The pleasures and benefits of living a life of the mind.
Statistics on the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19 are rising inexorably in the UK as front line health workers struggle to secure enough personal protective equipment and to be tested to determine whether they have had the virus and can go back to work. However, the statistics remained just that, impossibly large numbers, until one day the number of deaths was 208 + one person I had worked with professionally over many years. Suddenly, this death was no longer a statistic but a very real loss of someone whose professionalism and friendship I have valued enormously. It’s not too strong to say I am professionally diminished by this loss.
This a guest post from Jenifer Spencer, co-author of EAP Essentials.
In January, I signed on to the Coventry University FutureLearn MOOC Understanding Dictionaries just as the corona storm started to develop. It has been an enriching experience to me as a teacher and a student of the language. The course was excellent and informative, but added to this, I gained first-hand experience of acquiring knowledge and developing my own skills through this mode of learning. As departments and staff join the rush to put courses online, this was a timely reminder of the potential value of online study, from a student perspective. Despite having researched, developed and delivered a range of online courses over my teaching career, I realised I had never actually undertaken a course of online study myself!
Opportunities and experiences of moving to online pre-sessional teaching.
The Covid-19 pandemic has the UK in lockdown with the cancellation of sporting and cultural events and the closure of schools, sports facilities, museums and art galleries. Those with desk-based jobs at the university have been asked to work from home, the library is shut and the campus may soon close completely. It would be easy to panic in these extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, supermarket shelves are empty of products such as toilet rolls and pasta, and shoppers are being restricted in the amount of some products they can buy. However frightening the situation feels, it is still possible to see opportunities that would not otherwise be available. Focusing on these helps me to stay positive and deal more easily with the prescribed social isolation.
Helping students to gain confidence to move away from close paraphrasing of sources.
I teach a class to Foundation students called Text Practices, which is designed to move students from focusing on what a text is about, the topic, to understanding what a text is doing, which is how lecturers and researchers at university view texts. I’ve just marked the first assignment and it has made me realise how little impact I’ve actually had on helping students to escape from the prison of the texts they want to use. With one or two exceptions, the students ignored my advice to write more simply than the sources they read in order to show what they have understood. When they borrowed ideas from sources, these were often ’patchwritten’ or ‘plagiphrased’ by copying sentences and substituting synonyms for some words.
Introducing research philosophy for low proficiency EAP students
The BALEAP Competency Framework asks EAP professionals to ‘recognize the importance of applying to their practice the standards expected of students and other academic staff’. One of the fundamental standards concerns the role of research in building new knowledge and underpinning teaching at university. ELT teachers moving to EAP contexts often have only a rudimentary understanding of academic research and scholarship. They tend to conceptualise research as finding out what they don’t know rather than exploring what a discipline doesn’t know and wants to discover. The former is the kind of research done by journalists or by undergraduate students, who often ‘rediscover’ some of the key research outcomes in their discipline by repeating the seminal studies. This kind of research – also done through a literature review – is important at the outset of a research project to uncover gaps in disciplinary knowledge, which can justify research aims. However, the research that is most valued at university attempts to achieve greater understanding of the world in order to make better predictions about the future.
Helping EAP students to become the masters and not the servants of the texts they read .
A friend has just sent me two articles related to his research interests. They are only tangentially interesting for me but I want to respond to them so as to have a little email exchange and an interaction. I no longer get the chance for the detailed and interesting discussions we used to have when we worked together. I haven’t got time to read the complete articles and it isn’t necessary for my purpose so instead I can sample them in about five minutes to extract some nuggets to use in my email interaction. Sampling academic articles is also a skill I teach my EAP students so they can become masters of their sources rather than servants (Alexander et al., 2018, pp.137-144).
Some quick and simple diagnostics for assessing the quality of EAP websites.
I’m a member of the BALEAP discussion list, one of many education and research discussion lists in the UK, hosted by Jiscm@il. It is an excellent resource for connecting with EAP professionals in other parts of the world and asking for advice on a wide variety of EAP topics. Recently there was a request for recommendations for online EAP resources and several people responded with lists of their favourite sites. I’m always wary of sending students to online resources because – like everything else on the internet – there is no guarantee of quality, even if sites are hosted by universities. Because EAP students are time-poor, any online resources need to deliver worthwhile content as efficiently as possible. Internet resources are only useful if the writers creating them have a sound understanding of EAP principles.