The course has been extensively tested. More details can be found on our Testing and Results page.




The Development of the Language of Ideas Course


A prize-winning programme


In 2005 the Times Higher Education Supplement Award for Widening Participation was won by the University of Central England (now Birmingham City University). It was awarded for the programme which sent University tutors to run classes in Sixth Forms and Colleges of Further Education using the Fasttrack of Breakthrough to Learning.


This programme had been running successfully from 2000. It was a 30 week book-based course of an hour and a half. Several hundred students in a dozen institutions had already experienced the programme. Its scope was limited only by the staff available to facilitate it.


An online course


One problem of this method of course delivery was the need to store and carry large books and files around the many institutions participating in the programme. It was clear that the course, which was self-access anyway, could be readily adapted to online learning. As a result of winning the THES prize, the University funded the writing of such a programme. The result was The Language of Ideas.


Professor Bob Farmer led a team dedicated to this task, which took two years to complete. The original author, Mary Mason, was responsible for the restructuring of the course, using the experience of the ongoing Widening Participation courses to trial it at every stage. Elaine Winters, the tutor then responsible for facilitating the course, provided valuable feedback and administered pre- and post-tests and satisfaction questionnaires throughout.


It was found possible to combine the work on academic language and discourse structures within the same framework. The grammatical explanations, which had formed part of the book-based course, were discarded as unnecessary. The familiarisation with abstract language (the language of ideas), which was the difficult part of the course, was begun in the first unit and then continued within the framework of the discourse structures (problem/solution etc.), which were easy to grasp.


The team, especially Emilia Prodanova, found suitable texts for the older clientele (16+) of the projected course and Sue Lund gave invaluable technical support. Time and money ran out before the last unit could be written – the Compare/Contrast section. The completed course consisted of seven units.


Using the course


From 2007 the online course replaced the book-based course in the Widening Participation programme. It was restricted to institutions (Colleges of Further Education and Access courses within the University), which could give time in their computer rooms. The tutor accessed the course through a CD.


Unless the local computer system failed, the course ran very easily. The students were encouraged to work in pairs, though they could work alone if they preferred. It was uncanny to observe that the students talked about the tasks on the screen and spent no time gossiping!


It had the following advantage over teacher-led courses: some of the students (for example, on the pre-nursing courses) were middle-aged women with families, coming to education late. They were often hard-pressed for time, arriving late and leaving early to deal with family commitments. They sometimes missed sessions. Since everyone was working at their own pace this did not matter. If they missed a session the tutor would give them a disc to work on at home.


Unfortunately, in spite of the popularity of the course, from 2009 cuts in staffing meant that the programme was gradually discontinued, as the funding was no longer available to support it.