I have just been given honorary membership of BALEAP: the global forum for EAP professionals. I’m delighted to have received this recognition because BALEAP has played such an important role in my professional development from my very early days of EAP teaching. This organization has provided me with access to a large network of like-minded individuals and given me opportunities, through Professional Issues Meetings (PIMs) and biennial conferences, to test my developing scholarship against expert audiences. Later in my EAP career I became involved with the BALEAP executive committee and its working parties, as TEAP Officer, then Chair of BALEAP and of the Accreditation Scheme.
My EAP career began in 1993 with a variety of precarious contracts. I attended my first Professional Issues Meeting (PIM) in June 1994 at York University on the analysis and construction of arguments. The 1990s was a decade of exploration of academic texts with new tools such as corpus linguistics and genre analysis to learn about. This PIM awakened my interest in text analysis and the variety of ways to view texts. I also came to appreciate the more ‘nerdy’ aspects of EAP as I compared the activities of my husband and his trainspotting friends on York station platform with the activities of colleagues from Edinburgh University who had attended the PIM. They were listening to the train announcements and noting the unusual stress on the prepositions: The train arriving AT platform 1 is the 16.15 service TO Edinburgh Waverley. Trainspotting and preposition spotting did not seem all that different.
My first experience of presenting at a PIM was a ten minute slot at a PIM on writing in 1997 at the University of Reading, where I presented the results of my MSc Dissertation: using reader-response protocols to give feedback on student writing. I was so nervous that I wrote down the script for the presentation and read it out. With only ten minutes, that probably was the best strategy. My paper was later published in Thompson (1999). Being accepted to present and then to publish in the proceedings was a great boost to my confidence. This route into scholarship for EAP practitioners has expanded considerably with new opportunities in the Special Interest Groups.
My first conference was Swansea in 1997 and then two years later Leeds in 1999, with a joint presentation on computer mediated communication via asynchronous discussion boards. It’s fascinating to compare the papers for that conference with the recent online conference hosted by Glasgow University to see how far technology for teaching EAP has come in 22 years. Presenters at the ’99 conference were just getting to grips with video lectures, virtual learning environments and integrating IT skills teaching into EAP courses.
Attending PIMs and conferences helped me to learn who the key researchers were in my community of practice but also to meet members of the BALEAP executive committee who gave their time generously to make the organization run smoothly. My next steps in professional development were supported by Andy Gillett as PIMs Officer, to host a PIM in 2002 on EAP Methodologies. In the final panel discussion: Does the IELTS tail wag the EAP dog, speakers discussed the extent to which teaching towards the IELTS exam was changing the nature of EAP teaching. The panel concluded that IELTS needed to be supplemented with tests which integrated reading & writing from sources. Again supported by Andy, who was then Chair of BALEAP, I organized a joint conference with the Scottish Association of TEFL in 2005 and edited the proceedings (Alexander, 2007). Materials development has always been at the heart of EAP practice and this theme was relevant to both SATEFL and BALEAP delegates.
The organization was interested to explore teacher training for EAP with PIMs in Sussex in June 1997 and Bath in June 2001. There was a move to collaborate with Cambridge DELTA on an EAP qualification, which did not come to fruition. The teacher training theme was revisited again in November 2004 at the University of Essex with considerable interest in the notion of defining EAP teacher competencies, put forward in a paper by Anne Pallant. The BALEAP exec committee agreed to form a working party under the leadership of Sandra Cardew, which I joined. By this time my colleagues, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer, and I were delivering one of the early EAP Teacher Development courses and writing EAP Essentials. Our teacher training handbook benefitted from the regular TEAP working party discussions to draw up a set of EAP teacher competency statements, informed by the BALEAP members.
I joined the BALEAP executive committee at the Durham conference in 2007 and have since held a variety of positions. I’ve enjoyed working with members of the committee and meeting a wide range of EAP practitioners. I worked for almost all my EAP career in an institution with a laissez-faire attitude to support for international students and latterly with colleagues who did not share my view of EAP pedagogy. BALEAP represented a community of like-minded individuals, keen to ensure quality education and fair representation for international students and those who taught them. It has been and continues to be an important part of my professional life.
Alexander, O. (Ed.) 2007. New approaches to materials development for language learning : proceedings of the 2005 joint BALEAP/SATEFL conference. Bern: Peter Lang
Thompson, P. (Ed.) 1999. Issues in EAP writing Research and instruction. Reading: CALS.