October 2016
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Marvin D. Hoffland, Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, FH Kärnten, Klagenfurt, Austria

Academic writing, videos and ESP—combined to form an in-class writing activity in Moodle. Crazy idea, right? This article will show how to take ESP-related videos and create an in-class writing assignment to strengthen students’ writing abilities using the IMRD (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion; Swales & Feak, 2012, p. 278) writing format. IMRD is also known as IMRAD (Day & Gastel, 2006, pp. 21–22) or TAIMRAD (Title, Abstract, IMR and D; Maher, 1992, p. 32). Moreover, the embedded videos, assignment instructions, and submission will be provided using Moodle, a very popular open-source course management system. The following ESP academic writing exercise was developed for third-semester students in the master’s degree program Health Care Informatics to help them prepare in writing their respective master’s theses in the fourth and final semester.

There are many excellent textbooks (e.g., Swales & Feak, 2012; Day & Gastel, 2006; Maher, 1992) that focus on academic and scientific writing, and they provide excellent exercises and examples. However, most books show sample engineering texts that do not correspond to medical engineering/informatics, or are, in the case of Maher’s (1992) book, designed to meet the needs of medical scientists, students, and doctors. One possibility to specifically target tertiary-level medical engineering/informatics students is to use the vast amount of video material that is currently available on the Internet and develop writing exercises to meet language learning objectives (e.g., IMRD, abstract writing, titles) as well as better match the ESP interests of the students.

I like to use medical-related podcasts focusing on the Mayo Clinic’s Medical Edge podcast and website, such as “Guillain-Barre Syndrome-Mayo Clinic (Mayo Clinic, 2009), found on YouTube. I especially like the mix of language of the three main characters (narrator, patient, and medical doctor) in the Mayo Clinic Medical Edge podcast. Additionally, the videos are relatively short, averaging 3 minutes, and include professional graphics to illustrate anatomy and technology used in treatments. Moreover, the streaming video (YouTube channels) can be integrated into Moodle (or other course management systems) to develop online exercises as well as in-class activities.

The Genesis of an Idea and the Desired Requirements of the Assignment

I have been teaching the course Academic Writing for Graduate Students for a number of years now, and I was trying to come up with an idea for an activity at the end of the semester. During my daily commute to the university, I started to watch a Medical Edge video podcast from the Mayo Clinic and to take notes. Based upon the notes taken, I wanted to see if I could develop a “quick” outline of an IMRD paper during this 30-minute commute. I could, and I liked the results, so I decided to define the exercise to fulfill the following criteria.

First, the exercise should be introduced, explained, and completed all in a 90-minute lecture. Why? Because at the end of the third semester, students need to complete a number of different projects and/or take their final exams in their engineering and information technology courses, and another English writing assignment in the form of homework is, to say the least, not well received. Second, I wanted to introduce medical topics, preferably videos that illustrate technology that medical engineers might use or diseases that might be treated or diagnosed using software applications. Third, I wanted the students to analyze the video in the terms of IMRD and develop a “draft” academic paper outline. This outline would include an “academic” title, a table of contents, and an abstract. Moreover, I wanted to incorporate the videos and the assignment in Moodle to allow the students to have a larger selection of medical topics (i.e., videos) to choose from; give them the ability to watch and stop the video as often as necessary for note-taking; and provide the exercise for students who were not present. Note: this type of assignment assumes that all students have brought their own laptops with headphones to the lecture.

Step 1: Create the Moodle Assignment (Introduction)

There are many useful modules in Moodle, but one of my favorite is the “Assignment” activity. In this activity, you can provide the instructions, add file attachments, set the deadlines which in turn send out automatic notifications to the students, download the students’ homework, or grade online (fully integrated in Moodle 3.1) and provide feedback. This can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Mayo Clinic video to IMRAD assignment with video links and instructions online and as a downloadable PDF.

Step 2: Demonstrate the Activity (Methods)

Many people believe that content and learning management systems are simply used for distance learning or blended learning, but I use Moodle in almost all of my face-to-face lectures, especially when I utilize video/audio materials for in-class activities. For this activity, I opened the assignment, reviewed the instructions, and then showed the Mayo Clinic video that I had watched. I also showed my own notes to the video and how I developed an IMRD outline with academic title, abstract, and table of contents. This has, in my opinion, a dual benefit: 1) students realize that they can have section titles that are not called Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion while using IMRD format, and 2) I receive useful feedback if my instructions are unclear. This took approximately 15 minutes, which allowed more than enough time for step 3.

