As a result of the Open University's open admissions policy, many of our students start university without the levels of English required to understand academic texts in English. A central goal of the English department is to help these students "bridge the gaps" and help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to cope with academic texts in English. This goal drives most of the research studies conducted in our department and forms the basis of our studies on specific cognitive and non-cognitive needs that characterize language learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. Clarification of students' needs also form the basis for our action research studies designed to develop, evaluate and improve effective instructional methods and materials.
In addition to our learner-centered research, the range of synchronous and asynchronous delivery systems used to deliver our English courses enable us to conduct quantitative and qualitative research on the relative advantages of different delivery systems for language learning. These studies include identification of possible barriers to language learning in online courses, and types of teacher-student interactions, for example feedback, that correlate with improved learning outcomes in distance learning environments.
Department members' additional research interests include development of open learning resources, acquisition of high-frequency general and subject-specific academic vocabulary, cross-modal changes in teacher-student interactions across different learning environments, best practices in design of online language learning courses and effective methods of improving academic discourse (oral and written) among non-native English speakers.