ProGram 2.0: The New Version of an E-learning Tool for Very Advanced Learners of German

ProGram 2.0: la nueva versión de una herramienta E-learning para estudiantes muy avanzados de alemán

Ibolya Kurucz (Institute of German as a Foreign Language (IDF), Heidelberg University)

Katrin Berty (Centre for Ibero-American Studies (IAZ), Heidelberg university)

Brigitte Ströde (Institute of German as a Foreign Language (IDF), Heidelberg university)

Christiane von Stutterheim (Institute of German as a Foreign Language (IDF), Heidelberg University)

Artículo recibido: 12-10-2017 | Artículo aceptado: 12-11-2017

RESUMEN: La autonomía y la accesibilidad del aprendizaje son dos aspectos didáctico-metodológicos muy importantes para la innovación en la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras. La implementación digital de ambos aspectos se realizó modernizando la ya existente plataforma de e-Learning ProGram dirigida a estudiantes avanzados de alemán. ProGram se diseñó para mejorar la escritura académica, especialmente la de estudiantes de filología, y se adaptó a los nuevos estándares tecnológicos y de diseño. Una función especial de la plataforma es su corrector inteligente que sirve para impulsar el aprendizaje autónomo. Se ha testado una versión provisional del programa para comprobar su adecuación. Los resultados muestran que los participantes, especialmente los estudiantes avanzados, quedaron muy satisfechos con el diseño y los contenidos. La versión para dispositivos móviles fue evaluada positivamente solo por la mitad de los participantes. La siguiente fase del proyecto incluye la mejora de la versión para dispositivos móviles teniendo en cuenta al usuario.
ABSTRACT: Autonomous and accessible learning are two important didactic-methodological aspects to address e-learning novelties in foreign language acquisition. The implementation of both, combined with electronic resources is created by modernising the existing e-learning tool ProGram for very advanced German learners. ProGram is designed to improve the academic writing skills, especially for students of philology studies and is adapted to new technical and design standards. A special feature of the tool is the intelligent corrector to foster autonomous learning. The interim version has been tested to check the relevance of the Internet-based programme. The results show that the participants, especially advanced users, were satisfied with the design and content of the tool. A mobile version was viewed positively by only half of the participants. Further steps will include the adaptation of a responsive design which facilitates the usage on a mobile device.

PALABRAS CLAVE: e-learning, destrezas en escritura académica, aprendizaje autónomo, alemán como lengua extranjera, aprendices avanzados
KEY WORDS: e-learning, academic writing skills, autonomous learning, German as a foreign language, advanced learners


The E-LENGUA project is financed by the KA2013 Strategic Partnerships Actions for Higher Education.


1. Introduction

In a constantly changing world of new technologies, not only the scientific fields connected with technology and engineering but also the educational sciences should keep up the pace. Today, teaching and learning has become unimaginable without new media. Not only in Germany, where 100% of 14 to 19-year-olds are active Internet users and  digital media has become an integral part of children’s and many young adults’ living environments (Rösler & Würffel 2014: 125). Almost every school, institute and university offers a computer pool and almost every student has at least one mobile device, sometimes more. The challenge for foreign language teaching lies in taking full advantage of this development for enhancing foreign language acquisition. This is the general goal of the ERASMUS+ initiative E-LENGUA.

Heidelberg University as one of the seven partner universities of the E-LENGUA project, attends to the matter of autonomous and accessible learning. The two forms of learning can be applied productively when dealing with new media. Autonomous learning fosters individual and responsible learning; accessible learning environments are provided by electronic devices enabling learning at any time and in any place. To approach this challenge, the project group at the Institute of German as a Foreign Language Philology (IDF) and the Iberoamerika Zentrum (IAZ) further developed the already existing and well-established e-learning tool ProGram in adapting it to new technical and design standards.

ProGram is an Internet-based tool which has been developed for very advanced language learners of German. The aim is to provide specialised learning material helping students to build up high level academic writing skills. The tool possesses a special feature called intelligent corrector including a two-step error prognosis to help the user analyse and correct errors autonomously. After the first technical updates and design adaptations, an evaluation was conducted. The purpose of the present study is to assess the results of the evaluation to see whether ProGram’s current version is satisfactory for the targeted group. In the following, we will first introduce the main features of the tool. Then the evaluation study will be presented. In conclusion, implications for future developments will be discussed.