Step 3: Start the In-Class Activity (Methods)

“Let ‘em go at it.” In this step, ensure that the students have a laptop and headsets to access the Moodle assignment. We have installed a so-called bootstrap theme in our Moodle, so the videos can also be viewed on smartphones and tablets. Even if the students do not bring a laptop to class, which is a rarity at my university, they most certainly will have their smartphone with them. In Moodle, I used the “Page” resource to embed the YouTube videos from the Mayo Clinic, so students can view all three videos on the same page and quickly choose which one they find most interesting and best meets their ESP interests. The “Guillain-Barre Syndrome” video was only selected once (a less technical video), whereas the “Pacemaker for Epilepsy”and “New Cardio Monitor” were the most chosen (four times and five times, respectively).

Figure 2. Mayo Clinic YouTube video streams embedded into a Moodle page.

While the students worked on the assignment in class, I was able to discuss and answer questions on a one-on-one basis with them during the lecture time. Thus, the majority of the students (who attended) were able to complete the task during the lecture itself.

As mentioned previously, a number of students were not able to attend the lecture. Because all instructions, all materials, and the deadline were in the Moodle assignment and associated resources, I did not have to prepare any extra work for those missing students. Moodle automatically sent out a notification that there was an assignment due (with all instructions and video links) to those students who had not submitted their assignment.

Step 4: Grading and Feedback (Results)

I prefer the “old-fashioned” method of grading: I like to print out homework and provide feedback in the form of hand-written notes. So using the “download all submissions” option in the Moodle assignment, all student files were downloaded in a ZIP file, and the individual student name was added to the file name. After manually grading the homework, I scanned in the individual graded papers and then entered the grade and uploaded the individual scanned files to the Moodle assignment. Moodle automatically notifies the student that I have provided a grade, and the student needs only to click on the enclosed link to view the grade and download their scanned, graded papers. This process alone saves an incredible amount of time compared to my pre-Moodle days of sorting out emails, saving and most often renaming attachments, annotating grades to an Excel file, and then emailing each individual student their respective grades and feedback.


Utilizing the theoretical explanations and textbook examples of IMRD from previous lectures and the assignment instructions (plus, online English-German dictionaries), students created very good practical results that (hopefully) will prepare them to write their final master thesis, and they were not bogged down with yet another long English writing assignment. Here are a few student examples of the IMRD assignment:

Student Example 1: original video is titled “New Cardio Monitor” on YouTube.

:Mobile Remote Security Technology to Monitor Cardiac Arrhythmias

Table of Contents:

1. (introduction) Heart Period variability (Cardiac Arrhythmias)

1.1 Symptoms
1.2 (methods) Technology
1.3 (results) Patient at home
1.4 (discussion) Outlook

Student Example 2: original video title is “Guillain-Barre Syndrome” on YouTube.

: Guillain-Barre Syndrome – An Investigation of an Unpredictable and Rapid Progressing Neurologic Disease

Table of Contents:

1. (introduction) Guillain-Bare Syndrome

1.1. Symptoms
1.2. Causes
1.3. Progress

2. (methodology) Disease Pattern

2.1. Progress
2.2. Treatment
2.3. Recovery

3. (results) Recovery Study at Mayo Clinic

3.1. Women
3.2. Men

4. (discussion) Further research topics

4.1. Investigation of other possible causes for the disease
4.2. Studies on course of illness


To summarize, this academic writing activity fulfilled the criteria that I originally set: It was a short assignment that could be completed in class, utilized ESP materials that matched students’ needs, reinforced the IRMD format in a practical exercise, and was available online without any additional work. Moreover, as the assignment was only one to two pages, I could grade and provide feedback in a relatively short turn-around time. Thus, not only were the students happy with the assignment—but so was the lecturer.


Day, R. A., & Gastel, B. (2006). How to write and publish a scientific paper (6th ed). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Maher, J. C. (1992). International medical communication in English. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Guillain-Barre Syndrome-Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDspLPFhkS4

Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (3rd ed.). Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.

Marvin D. Hoffland is a senior lecturer of English and economics at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Klagenfurt, Austria. He teaches ESP/EFL courses in the areas of business, medical and technical English, and he is the Moodle administrator at the CUAS. His degrees include an MS in economics and a BA in German and economics.

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