Book Reviewed By Joy Robbins.
11 February 2013
This course book is designed as a pre-sessional program for future ICT (Information & Communications Technology) students of around upper-intermediate level. The focus is predominantly on receptive skills, with each of the 12 units alternating between listening and reading development. This is from Garnet’s recently-released suite of ESAP course books, all of which follow the same template page by page so teachers familiar with another in the series – e.g. Law, Medicine – will easily follow this one. This repeated structure ties in to the key advantage of this course book and series: it gives teachers a straightforward way to teach subject-specific EAP. Assuming the teacher’s book, not reviewed here, is comprehensive, teachers do not need previous knowledge of Computer Science to use this textbook, and those more familiar with General English as opposed to EAP will likely feel comfortable using this book as it is structured like a typical general English course book. (That is, the units each have a subject focus through which the English skills are practiced, exercises are broken up by skill area, there are plenty of visuals which are usually on the right-hand page, and each unit concludes with separate Vocabulary & Skills Bank pages.) In short, this book is a well-structured, teacher-friendly answer to the increasing need to teach ESAP outside of our areas of specialism.
Of course, usability is only one element of ESAP materials: the contents must also hold up. In the main, this book has good, ICT-specific activities to develop academic skills. The ICT focus is very general at the start, assuming no previous knowledge, and becomes more focused after Unit 2. Even so, the ICT information remains very general, and will be less useful for those already in the field. However, for students wishing to join or relatively new to Computer Science, it will give an excellent base. Each unit focuses on an element of ICT (e.g. software development, e-commerce & e-government), so students will have a strong understanding for future study or, alternatively, teachers can dip into whichever units they feel are most applicable. More likely is that teachers will ‘dip’ according to the academic skill that is being covered.
There are several academic skills this book presents particularly well. One is note-taking, which is introduced in Unit 1 and then developed throughout the book in listening exercises which use cumulative lecture extracts on general ICT topics. However, as is often the case with such materials, the practice provided here only teaches students to deal with very orderly, clear, non-digressive lectures. Cornell note-taking is also covered. Dictionary use is another academic skill well supported with exercises, and there is a heavy and good vocabulary development throughout the book. Internet skills are introduced through a full page picture of Google search results, allowing analysis of e-sources even if a computer is not available. The critical thinking and research skills taught in this section are particularly useful for EAP students. Seminar skills are also introduced and developed throughout the book, and accessible yet subject –specific texts in the reading sections will certainly lighten the load of the ESAP teacher in Computer Sciences.
There are two key areas where this course book falls a bit short, neither of which prevent it from being a useful resource. The first is that it occasionally prioritizes unit and syllabus structure over content. This is evident in the frequent use of generic warm-up questions (Section 2.2 :“How do you use ICT in your work or studies? What are the advantages? Can you think of any disadvantages?” Section 3.1: “When do you use ICT or see ICT being used around you in your everyday life? What are the benefits of ICT to your life? Are there any disadvantages?” etc.). There is also the common textbook issue of a ‘fun’ elicitive exercise followed by a seemingly unconnected grammar point or skills practice, and a few minor layout ambiguities or errors. The second issue is that, for all its ESAP focus, it misses some important elements of academic study in ICT. For example, the lecture and note-taking sections do not consider PowerPoint-driven lectures, which are increasingly common in all fields, nor do they consider lab sessions, a key part of most ICT courses. The listening and reading sections give great skills practice but are nowhere near the length or complexity of what students will likely encounter in even their first subject class. The first problem can be avoided with a bit of preparation, and the second may not be an issue for foundation or pre-sessional students who need to focus on building their skills rather than functioning on an ICT course.
On the whole this is a well-informed course book that will allow teachers to support students in improving their language, academic skills, and understanding of ICT. Its standard EFL course book organization with typical activities will be a boon to teachers who may feel more comfortable with general English teaching but who need to provide academic English and ICT knowledge. The general nature of the ICT information and the highly-structured format make it most suitable for foundation year/pre-undergrad ICT students.