This project aimed to use authentic video materials to help develop students’ autonomy at a transitional stage in German language learning.

  • Course: GRMN2010 Continuing German Language (second year undergraduate)
  • School/Faculty: School of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: weekly 3-hour face-to-face seminar session
  • Active learning approach: use of authentic German news clips as a trigger to learning
  • Assessment: end-of-semester oral exam

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

This project aimed to address the following issues:

  • The limits to students’ linguistic autonomy – and therefore learning – at this communicative level (approx. B1, as defined by the ‘Common European Framework’).
  • Students at this level are at a key transitional stage between using German imitatively (i.e. beginners’ courses) and using German with something comparable to their autonomy in their first language (i.e. advanced courses).
  • Although the emphasis at this level starts to shift significantly from learning a ‘language’ to learning ‘content’ and ‘culture,’ students cannot yet readily assimilate linguistically and intellectually sophisticated texts.

Project innovation partner

Active learning approach

Activities and assessment

  • Pilot more independent learning activity in a module taught in the last weeks of semester, dealing with key developments in German history from 1945–1990 (postwar to reunification), which is also an important topic in terms of students’ cultural literacy.
  • Contextual materials: short narrative account in German (approx. 1500 words) of the relevant period, written by the course coordinator (to align with students’ linguistic level) – provided in full in printed course materials, scaffolded with vocabulary lists and comprehension questions.
  • Authentic materials: six authentic cinema and television news clips (total length approx. 20 minutes) spanning the relevant period – links to clips on course Blackboard site, vocabulary lists and comprehension questions in printed course materials.
  • All materials were designed for both out-of-class preparation/revision and in-class discussion. We hoped that the students would be particularly engaged by the video materials.
  • Assessment: the end-of-semester oral exam (conducted individually, max. 10 minutes per student, 25% of final course grade) dealt only with this module. Although most assessment criteria referred to linguistic skill (e.g. grammatical accuracy), the ‘Content’ criterion assessed students’ factual knowledge, and this criterion was a ‘hurdle’ for passing the exam as a whole.

Resources/technologies used

  • Teacher-generated narrative and authentic news clips; both scaffolded with vocabulary lists and comprehension questions. Sourcing appropriate authentic videos – which referred to significant events which were inherently engaging, and which were at a suitable linguistic level. This was extremely time consuming to arrange.


Tools and strategies used                      

  • Student perspective:
    • Preliminary focus group
    • SECaTs
    • Post-exam survey
  • Lecturer perspective:
    • Peer observation
    • Comparison of exam marks (i.e. whole-group averages) with previous years

Key findings

1. Strong student engagement

  • The preliminary focus group (who had completed the course in the previous year, when the same topic was covered with different materials) were well-disposed to the idea of videos, with one student noting the appropriateness of the nexus between A/V materials and an oral exam.
  • 17 of the 26 students who responded to the post-exam survey indicated that they spent 5+ hours preparing for the exam (10 of these students spent 9+ hours).

2. Good choice and scaffolding of materials

  • In the post-exam survey, the statement that the videos ‘assisted my knowledge of German culture/history’ achieved a weighted average of 4.23.
  • The statement that the related written materials ‘assisted me to work with the video clips on my own’ achieved a weighted average of 3.56.

3. Consistency of assessment outcomes with preceding years

  • Whole-group average marks for the oral exam in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively were 67.3%, 64.1% and 64.7%.
  • Whole-group average marks on the ‘Content’ criterion were 6.9/10, 7.1/10 and 6.7/10.

4. Qualifications to the above

  • According to the weighted averages in the post-exam survey, students found the videos much less easy to understand linguistically (2.08) than the other elements of the course materials: the related historical narrative (3.96), the written materials on other topics (4.00), and a feature film on another topic (3.31).
  • The peer observation between the two lecturers (each observed a class taught by the other) noted some resistance to the topic and the materials, and this was paralleled by some widely divergent opinions in the SECaTS and the post-exam survey. These opinions mainly concerned the perceived utility of the topic ‘Germany 1945–1990’ for German language learning, and the perceived linguistic difficulty of the videos. For a selection of contrasting comments on these issues, see below 'Project outcomes, student feedback'.
  • Students’ extensive preparation for the exam (Point 1 above) may not reflect interest in the materials so much as problems with understanding them (however the work probably helped students’ German skills either way.)

Project outcomes

Short and long-term outcomes

  • The findings at Points 1 and 2 above suggest that the project’s basic concept was sound. In part, the divergent opinions noted at Point 4 reflect perennial disputes in foreign-language teaching and learning (i.e. differing ideas about teaching ‘language’ vs. teaching ‘content’ and ‘culture,’ and about which ‘content’ is the most appropriate/engaging for teaching ‘language’ – other perennials include the use or otherwise of immersion, L1 teachers, and explicit grammar teaching).
  • However, student comments about the linguistic difficulty of the video clips relative to other elements of the course (Point 4) suggest that motivation and outcomes might be improved by either limiting the content of the module or increasing the amount of classroom teaching time assigned to it.
  • This was a small-scale project, with immediate application primarily to this course (GRMN2010) and the ‘follow-on’ course GRMN2020.
  • Given timetabling restrictions, when GRMN2010 is offered again in Semester 1, 2019 it would be more expedient to limit the content; this could be done by concentrating mainly on the reunification of Germany in 1989–1990.
  • In the meantime, a similar combination of written and video materials has been adopted for the equivalent module in GRMN2020 in Semester 2, 2018; the topic is somewhat different, but the materials are more limited and focused.
  • A larger-scale and less structured version of these modules was introduced successfully in recent years in GRMN3010, which is a course at advanced level. The module is based on a feature film, which students discuss in a fairly ‘open’ oral exam which may include questions about liking/disliking the film, specific themes or characters, comparisons with other films (or with other texts on related topics) and so on.

Student feedback

Utility of topic

  • [The videos] covered a very interesting subject matter and taught me a lot about German history and culture
  • We got to see what actually happened and how it was reported, as if we had actually been there
  • I learned a lot
  • […] learning an outrageous amount of Germany’s modern history, rather than actually learning the language
  • This course […] needs to abandon history teaching[,] seriously
  • [v]ery niche topics

Linguistic difficulty

  • It helped being able to hear someone speak German quickly and on a topic that is not necessarily ‘conversational’
  • Access to native speakers with a variety of different accents and dialects [was] beneficial to understanding a broader range of the language
  • I really enjoyed having clips to improve my listening ability and hear actual German
  • It was really hard to understand because they talked kind of fast and unclearly in some of the clips
  • Difficult to understand – a lot of the time I had no idea if something said was one word or separate words
  • There were no transcripts available, so if a student is struggling there is little they can do