2. Background of ProGram

ProGram was especially designed to foster the autonomy of the learner. The role of learner autonomy in the context of foreign language acquisition (FLA) has been discussed ever since Holec’s article on autonomy and foreign language learning. He defined autonomy as: “To say of a learner that he is autonomous is […] to say that he is capable of taking charge of his own learning” (Holec, 1981: 4).

This does not mean that the learner is left completely alone with his learning process but that a certain degree of responsibility and self-regulation can enhance language learning. Autonomy means that the learner should define their own learning goals, contents and progression, chose the appropriate learning material and technique, and evaluate their learning processes and results (Wolff, 2002: n.p.). Little (2003) gives important arguments for the method of autonomous learning. If learners are reflectively engaged with their learning, this will lead to more efficiency and effectiveness. If learners are proactively committed to their learning, then motivation should not be a problem. The positive impact of this method on foreign language learning (Yagcioglu, 2015) was one of the major motivations for developing ProGram.

2.1. Autonomous e-learning

A relevant precondition for autonomous learning is the increasing use of information and communication technology (ICT) in e-learning materials. This type of tool allows the learners to define the learning contents at their own pace. The learner can select the focus of their learning activities. This requires that the learner is capable to assess their own skills and to self-organise the learning process, i.e. what kind of information will be necessary to work on, specific exercises, and how can the relevant information be obtained (Ströde, 2004: 484).

To foster autonomous interaction with electronic resources for students of philology, in particular those of the German studies at the IDF, a computer-assisted language learning (CALL) tutorial called language learning with electronic devices was established in winter term 1998/99. For this target group, however, adequate material was challenging to find. Most programmes or Internet-based tools offered learning material for learners between A1 to B2 levels (according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages/CEFR), including basic training material such as vocabulary or communication trainer tools for beginners, pattern-drill tasks, and interactive tools for intermediate learners. Most language packages were restricted to multiple-choice drop-down menu exercises. It goes without saying that tasks in which clicking takes the place of writing are of limited use in the development of advanced writing skills. Very rarely, exercises for advanced learners could be found, e.g. by the Schubert-Verlag offering some general-language exercises on C1/C2 levels based on their textbook Erkundungen (see online exercises of the German publisher Schubert-Verlag: <http://www.aufgaben.schubert-verlag.de>.

2.2. Appropriate material for advanced learners

With these limited resources for advanced learners on the market, an appropriate tool to improve high level skills was required (beyond DSH-2[1], German University admission). The focus of the tool to be developed had to be on writing skills as one of the most elaborate language skills:

Writing in the foreign language is a very complex process that requires not only grammatical, orthographic correct phrasing but also a clear structure, coherence, text type appropriateness and textual relevance of the emerging texts. (Kirsanova & Paland, 2012: 8)

Foreign first-year students in Heidelberg possess writing and comprehension skills from previous language learning, for instance acquired in the context of their studies in their homelands. Mostly, these linguistic competencies are not sufficient regarding quality and intensity for the specific writing and comprehension requirements of (in this case German) university programmes.

Looking at the electronic material available for improving these skills, existing tools and packages just compare the learners’ texts or phrases to sample solutions and give a right or wrong feedback. Sometimes they are not even corrected (Kirsanova & Paland, 2012: 8). Due to this shortage of adequate material, several FLA researchers suggest a blended learning form, where a tutor or at least an online tutor corrects the learner’s writing (i.a. Rösler, 2007: 177ff; Kirsanova & Paland, 2012: 7ff). Not to be dependent on a (human) tutor’s constant presence and correction work, the idea arose to integrate an intelligent corrector or “electronic tutor” (Haller, 2007: 72) with a differentiated language and error analysis.

2.3. Development of ProGram

An expert team of the universities of Heidelberg and Saarbrücken therefore decided to work with an intelligent corrector using Natural Language Processing (NLP). The NLP tools used offer support in three areas: a) intelligent spell checking, b) grammar proofing, c) distance evaluation between the learner’s utterance and the correct solution. With this system, the text input is parsed with the help of an underlying grammar and subsequently matched with a lexical database. With the help of such an intelligent corrector, a tool was created which aimed at the enhancement of academic writing skills focusing on structural and grammatical aspects of the German language (Ströde, 2004: 485); these aspects included very similar contents as offered in the preparatory courses (propaedeutics) for foreign students at the IDF, hence the name ProGram (propaedeutic grammar).

