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A pilot course with project-based learning in an intensive English program

Michael Joseph Ennis EMAIL logo , Kim Anne Barchi , Alfonso Merello Astigarraga and Andrew Wimhurst


Intensive language programs have increased in popularity in recent years. They are perceived as a means to help current or prospective university students improve their language competencies and academic skills in their medium(s) of instruction in a short amount of time prior to enrolment and/or parallel to their degree courses. However, there has been little empirical research on practices and efficacies of such programs. This paper presents a pilot project conducted during a pre-sessional intensive English course for first-year students at a trilingual university in Italy. Specifically, the project employed a mixed-method approach to explore the differences between project-based learning (PBL) and the practice of teaching from a coursebook. The results suggest that while there was no difference in learner engagement and learning outcomes between a pilot group which engaged exclusively in PBL and a control group which was taught from a coursebook, the participants expressed particularly positive attitudes to PBL, although they also expressed a desire for more teacher-led instruction. The findings merit further investigation of PBL in this and similar contexts, including the longitudinal effects of PBL and the trialling of different combinations of PBL with explicit and deductive instruction.

Corresponding author: Michael Joseph Ennis, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy, E-mail:

Appendix 1: English course assessment policy

Appendix 2: Lex 30 worksheet

Appendix 3: Data tables (Lex30)

Table 4:

Descriptive statistics.

Table 5:

Two Factor ANOVA with Repeated Measures (via Regression).

Table 6.



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Received: 2021-10-01
Accepted: 2022-02-25
Published Online: 2022-06-09
Published in Print: 2022-05-25

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