how useful the language of science is as a bridge to foreign people
Against this background, we present an instructional approach to
incorporate communication between international practicing scientists
and secondary students into biology lessons. We worked with students
who were native German speakers and connected with English-speaking
experts from different fields through videos. The approach was tested in
10 classes at six different schools of two federal states in Germany.
Our research objective was twofold. First, we wanted to identify a prac-
tical concept to make English-language communication with external
partners feasible in realistic school settings. We considered aspects of
methodology, technology, and scheduling. A successful model would
enable students to contribute meaningful questions and to extract rel-
evant information from the experts’ answers without experiencing
major comprehension issues. Second, we wanted to gain qualitative
insight into students’ perception of the exchange and receive their
suggestions for improvement. Accordingly, we present the rationale
behind developing the new model and its validation studies. The con-
cept was first realized in a preliminary case study in two German high
school classes. After making some revisions, we examined its feasibility
for a wider scope of grade levels, curricular topics tested, and number
of students. The following research questions guided our studies:
(1) Is our instructional approach for an expert video exchange
feasible in realistic school contexts? If so, what are the rel-
evant factors for a successful implementation?
(2) What insight into their affective perception of the video exchange
will students’ comments provide?
Developing an Instructional Approach
for Incorporating English-Speaking
Experts into Biology Lessons
Goals & Purpose
Figure 1 provides an overview of the new expert video exchange model.
With these guidelines, teachers can give their students the opportunity
to interact with a real-life expert of the field they are learning about in
class. For ELLs, the exchange model provides a secure environment to
practice communicating scientific information in the foreign language.
With this, we aim to increase students’ motivation in class.
Following Breen’s (1985) call for authenticity, we wanted the students
to communicate with professionals about scientific content related to
their current curricular topic. Recruiting native English speakers was
not a requirement, because English is often spoken between nonnative speakers in academic and business communication. We contacted research institutions and social organizations to ask for their
support in our project. The experts who agreed to participate were a
British researching oncologist for our pilot unit on cancer, a British
mitochondrial research associate for our unit on cell biology, and a
Ugandan psychosocial specialist from an HIV support organization
for our immunology unit. The latter case featured interdisciplinary elements, as the expert provided insights on medical issues from the perspective of the social sciences. Two of our experts were female and one
of them was black – which, as Finson (2002) recommends, contradicts
(and may thus help deconstruct) common stereotypes about scientists.
Working with international experts entails geographic distances as well
as possibly differing time zones. We considered live video chats, but
this raised logistical concerns as they are prone to connection errors.
We therefore chose self-recorded videos as an equally appealing but
more reliable medium that allowed the students and the expert to
see and hear each other’s faces and voices. At the same time, students
and expert could record and replay their contributions as often as they
liked, and the instructor could prepare language support materials.
Preparing the Expert Video Exchange in Class
Our participating German ELLs were to be familiarized with
English in scientific contexts by conducting several weeks of bilingual lessons on curricular content prior to the exchange. These lessons included original English-language materials (texts, images,
videos) for which we provided language and comprehension aids
in the form of vocabulary help, guiding tasks, and practice exercises. We further included exemplifying aspects of the expert’s field
to provide students with the necessary background and confidence
to formulate questions. When instructing the students about the
exchange, no restrictions were made regarding the nature of questions that students could hand in (for
examples, see Table 1). Topics such
as cancer or HIV carry a potential
for emotional and personal involvement, so the participating students
could choose between asking questions related to school content and
inquiring about personal concerns.
Evaluating the Experts’
We mediated the exchange, a role that
is fulfilled by the teacher in nonempirical settings. We reviewed all
video contributions to decrease redundancies and potential misunderstandings. Also, we prepared language aids Figure 1. Overview of procedures and components of the new instructional model.