economic "miracle" of the past twenty years, and average income therefore tended to be lower than the norm. In addition, Korea suffered an economic recession in 1997, when many workers (manual and management) lost their jobs, and the GNI per capita fell to USD $6,896 (Korea Herald, November 3rd 1999). In 1997-1999 the economic background of most students was therefore upper middle income ($3,126- $9,654). Families still retained traditional characteristics in terms of size (students often had up to five siblings) and cohesiveness (students often didn't leave home till they married, and grandparents often lived with the family of their eldest sons), though families were getting smaller, young adults were leaving home to live by themselves (usually in a large city – Seoul, Pusan, Taegu), and the number of farming families was decreasing as parents encouraged their children to get an education and a professional occupation. The climate was therefore one of social change, typical of various developing countries. Andong is known as "the cultural heart of Korea", being the traditional home of the noble "yangban" class (section, and possessing a number of famous cultural landmarks. Traditional values and mores (i.e. Confucianism – cf. section 2.4) were therefore espoused by most residents. 

Freshmen students at university usually have a learning history of intensive knowledge-based study in middle school (three years) and high school (three years) (cf. section 2.3), in preparation for the University entrance test. The extent of this study and the type of competition for places is typified by the proverb: "if you sleep five hours a night, you won't get to University". Hence typical high school students can expect to spend all day in school studying up to 15 subjects, in addition to having private tutoring and attending "libraries" in the evening, often making use of the sleeping facilities overnight.

As mentioned in section, the learning situation in high schools is teacher-controlled, and teacher-student interaction shows characteristics of the large power-distance dimension mentioned by Hofstede (section 2.4.2). In this formal, product-oriented environment, students learn that memorisation is the most effective learning strategy, and that intensive study (including cramming) is justified by doing well in multiple-choice factual tests. The particular mode of teaching English (usually in Korean) promotes instrumental motivation, and the environmental atmosphere "seems to act as a barrier to English being used outside the classroom, and to motivation inside the classroom" (Lee 1991:44). Along with the emphasis on "correctness" of grammatical forms in all interactions, students are generally convinced of their inability to use English (Lee 1991:64), and arrive in the university Conversation English class with inferiority complexes, low motivation, and lacking ability or experience in the use of alternative learning strategies, realistic goal-setting, or in organising their study time.

The situation is compounded by the fact that Andong National University is not a prestigious university, nor even a major-city university. There is little kudos in graduating from such a provincial institution, and students are aware of this confirmation of their status as "poor" learners. Based on his teaching experiences at ANU during the years 1991 - 1994, however, the writer was aware that ANU students typically showed a deep sincerity of spirit, a wish to do well by working hard, and a responsiveness to innovation. Introduction of an interactive student-centred approach, and a focus on learning skills was therefore not seen as a problem.

5.3.2 Target situation analysis (TSA): "What do the students need?"

When entering the pilot stage of the programme (1997), it was difficult to make a prior needs analysis, since the writer was employed to start at the beginning of the academic year, and the programme had to be up and running (even in pilot form) by then. Thus a provisional needs profile was used, to be adapted during the pilot year. This profile was based on: i) Government policy and educational consensus in Korea, which identified communicative competence as an important learning need for all Korean students (Li 1998:681); ii) the author's knowledge of probable cognitive and affective needs, based on five years of prior experience in Korea (three of these at ANU – 1991 to 1994) with similar students; iii) interpretation of student needs in a humanistic "language-as-education" framework, in the light of current educational thinking (cf. Scollon & Scollon [1994:21] on the Asian focus on care, nurture and benevolence; cf. also section 2.4.2, page 42); and iv) Lee's (1991:77-9) TSA of Korean high school students, indicating characteristics that might be expected in new students coming from High school: a) low self-evaluation; b) high instrumental motivation; c) a positive perception of oral communication; and d) a preference for a task-based approach to testing.

This needs profile included objective, holistic and subjective needs (see below), and implied a student-centred "process" approach, and (cf. the literature reviews in chapter 3) emphasis on affect, learner training, autonomy, and reflection. Student needs according to this profile were used as criteria for the pilot textbook ("Tell Me About It!" – TMAI), a programme policy statement (appendix C-78), and for teacher information (cf. section 7.3.5).

objective needs  

  • communicative competence in the TL (for future general communicative needs: business, travel, etc.);
  • font-family:Symbol; development of oral skills through conversation practice;
  • problem-solving skills (inferring and negotiating meaning, identifying key concepts, skimming, scanning for information, organising information);
  • font-family:Symbol; a task-based "process" learning infrastructure and materials;

holistic needs  

  • educated members of society;  
  • font-family:Symbol; responsibility for learning;  
  • font-family:Symbol; learning skills;  
  • font-family:Symbol; individual ethics;  
  • font-family:Symbol; social mores;

subjective needs

  • ability to direct learning (future learning needs: training, re-skilling, etc.);
  • font-family:Symbol; learner training, leading to autonomous learning;  
  • font-family:Symbol; opportunity for reflection and evaluation (self-assessment, goal setting, planning);  
  • attention to affective factors (especially self confidence, motivation, and anxiety);
  • font-family:Symbol; a non-threatening learning environment (atmosphere of trust and respect).

As with Brindley's model (figure B-16), these needs (above) overlap and symbiotically co-exist, as part of the evaluation/reflection function enabling the overall learning process, enhancement of which is itself the prime need, and from which objective outcomes follow. This process is represented in figure B-17, below), in which subjective needs are seen as a solar system, orbiting around the learning process, the central "attractor" giving cohesiveness to the whole (cf. section 6.6 on Complexity, page 212). Planetary bodies (affect, autonomy, communicative competence, evaluation, problem-solving) interact, exerting gravitational pulls on each other and on their "moons", the whole complex dynamic system being an unpredictable mix of forces and events working towards the desired outcomes, themselves orbiting around learner perceptions of instrumental and subjective needs[5]. In such a system, "whiplash effect"[6] and other reactions can produce surprising results, sending the student off in unexpected directions, as new learning paths become apparent. Instrumental needs (e.g. getting a job, getting good grades, travelling abroad, talking with foreigners, learning about foreign cultures) are short-term "spin-offs" (in another related dimension) from the main goal of enhancing learning, though they are often perceived (by learners) as more important, and tend to drive the learning process (especially at the beginning).  

Appendix B-17

Continue reading Chapter 5: Needs analysis instruments

[3] There is very little variation in age of students graduating from high school in Korea.
[4] Korean age is one year older than western age.
[5] Another "solar system" (probably in another dimension) is needed in order to represent these.
[6] Greatly increased acceleration and change of direction caused by a certain approach path to a heavenly body.