Opinion: Knowledge and the English for Academic Purposes Practitioner

 

EXPLORING AND questioning the knowledge base required to work within the discipline of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) was the theme of a recent symposium. LITE fellow, Bee Bond, reflects here on the emerging themes from the day, how they connect to her current LITE project, and to the wider higher education context.

This event, jointly organised and hosted with Alex Ding, Director at the Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT), was funded by both the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE), and BALEAP. It was oversubscribed, with around 50 people attending over a Saturday in late January.

The theme of the day clearly resonated with the wider EAP community as well as with specific aspects of my own research.

Looking at a wider context, what do we, as practicing teachers, need to know?

As my project progresses, I am increasingly thinking about knowledge; about how we make decisions around which knowledge matters and how this knowledge is selected, ordered and built into a curriculum. The language used in this, if unclear or occluded, can create confusion.

What we teach usually draws on content from within our particular discipline.

However, how, when and why a particular aspect is presented to students, and how we bring in other skills relating to, for example, employability or intercultural communication, draws from an entirely different knowledge base.

Therefore, we need to be clear about the knowledge base we draw on in our pedagogical practices. This reveals itself in our approach to curriculum design, assessment and every seminar, lecture or practical session we plan.

But where do our decisions come from?  What knowledge do we draw on when we make these decisions?

Professional Frameworks describe the competencies we need to evidence, but how do these play out in our own particular discipline and setting with a given group of students?

The challenges

As a discipline, EAP draws on a wide range of practices and theories.

It’s interdisciplinary in both its own knowledge base and through its every day enactment, as practitioners work to support the language needs of students entering every possible discipline taught within a higher education setting.

With such a range of knowledge to draw on, reaching agreement around what it is necessary for any one practitioner is, and was, a necessary challenge.

Scholarship of teaching and learning

The main message that came out of the day is that EAP practice is rich in untapped opportunities for scholarship.

As we work across disciplines, supporting international students, we are in a unique position to investigate a multitude of thorny issues. These can include such topics as ghost writing, as well as expectations around academic discourse, and more philosophical or political issues of identity and the impact of neoliberalism on the University.

READ: Bee Bond’s blog on the importance of language for learning.

Partnership

EAP has always acknowledged the need to work in partnership with others across the University to ensure our teaching meets the specific purposes of any academic context.

Historically, however, EAP teaching centres have struggled to do this in any systematic way.

The University of Leeds is already leading the field in developing a partnership approach to academic language support.

By working in partnership to support this event, LITE, CELT and BALEAP demonstrated a commitment to supporting the scholarship as well as the practical development of EAP practitioners, with the potential for greater collaboration across disciplines and institutions becoming clear.

The papers provided by the three invited speakers for the symposium (Ian Bruce; Nigel Harwood and Jackie Tuck) as well as discussion themes from the day can be viewed here and here.