I completed the MA module on Materials Development through NILE back in 2016. Here’s a quick review of the course (all views my own).
The online course runs for 8 weeks, with a mid-course break. It explores ‘many aspects of effective materials development, from key principles to practicalities.’
After an introductory unit, the rest of the course content covers the following:
- Learners, contexts and materials
- Cognitive demand
- Language input and output
- Exploiting texts
- Affective factors in materials
- Visual design and image
- Teacher notes
The estimated hours for completion of each unit (one week) is 7 hours, not including additional reading. In my experience this worked out about right. For MA students there are some extension tasks involved so things can vary. The online platform includes a participant forum, and units sometimes include collaborative tasks and webinars, which can require a greater time commitment / some flexibility.
The MA course requires the completion of 2 assignments…
You get six months to do these, which is pretty fair. There is plenty of guidance during the course on how to approach these – the evaluation Assignment 2a is straightforward, see my example here.
Why I took the course
I’d just started a role as a materials writer. I really wanted to gain a better understanding of the materials development process, and check/ensure that my approach was principled. My editor at the time had just signed up for the course and recommended I do the same. My organization (British Council) offered to fund this module, so I gave it a shot.
I’ve written quite a bit about the course content already. Here are a few old posts I shared at various points during the course.
Overall, I found the content very useful. The key reading included these two books, which were well worth reading:
- McGrath, I. 2002. Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- Tomlinson, B. (ed.) 2013. Developing Materials for Language Teaching. (2nd edition) London: Continuum Press.
These texts really helped me engage in what I was doing work-wise at the time, and prompted some reflections which ultimately improved the resources I was developing. We were encouraged to read around each topic, and I got really interested in materials for teaching pronunciation (and their effectiveness). This eventually became the focus of my dissertation so was time well spent.
Week-by-week, the reading on the course was manageable. Most of it was journal articles, chapters from key reading and the occasional article from magazines like ETPro. They could have provided a slightly more comprehensive bibliography of suggested reading for the course as it’s quite a broad ranging topic area. Still, they can’t hand everything to participants on a plate.
I feel like the course could have explored some more topics of debate in materials development. This was quite a practical course, and content mainly focused on what was immediately applicable, e.g. how to support learners, reduce cognitive load, how to create appropriate grammar practice activities, how to gamify materials, selecting appropriate images, etc. We were introduced to some alternative approaches (such as the text-driven approach), but there could have been more covered in the way of principles/approaches. Maybe exploring possible frameworks (PPP, task-supported, task-based, etc) and evaluating their pros and cons might have been worthwhile.
As far as practical suggestions go though, the course was very good.
The NILE platform is very easy to use, and the resources available on the platform such as the NILE library are fairly broad-ranging. Note: as the course is affiliated to the University of Chichester you can request an Athens login for journals, making access to resources pretty comprehensive.
The platform allows for different types of discussion. There’s the standard forums, but there are also things like sticky walls (i.e. Padlet style) and talkpoints (a bit Flipgrid style) feedback used. This was quite scary for me at first – videoing my response to an article or a task, but I got used to it.
Like Phil Wade said in this guest post, the participants on an online course will vary. Most of my ‘classmates’ were keen to share ideas and there was a bit of lively discussion. Not as much interaction as I expected, but such is the nature of a course that people are fitting in around other commitments.
No complaints. My tutor Alan Pulverness approachable and made some great recommendations for reading/edits to assignments when needed. I actually requested him as my dissertation tutor as he was very knowledgeable and supportive. The co-tutor Jo Stirling was also very supportive. The tutors were one of the strengths of the course.
Practical benefits of taking the course
The assignments for this course can serve as a portfolio for you as a materials writer. This is particularly useful if you are looking to break into writing but haven’t built up much in the way of tangible evidence of your expertise. Prior to (and during) this course, my only writing experience was gained in-house through my organization. However, since formalizing my skills by gaining this qualification I’ve found it far easier to market myself as a writer.
Overall course score: 4.5/5
The above info is quite general. If you’ve any specific questions about the course just get in touch.