ProGram was developed between 2000 and 2008[2]. Over many years, the tool had proven its worth. However, enormous technical advances and changes call for improvement not only in design but also in its technical respects.

3. Towards ProGram 2.0

In the context of E-LENGUA, the Heidelberg group addresses the challenge of assessing ProGram’s relevance for today’s advanced learners and adapting and modernising it accordingly. The aim is to create the next version for the target group: ProGram 2.0; again, specifying the two aspects of autonomous and accessible learning.

Technical and design adaptations as well as first approaches towards a responsive design have been conducted. The final version (ProGram 2.0), however, has not been launched yet and therefore chapter three and four present an interim version of ProGram (with its original name). The final version will be available in the beginning of 2018.

3.1. Appropriate material

Looking at current e-learning material, there still seems to be a lack of electronic material suitable for autonomous learning and advanced learners as most online and electronic programmes serve rather as support for beginners and learners at an intermediate level than for students at an advanced language level (see i.a. Plieninger 2011; Thorne & Reinhard, 2008). The learning material recommended for advanced learners are books or audiobooks (Mitschian, 2010: 75), blogs and wikis (Thorne, 2008: 564ff or Platten, 2008: n.p.), or (multiplayer) online gaming (Biebighäuser, 2014: 88ff). This means tools and activities are recommended which are designed for native speakers. This can be helpful for advanced learners but not precisely for the purpose of enhancing academic writing skills at an advanced level.

Material which is adequate for today’s technical standards should be accessible at any time and place. Technological developments extended the e-learning format to the m-learning format (or MALL -mobile assisted language learning-. It is referred to when using a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone to assist the learning process) or even the u-learning format (ubiquitous learning enables the mobile device user to interact and learn with their surroundings; e.g. with sensors or radio frequency). This development made learning possible independent of specific locations. The electronic learning material can be accessed on one of our most constant companions: the smartphone. Thus, the adaptation of ProGram to a responsive design provides new learning pathways for the target group of future digital natives.

3.2. Technical and design adaptations

The decision to modernise ProGram includes technical adaptations to combine and integrate existing software such as MPRO (programme for morphological analysis) and FRED (module for grammatical analysis) with the intelligent corrector tool. This spelling and grammar checking tool is based on experiences in NLP and has been tested and used in commercial systems such as the DUDEN Korrektor (cf. Haller et al., 2004: n.p.).

Further technical adaptations include the new format of PHP version (5.6) and frontend to the new html5 format making the programme available to a larger user group and the installation easier. At the frontend side, this consists in the usage of the frontend framework ‘Bootstrap’, which enables ‘responsive’ behaviour of the user interface, and the compatibility of the UI with multiple screen sizes. For real-time functionality without page reloads, AJAX Requests are done with the help of ‘jQuery’. On the server side, a switch from PHP5 to PHP7 was done, and a modern framework ‘Laravel’ was used. This provides many standard features for web applications, and ensures security on the server side. Specific attention is paid to security issues (such as SQL injection, XSS). The evaluation of the input is still being done by the original libraries written in ‘Prolog’. These are executed over the Unix command line via the PHP Application.

Another challenge for advancing ProGram was to adapt the appearance and design of the tool. It will be given a responsive design so that it can be used on portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. This is a very important step as the target group consists of mainly (young) students. For the same reason, the design has been changed to appeal to the target group. Brighter colours and flashier buttons will attract user’s attention and update the look of the tool. The design adaptations that have already been implemented can be seen in the following screenshots showing the interim version as of August 2017.

3.3. Setup and content domains

As the start screen in figure 1 indicates, ProGram is a “computer-assisted language learning programme to improve academic writing skills in the scope of German as a foreign language” (ProGram 2017, n.p.). It is an open-source Internet-based tool that can be accessed via any web browser under the following link: <https://www.idf.uni-heidelberg.de/program/>.

