The Janus Moment in (BAL)EAP 2013
Recently I attended BALEAP’s biennial conference at Nottingham University, which was a great opportunity to catch up with the world of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I was there with Epigeum to meet potential clients and authors for its forthcoming English for Academic Studies courses. The conference theme was “The Janus Moment” in honour of the Roman god Janus, who presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and thus war and peace. In this case, the organisers were less interested in war, more interested in the analogy of looking back at the development of EAP over the past 40 years, and also looking to the future with the growth of English as a medium of instruction in Higher Education, EAP is becoming an increasingly important area. The conference was busy, lots of participants and great sessions, which you can see from the conference programme, but I was only able to attend a few, and I will discuss here a couple of sessions that I found encapsulated the conference themes.
Caroline Coffin: Negotiating difference for future action: Systemic Functional Linguistics meets Academic Literacies
Caroline Coffin’s plenary talk was far less dry than the title suggests and Coffin discussed some very practical applications of the theories she discussed, offering strategies to help reduce student failure. Coffin gave the broader context in UK Higher Education (and elsewhere, though the terminology and emphasis varies) of more emphasis on (successful) teaching and learning, with a drive to improve Attainment, Progression and Retention, with more internationalisation and broadening of access. Coffin described a research project at the Open University where they had looked at the problems faced by Health and Social Care Students where there was a 50% failure rate (the students are a mix of native speakers of English and speakers of English as an additional language). Coffin had actually followed a course and completed the assignments (she passed). She suggested that EAP was comparable to CLIL (another acronym – Content Language and Integrated Learning) and felt it needed a “transformative pedagogy”, in which students, faculty and EAP practitioners would work together to move from a “skills deficit model” to a shared understanding of “a complex set of writing practices”.
Coffin illustrated her talk with an examination of the case study approach which is a central part of teaching and learning in Health and Social Care, and how students needed to progress through a hierarchy of Narrate -> Classify -> Explain -> Argue. Thus, for students to be successful, their lecturers (and EAP lecturers) need to help them integrate their lived experiences (for instance as Nurses, Social Workers) with academic theories. Coffin then contrasted the emphasis in Health and Social Care on the desire from lecturers for “decontextualised academic theory” with Business Studies which has more emphasis on “concrete lived worlds”. I’m familiar with both areas, and found this comparison interesting, as it explained why having recently studied for an MBA, I was not always helpful as I thought when commenting on drafts of a relative’s written assignments for their Social Work degree. In the same way, an EAP lecturer needs to be prepared to help students working with very different faculty expectations, and for this Coffin advocated the use of linguistic analysis approaches similar to literary criticism, where form=meaning.
John Swales – Revising an EAP textbook
Like many delegates I was very pleased to see the guru of EAP and ESP in action, and intrigued by the challenges Swales faced in writing a new edition of his very successful Academic Writing for graduate students which he co-wrote with Christine Feak and which sold 100,000 copies between 1994-2012. Interestingly its publisher Michigan University Press is determined to keep this as a print only publication, which I felt was misguided, when so many students would expect at least a Kindle version. Swales had a tricky relationship with his new “development editor”, and related the story of their disagreements over a publication that has become financially important to its commercial viability. Curiously, it seems that instead of the success of previous editions making the publisher trust the judgement of Swales and Feak, particularly on editorial and linguistic issues, the opposite seems to have occurred. The session illustrates the challenges many of us face in the sometimes delicate author-publisher relationship.
Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner - Balancing old and new activity types on an academic writing website
Nesi and Gardner discussed the design of an academic writing website with 50 hours of learning, for the British Council’s LearnEnglish website, which I found fascinating as I led the development of this website between 2000-3. In doing so they drew upon the findings from an earlier investigative project which identified the range of assignment genres in common use in British universities. They felt constrained by what they described as “fairly traditional CALL-style exercise templates”, which they accepted was “very restrictive but inevitable for self-study with no tutor support”. They are further constrained by the British Council’s requirement that the materials work on mobile and very small screens. The team from Coventry University have tried to ensure that the “material content is multimodal, corpus-based, and enhanced with hyperlinks to other internet sources”. They showed how they had created “13 genre families” with 5 icons pointing to specific academic functions/purposes. You can find out more on the BAWE website. The talk ended with a swift demo of their wonderful corpus Word Tree analysis tools at which they plan to embed into the British Council resource, which I illustrate here with an analysis of the word “cross”. A very useful concordancer AntConc, was mentioned in several sessions, as it enables you to create and analyse your own corpora.
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