BALEAP2021 conference selections

A personal selection of presentations from the BALEAP 2021 conference hosted online by the University of Glasgow.

I’ve been attending the BALEAP biennial conference, hosted online this year by the University of Glasgow: Exploring pedagogical approaches in EAP teaching. While I was still teaching, I would have been looking for presentations that helped me to reflect on my materials development and classroom practice. Now I’m retired I have the luxury of sitting back to take a wider view so I have been more interested in talks that stimulate reflection back over my 27 years as a teacher, materials writer and scholarly explorer of underlying principles for my practice.

Image available free from Pixabay

First up was a lively plenary from Maha Bali on supporting teachers to build communities to care for students and their teachers online. She used ‘care’ in a robust sense of empowering students to achieve their personal goals, while being aware of inequity in the system and connecting to a sense of social justice: ‘Do unto students what THEY would have done unto THEM’. This involved giving students choice and agency in online classrooms, while acknowledging the inherent power relations between teacher and students. What struck me was that a few years ago these ideas were presented in terms of student autonomy but now are being presented in terms of social justice. This is an entirely appropriate change of label to reflect the changing ethos of the university sector.

I couldn’t resist Simon Gooch’s session on using metaphor in teaching because I can remember a lightbulb moment on reading Lakov and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By, which argued that conceptual metaphor is how we make sense of our experience. Simon shared some metaphors he used for specific disciplines to understand use of sources, constructing arguments and identifying academic communities. Creating metaphors and discussing them with students helps teachers understand their own practice so the workshop involved participants sharing favourite metaphors on a padlet. My friend and co-author Jenifer Spencer could always come up with creative metaphors: ‘Don’t be a rabbit in headlights’ and ‘You don’t learn to swim by sitting on the edge of the pool’.

In retirement I’m developing my own practice around observing teachers for the purposes of BALEAP accreditation so I attended presentations by Lindsay Knox from Edinburgh University and Helen Taylor from Coventry University on alternative approaches to observing teachers online. Lindsay discussed with teachers the way they gave written feedback to students and Helen compared choices for observation: synchronous, asynchronous or unseen, i.e. the teacher reporting events in the lesson. Later in the BALEAP Accreditation workshop, Lawrence Kinsella at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan, described how observing teachers deliver tutorials had prompted course leaders to reflect on what a tutorial could be and develop guidelines. In the final plenary, Steve Walsh talked about the power of video for stimulated recall of teaching and the importance of collaborative dialogue with peers or trainers to reach deeper understandings.

I’ve been working on a research project using Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) as the basis for the analysis so I attended Steve Kirk’s talk for showing how LCT could be used to explore the impact of materials design on the choices teachers could make to enact these materials in the classroom. I was sorry not to be able to attend Laetitia Monbec’s talk, which was programmed at the same time as mine. I’ve found it challenging to get to grips with the abstract concepts of LCT and the ways that these need to be translated for the specific context for analysis. It has been really helpful to listen to other researchers unpack and apply this theory, including Karl Maton and Steve Kirk at the Bristol 2017 BALEAP conference. It’s also been very rewarding to work in collaboration with two colleagues, Sue Argent and Judith Gorham, to interrogate our data for the iterative development of a translation device for the LCT Autonomy toolkit.

For my final sampling. I attended a pair of talks by Janie Brooks on Interdisciplinarity and Alex Ding and Bee Bond on curriculum entropy. These I would call ‘extreme EAP’, challenging practitioners to reflect at the very edges of the field so absolutely appropriate to conclude with. Janie shared thoughts about training for interdisciplinarity using cognitive dissonance, which I want to think about in a separate blog. Bee and Alex referred to the way that the continuing preoccupation with materials ‘sucks the life out of a curriculum’ as the underlying principles get lost. Sue Argent and I set out the principles of curriculum design in EAP Essentials, which our publisher, Garnet Education, have allowed us to make freely available in this blog.

The social aspects of the conference were necessarily reduced in the online format and there wasn’t the opportunity just to hang around the water cooler for chance encounters with new faces. The use of breakout rooms in workshops and in the final plenary did help somewhat as did organized social events. I only managed to attend the Book Club but it was a lovely distraction to chat to colleagues about the books they are reading for pleasure. Thanks also to Jenny Kemp, who introduced me to Wonder, which allows you to create a virtual space to chat. The conference platform also offered the chance to set up meetings with people. I was very happy to catch up this way with Andy Gillett, with whom I’ve had a long association through BALEAP.

This online conference has been extremely well managed by colleagues from the University of Glasgow, hosted on an eventsforce platform that has been very reliable. Many more delegates (over 700) from diverse contexts have been able to attend and it has felt like a truly global moment for BALEAP. The conference has run over five days instead of the usual three so I’ve necessarily only dipped into the wealth of papers being presented. Some of the live papers were recorded and will be posted on the site in due course alongside the pre-recorded talks. The site will remain available for a short time but without moderation from the organizers.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors we live by. Michigan: University of Chicago Press.

Author: Olwyn Alexander

I'm an author and researcher in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I collaborated with two friends and colleagues, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer, to write EAP Essentials: a teacher's guide to principles and practice, now in its second edition. Sue and I also wrote the course book series, Access EAP: Foundations and Frameworks.

One thought on “BALEAP2021 conference selections”

  1. I wouldn’t say we exactly set out the principles of curriculum design in EAP Essentials — these often vary with context and constraints and will change as our discipline develops. But we did set out the process and showed how crucial it is for explicit and shared principles to underpin any EAP course. So, it was good to hear Alex and Bee use the apt metaphor of entropy to call for a firm grasp on our curriculum design principles.

    Liked by 1 person

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