Figure 1: ProGram’s start screen.
Figure 1: ProGram’s start screen.

ProGram offers five different content domains. They have proven to be relevant because they represent difficult grammatical subjects for even (very) proficient German as a foreign language (GFL) learners and because of their frequent use in German academic texts. These are word order, verb valency, passive, functional verb construction (FVC), and nominalisation (see navigation bar in figure 1 for German translation).

All five domains consist of the following three subdomains:

Content: Under this tab, all exercises are listed with the corresponding grammatical and textual contents. Furthermore, the exercise type (drag & drop, multiple choice, fill-in and free text input) is indicated for the user.

Exercise: This column enables the user to get directly to the exercises. It is possible to jump directly from one exercise to another.

Rules: Here you can find the grammatical rules necessary to understand the exercises. They describe the rules of the five content domains in a very detailed way and show different example sentences. When the user clicks on “rules”, a new browser window is automatically opened to facilitate the parallel use of exercise and grammar rules.

Additionally, an alphabetical list of FVC  and an alphabetic glossary of grammatical terminology are included. The list of FVC presents the most common items and the corresponding equivalent simple verbs or adjectives + copula, respectively. For example: to make an offer – to offer sth. For the nominalisation exercises, four different authentic texts between approx. 600-1200 words are provided[3]. The longer texts offer also an audio-version for convenience.

3.4. Example: passive substitute

The passive is one of the content domains offering exercises for the stative (Zustandspassiv) and processual (Vorgangspassiv) passive as well as transformation exercises from passive to passive substitute form. All these passive forms are very common in German academic writing. In the following, we will have a closer look at one exercise of the passive substitute form, presenting also the feature of the intelligent corrector.

3.4.1. Overall structure of the exercise

Figure 2 gives an overview of ProGram’s general structure of exercises with inserted corresponding translations. The selected exercise (4.2. Exercise to build the passive substitute form) demonstrates authentic text material and the task description is to “click on the passive phrases in the text and transform them into an appropriate passive substitute form if possible” (ProGram, 2017: n.p.). By letting the user find the passive phrases in the text and not just providing several incoherent sentences, the autonomous learning aspect is fostered and the learner must focus on the textual structure as well as the content; otherwise it is not possible to select the passive phrases in the text material.

Figure 2: Exercise to build the passive substitute form.
Figure 2: Exercise to build the passive substitute form.

If the user is uncertain or needs to refresh the knowledge about the grammatical rules that must be applied for solving the task, the corresponding rules are linked. By clicking this, a separate window is opened (see figure 3). This way the user does not have to leave or close the exercise window while checking the grammar.

Figure 3: Grammar rules for passive substitute form.
Figure 3: Grammar rules for passive substitute form.

To proceed with the exercise (4.2. passive substitute form), the user has to select a phrase by clicking on one of the phrases that can be transformed and if it is transformable, the phrase is highlighted in grey; if this is not the case, the selected phrase is highlighted in red and ProGram gives you the feedback of “incorrect” as you selected a phrase that is not a Vorgangspassiv and as a result cannot be transformed into passive substitute.

Figure 4: Exercise to build the passive substitute form with wrong answer.
Figure 4: Exercise to build the passive substitute form with wrong answer.

3.4.2. Intelligent Correction

In case a transformable phrase is correctly selected but the typed answer is incorrect (see figure 4 for translation of the selected phrase), ProGram gives the feedback of “unfortunately wrong” together with a smiley with a frown[4]. However, ProGram gives you more than just a right or wrong feedback. The intelligent corrector is activated and a two-step error prognosis is created (see figure 5 and 6), i.e. the most likely error that could be made is suggested. Of course, typos are a frequent source of error indication; therefore, we talk about error prognosis and not error analysis.

Figures 5 & 6: Error prognosis step 1; Error prognosis step 2.
Figures 5 & 6: Error prognosis step 1; Error prognosis step 2.
Figures 5 & 6: Error prognosis step 1; Error prognosis step 2.
Figures 5 & 6: Error prognosis step 1; Error prognosis step 2.

The first step (figure 5) of the error prognosis shows the incorrect word/s; in this case: dogmatic (dogmatische, inflectional error) and are (sind congruency error). This gives the user the chance to scrutinise the erroneous or deviant word/s and correct them if they can already detect the error or deviation and insert the correct answer.

