Scholarship Project: Digital Language Education – A Language Centre Case Study

This study focuses on digital pedagogies in the Language Centre at the University of Leeds, a centre for teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which provides pre- and in-sessional language courses for students entering programmes at the university at all levels. The centre leads the field in the provision of English for Specific Academic Purposes, working in many schools to provide embedded academic literacies support for students of all backgrounds. Demand for online pre-sessional courses, and embedded in-sessional support has been growing and furthermore, the centre will soon launch an online Master’s programme in Teaching English for Academic Purposes.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many teachers in the Language Centre have been teaching and carrying out other aspects of their roles online. This has involved significant adjustments to language pedagogies and has affected relationships with teaching and support service colleagues, relationships with students, workplace practices and working conditions and lives. Given that digital education and working practices in varying hybrid and blended forms are embedded in our everyday work, it is now necessary to critically examine both those working practices and our understanding of a pedagogy for digitally enhanced language/EAP teaching.

Project aims and objectives

The overall aim of the project is to find out what the effects are of digitally enhanced working, and language learning and teaching at the Language Centre, from a holistic perspective. The main objectives are to further our understanding of:

1) the practices and pedagogies that have been adopted in digital language / EAP teaching and learning

2) the impact of working and teaching digitally on practitioners

3) the impact of learning and interacting digitally on students

4) the impact of working remotely on work practices and relationships

By achieving an understanding of the aspects listed above (though these may not be exhaustive), we hope that recommendations for future practices will become clear so that, as a community of EAP practitioners, we may make informed decisions as to what practices we may wish to adopt in the future.

Potential benefits

We anticipate that findings may be useful to language teaching beyond the Language Centre and beyond EAP.  The review of digital EAP pedagogies will feed into principled curriculum design for Language Centre programmes, that is evidence based and critical, in relation to technological availability and affordances for language learning. We also expect to uncover less visible academic literacies that technology is facilitating, which could be equally important to include in the curriculum.

A review of the impact on students will help us to plan our programmes, by providing insight into what students value about digitally enhanced language learning, what is lost by having online only delivery and how this could be mitigated. All these facets of digitally enhanced EAP teaching and learning can be disseminated more widely to the field, via professional networks, conferences and publications.

Exploring relationships with colleagues within and across services in the Language Centre will provide valuable insight into the impact of digitally mediated communication on the quality of those relationships, and could allow us to focus on areas where close collaboration is vital for the success of our work, e.g. with professional services (Student Education Services, MASS), and other collaborators such as the Language Zone, the university’s dedicated language learning resources centre, and external research bodies.

Making the research process visible

One of the aims of this page on CELT is to make our research process visible, an important addition because making research processes visible can mitigate against two main issues for early career researchers in particular: situatedness and isolation (Hyland, 2016). Situatedness as a concept refers to the very specific and relatively rigid expectations of genre conformity, that accompany the practices of certain groups. In our case, our scholarship is situated in higher education research, in the teaching of English for Academic Purposes, a niche between “normal” language teaching and “skills” support. We are conscious that EAP is often not afforded the respect of a “discipline” and this probably contributes to our somewhat indeterminate position in different universities. It certainly means that we are privileged to be doing this research project, compared with EAP colleagues in many other workplaces. Many teacher researchers are in some regards isolated from a notional research community and this isolation means lost opportunities to directly observe the struggles that other, more senior academic researchers experience, or to be initiated into research practices through co-production, collaboration or a gradual informal apprenticeship of legitimate peripheral participation (Lave and Wenger, 2006).  Practices and discourses are mutually constitutive, so isolation from direct involvement in research also prevents the acquisition of relevant discourse repertoires for EAP research. This leads to our conclusion that to grow a research culture, the processes by which practices and discourses are acquired have to be shared.

Hyland and Jiang (2022) comment about EAP that:

Practitioners now find themselves working with undergraduates, PhD students, academics writing for publication and a myriad of other learners and situations, needing to understand these contexts and students while working in environments which offer them little respect or resources (Hyland and Jiang, 2022, p.2).

 

We hope, that this case study and this blog will help to mitigate against this lack of respect and lack of resources.

Image above is taken by Roya Alimayeri

Project team: Denise de Pauw (Principle investigator), Michael Parkin, Roya AlimalayeriMatthew Ketteringham (co-researchers).

References

Hyland, K. 2016. Academic publishing and the myth of linguistic injustice. Journal of Second Language Writing. 31, pp.58–69.

Hyland, K. and Jiang, F. (Kevin) 2022. Metadiscourse choices in EAP: An intra-journal study of JEAP. Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 60, p.101165.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. 2006. Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation 15th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.