Review: NILE Materials Development course

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).

Overview

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.

Assignments

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.

Course content

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.

The role of teaching materials – deficiency vs difference

Metaphors for teaching materials

Problems with images in ELT materials

Tomlinson’s text-driven approach

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.

Platform/participants

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.

Tutors

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.

9 comments

  1. A fair review. I thought the mini-assignments/tasks during the course were useful. They provided extra feedback on materials I created. So, along with the assignments, I felt there was a lot of feedback on materials I actually created, which made this a very practical course.

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  2. I completed the MA module on Materials Development through NILE back in 2016.

    As this was three years ago now, do you feel that your views or approaches to materials writing have moved on from or even away from the kind of views and approaches you were being presented to work with on the course?

    This might be just my own experience, but whenever I take a course I usually find myself so immersed in the requirements of the programme that little time is left over to critically appraise what I’m reading (i.e. my first job being to comprehend and then apply, e.g. Tomlinson’s text-driven approach).

    Has what you learned there been confirmed subsequently or would you say it’s changed at all?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good questions. I’m the same, I get bound up in the requirements usually. What I try to do is to apply what I’m learning to my context as part of the evaluation process. That’s not always possible of course, and at the time I was teaching lots of in-house products without much flexibility, so I couldn’t always assess the value of the approaches I was using that accurately. Shame, but I tried my best.

      Have my approaches moved on? Well, yes and no. Since taking the course I’ve been working more for publishers. Overall, I think the content covered on the course lent itself more to materials development for global market. I know Tomlinson is the opposite, but what I mean I guess is the way it covered materials for grammar, and appropriacy (things like PARSNIP). Yes, a consideration in most contexts, but I feel it was setting me up a bit for the writing I’ve done since -workbooks, digital add-on for coursebooks, etc.

      As mentioned, I think it would be good if the course addressed different approaches that seem (within my PLN on Twitter at least) “in vogue”, like TBLT and the like. I’d have liked to look at more variety of approaches, maybe some guest webinars from the likes of, say, Dellar, who is following a lexical approach yet writes mainstream materials for global pubs, might have been interesting.

      Ultimately though, my teaching context hasn’t changed since I did the course, therefore I’ve taken the most relevant bits to that, adapted/enhanced my teaching in my own context based on them, but am still doing very much the same… well, text-driven approach features more in my teen classes. And I’m more selective with coursebook content than I was before- listening to my learners more.

      Hope that makes sense!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Since taking the course I’ve been working more for publishers. Overall, I think the content covered on the course lent itself more to materials development for global market. I know Tomlinson is the opposite, but what I mean I guess is the way it covered materials for grammar, and appropriacy (things like PARSNIP).

        Thanks for replying – though I confess I was quite surprised by this.

        I haven’t written for publishers since late 2016, but when I did I found that the briefs were becoming ever tighter and ever more prescriptive.

        This is not a complaint – having worked as an editor for a major ELT publisher in-house for some years, I am well aware of some of the pressures that those guys are under to ensure a certain kind of output is delivered and consequently more sympathetic than most (barring the odd rant or two). However, I am interested that what you learned from the course at NILE not only was not in conflict with what you’ve experienced with publishers, but has actually helped you produce good content for them. I believe you, but that’s not what I would have anticipated.

        I think it would be good if the course addressed different approaches that seem (within my PLN on Twitter at least) “in vogue”

        I guess … although I guess for someone wanting do the course now, there is presumably still scope for that in the

        Learners, contexts and materials, possibly the Language input and output, and very likely in the Exploiting texts section of the course in addition to Assignment 2a.

        I think I was asking you the question because for the last few years I’ve been teaching in and writing course materials for EAP and I’m finding more and more frequently that there are issues with the kinds of tasks and materials that “should” work in that context (although I’m not so cocky or overconfident to have excluded the real possibility that the issue is with my competence in applying what I take to be the basic principles of designing materials for EAP as opposed to the principles themselves).

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  3. Thanks for writing this review Pete. I’ve just registered for the teacher training module as a blended course, and I’m hoping to do this module in a couple of years, so it’s good to get a preview of it.
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Peter,
    Thanks for a great review! I’m starting this course in September, so it’s great to read. I have just finished the course part of the NILE technology assisted language learning module and have really benefited from it.
    Owain

    Like

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