The second step (figure 6) appears after clicking on more… (mehr…) and an error description is displayed to give the user certain hints on how to solve the task correctly. For dogmatic it says “Please use another word class” and for are: “Please mind the number agreement on the verb”. Both comments indicate that the user has used the wrong grammatical forms (adjective instead of adverb or plural instead of singular, respectively). With the help of these comments, the user should be supported in finding the source of their error and come to the right answer autonomously.

3.4.3. Mobile version

As has been outlined above, ProGram is being equipped with a responsive design, meaning that it can be displayed on a smaller screen and that it adapts to the dimensions of the electronic device used, e.g. a smartphone or tablet display.

Figures 7-9: Start screen; Exercise 4.2; Error prognosis.
Figures 7-9: Start screen; Exercise 4.2; Error prognosis.
Figures 7-9: Start screen; Exercise 4.2; Error prognosis.
Figures 7-9: Start screen; Exercise 4.2; Error prognosis.
Figures 7-9: Start screen; Exercise 4.2; Error prognosis.
Figures 7-9: Start screen; Exercise 4.2; Error prognosis.

The respective figures show the start screen with navigation bar (figure 7), exercise 4.2. passive substitute form (figure 8), and the error prognosis for a wrong answer (figure 9); all comparable to the explanations of the previous example given in 3.3 and all three screenshots were taken from an iPhone 6. As space is limited, some components of the desktop version are not displayed, only showing the important information necessary to deal with the exercise. For longer texts and grammar rules, the navigation bar will disappear completely when scrolling to have more space on the screen for reading.

In summary, it can be said that ProGram is passing through several adaption and renewal steps and therefore, an evaluation of the interim version will be helpful towards completion of the final product. The results will be discussed in the next chapter.

4. Survey and Results

The original version of ProGram has already been tested with participants of the CALL tutorials and the PASCH (German partner school initiative) advanced trainings for teachers at the IDF (for results see Ströde, 2004: 489). The applied evaluation questionnaire proved successful in assessing and improving ProGram and thus, we decided to evaluate the interim version of the tool with a very similar design of the original questionnaire and added questions regarding the user’s opinion on the mobile version. We also compared two different groups of participants with different German levels as this had not been evaluated before.

4.1. Participants and methods

During the summer term of 2017, one CALL tutorial with 14 participants was given. 12 of these 14 students participated in the evaluation, forming the first group of participants with an intermediate German language level of B1/B2. The survey did not require any introduction of the tool as students had worked with different GFL e-learning programmes during the semester including ProGram. The date of the test took place at the end of the semester during one of the regular course sessions.

Since ProGram is a tool for very advanced learners, we chose the current most advanced course of German learners: Wortschatz Cz[5] with 17 students. These students and one voluntary doctoral candidate with C level competencies had not worked with ProGram before. Therefore, we briefly presented and explained the tool’s setup and functionality (20 minutes). Subsequently, they were asked to use and explore ProGram on their own without further instructions in order to create a comparable autonomous learning environment as in the CALL tutorial (30 minutes). Afterwards, the participants filled out the questionnaire (5-10 minutes). Two participant groups were formed for the test: intermediate learners, in the following group B (N=12) and the advanced learners, hereafter called group C (N=18), in total N=30.

The questionnaire consisted of ten closed questions (see table 1) and the participants were asked to rate each question with excellent (++), good (+), fair (0), poor (–), and very poor (– –). Question 11 was an open question regarding the advantages of the mobile version. At the end, we included a comment section for further remarks[6].

Question number Question
Q1 How do you evaluate the execution of the programme?
Q2 How do you evaluate the amount of exercises?
Q3 How do you evaluate the level of difficulty?
Q4 How do you evaluate the amount of error comments?
Q5 How do you evaluate the length of the error comments (too long/too short)?
Q6 To what extent did the error comments help you to find the correct answer?
Q7 How do you evaluate the additional help (rules, grammar, lists, etc.)?
Q8 Would you like to have more exercises like this?
Q9 Would you use ProGram on a tablet or smartphone?
Q10 Do you see advantages for the usage of ProGram on a tablet or smartphone?
Q11 If so, what kind of advantages?

Table 1: Questionnaire.

4.2. Results

First, it is important to review the general satisfaction of the users. ProGram was developed more than ten years ago, and some technical and design adaptations have been conducted, but it is necessary to assess if the programme in its core is outdated or methodologically not satisfying anymore.

The test results in table 2 show that both language level groups evaluated the questions regarding ergonomic and content-didactic criteria most frequently with good. Excellent and good as positive feedback are selected by about 65%[7] (group C) and 61% (group B). A neutral stand is given by 19% (C) and 32% (B), whereas poor and very poor are rarely chosen by 15% (C) and 6% (B). This reflects an overall satisfaction with ProGram and we can have a closer look at the satisfaction level and the differences between the two participant groups.

Rating Group C Group B
excellent (++) 26% 15%
good (+) 39% 46%
fair (0) 19% 32%
poor (–) 13% 5%
very poor (– –) 2% 1%
n/s (not specified) 1% 1%
total 100% 100%

Table 2: Overall satisfaction with ProGram (all questions combined[8]).

4.2.1. Comparison between group B and C

The results of the individual questions as numbered in table 1 are shown in figure 10. Q1, Q2, Q7, and Q8 regarding programme execution, amount of exercises, the information and help inside ProGram, as well as the wish to have more exercises like this, are clearly dominated by group C ranking between 83 to 94% excellent or good. Group B on the other hand, shows more restraint in three of the four questions as about half of the participants (between 50 and 58%) give a positive feedback.

This significant difference was expected and shows that group C as more advanced learners could make more use out of the tool. They could navigate through it more securely and they were motivated to ask for more exercises of the same type.

For Q3 and Q7 the participant groups agree. The difficulty level is chosen by both groups (83%) as positive, or maybe some of the participants also interpreted it as on a high level[9]. The additional help and information inside ProGram such as the glossary or the FVC list are rated as a very positive feature by both groups as well (between 83 and 89% positive). This points to the fact that well-provided grammatical help and additional information are appreciated by learners at different language levels.

Q4, Q5, and Q6 gave a rather surprising result. These three questions regarding the error comments[10] of the intelligent corrector are interpreted more positively by group B than group C. We expected group C to be more satisfied with the intelligent corrector and find it more helpful to find the solution autonomously. However, there seems to be another aspect apart from the language level that we need to factor in. Group B has worked with different electronic programmes all semester including ProGram. Group C had to understand, navigate and work with ProGram within 30-40 minutes. The comments may not be as intuitively understandable as we had thought and the user may need time to get accustomed to them.

Figure 10: ProGram questionnaire: positive feedback.
Figure 10: ProGram questionnaire: positive feedback.

4.2.2. Outlook on the mobile version

The last two questions of the questionnaire considered the prospective usage of ProGram on a mobile device (see figure 11). From previous research, we had anticipated that e-learning enhanced to m-learning (i.a. Lehner et al., 2008; Kopp-Kavermann, 2012; Mitschian, 2010) and the mobile version would be highly appreciated by the test persons.

Figure 11: ProGram on a mobile device.
Figure 11: ProGram on a mobile device.

The current results[11], however, present a mixed picture. More than half of group C want to use ProGram on a mobile device, but only slightly more than 40% see the advantages. Vice versa for group B: Only about 40% would use ProGram on a tablet or smartphone and 50% see the advantages of the version on a portable device.

The graph shows a positive trend regarding the mobile version for about half of the participants that is reflected in the following about what kind of advantages they could foresee. Both groups report that it would be “practical” and that it can be used “on the road”, “in the train”, “outside”, “during a break”, or even “in bed”. Scepticism can be seen in comments such as “the explanations are too long for the tablet, also the exercises should be shortened”, or “smartphone no – tablet yes”, meaning that the test person would use ProGram on a tablet as it provides enough space, whereas a smartphone does not. This still leaves the question if ProGram could work properly on a mobile device and could bring an additional value to the desktop version by adding the two components anytime and anywhere.

4.2.3. Suggestions for improvement

The questionnaire also included a comment section at the end and it was used by the test persons to write anything they wanted to add about the programme and about a third (i.e. 28% of group C and 33% of group B) of the participants did so. Most of the comments in group C were notes on how to improve ProGram, which are very useful for further development. For example, they suggested that “for functional verb construction there is not enough help / error comments” and “comments a little too general”, showing that they wish they had more detailed information and more precise error comments.

One participant of group B admitted that “it is hard for me to evaluate [ProGram], but I have to say that I often do not understand the comments”. This aspect was completely absent in group C confirming that the tool is more suitable for (very) advanced learners who can grasp the concept of the tasks and content of the comments better.

Two other students of group B also mentioned that they were interested in further grammatical content domains, which is probably related to the extensive time (whole semester) they worked with ProGram and partly found out that the existing domains are (very) difficult for them. They wish for something a little “easier” such as the “declination system”. However, we took these remarks as inducement to think about further appropriate content domains for advanced learners.

5. Conclusion

We can conclude from the results of the evaluation that ProGram is still a relevant and useful tool for (very) advanced learners of German. The target group of students is satisfied with the ergonomic and content-didactic setup of ProGram and half of them show an interest in a mobile version of ProGram. Of course, the scepticism regarding a smartphone or tablet version must be taken seriously and has to be tested again as soon as the responsive design is developed.

As predicted, a high level of language competence in German is necessary for the use of ProGram as reflected in the results of the questionnaire. The idea that autonomous learning is fostered by the tool can only be guaranteed if the intelligent corrector is used and understood to its full extent. Otherwise the user could start guessing and would not arrive at the right solution by the help of the error comments. This does not necessarily mean that for example, a learner at an intermediate level should not use ProGram. Quite the contrary, it is to be expected that many tasks can be completed by those at an intermediate level.

The language level does not seem to be the only factor for the successful use of ProGram. Apparently, the familiarisation phase is important as well. The group of advanced learners with 30 minutes of usage showed more restraint regarding the error comments than the intermediate learners who worked with ProGram over a full semester. We will work on improving the error comment section accordingly. We will also consider the suggestions for improvement made by the test persons in detail as a starting point for reworking the comment section.

As part of these evaluations, we came across another area of the German grammar which poses problems to advanced learners particularly in writing: connectors and the corresponding syntax of the (subordinate) clause. It could be integrated as a further content domain in ProGram.

In conclusion, we are planning to launch the final desktop and mobile version of ProGram in the beginning of 2018. Priority is given to integrating the test users’ observations into our own technical and design adaptations as well as considering the content-related enhancements such as revising the error comments or extending the content domains.

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[[2]]ProGram was generously funded by the Klaus Tschira Stiftung within the project Einsatz und Entwicklung von Multimediaprogrammen zur Verbesserung der Lehre an Hochschulen(Usage and Development of multimedia programmes to improve teaching in higher education). Comment: Could this be in the same footnote and page as footnote 2 on page 203? If not, the brackets can be deleted as this is only the translation.[[2]]

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Notas:    (↵ regresa al texto)
  1. University admission at German universities is granted when foreign students complete DSH-2 (Deutscher Hochschulzugang).
  2. Authenticity is also ensured by indicating the source/s at the end of the text material, e.g. texts taken from German newspapers, journals, monographies or textbooks.
  3. Happy smileys indicate a correct answer and smileys with a frown an incorrect answer; the different smileys are displayed in a random order.
  4. Wortschatz C is a course designed to improve the students’ lexicon and grammar on a C1/C2 level.
  5. The original questionnaire (in German) is included in the appendix. Comment: We added the original questionnaire in the previous version as appendix. Is it still going to be published? – if not, this footnote has to be deleted.
  6. This and the following values are rounded to integral numbers as the trend is more important than the exact value.
  7. Except for the questions regarding the usage of ProGram on a mobile device as this does not reflect the current satisfaction with the tool.
  8. The explanations to the rating systems are given on top of the page and the participants only see the symbols; it is possible that they linked (++) to a high level of difficulty and (– –) to a low level of difficulty.
  9. “Error comments” mean error prognosis and error description as described in chapter three.
  10. For the results, the evaluation with excellent and good was combined as a positive result. Fair, poor and very poor were excluded.

Caracteres. Estudios culturales y críticos de la esfera digital | ISSN: 2254-4496 | Salamanca