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I am in the process of establishing in-sessional provision at my new institution so this was a timely read – Sloan and Porter’s ‘Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: using the CEM model’ (2010).

The research that informs this article (conducted between 2005 and 2009) is grounded in the contemporary milieu that sees HE shamelessly obsessing over all things ‘international’. The authors (“two ‘subject champions’ from the English Language Centre and the Postgraduate area of Newcastle Business School” p. 199) were concerned with identifying whether the then “existing model of EAP delivery at the University [of Northumbria was] supporting the academic literacy learning needs of the international student body” (p. 199). This question was posed in acknowledgement of the fact that students seemed to be reticent in their engagement with in-sessional provision offered at the university. A problem that appeared evident to different sectors within the institution, not simply the EAP division, and one that provoked a review led by the Pro-Vice Chancellor (p.200).

Sloan and Porter’s longitudinal study resulted in the “development of the CEM Model, a practice-based model designed to improve the management, design and delivery of EAP through establishing a stronger working partnership between EAP tutors and business tutors” (p.199). The authors take the reader through the process that culminated in the initiation of the CEM Model. Firstly we are given a very brief background to the study that positions their notion of EAP very firmly within the content-based tradition as this study focuses on in-sessional provision. Sloan and Porter highlight the advantageous facets of subject-based EAP; Students will be more engaged with a more ‘informed’, more relevant and more chronologically coherent syllabus. The limitation here is that EAP tutors do not have sufficient subject specialist knowledge and are reliant on subject specialists to provide the meaning and meaningfulness in the EAP syllabus. For this reason EAP tutors are often seen to be subordinate in some way – at the mercy of subject specialism (here the authors cite Hamp-Lyons and Hyland).

The authors argue that for specificity to be successful in EAP, tutors need to be working “in synergy with the business tutors, as opposed to the common approach of simply in parallel, [in order to] develop a more cohesive and integrated approach” (p. 199). A notion, Sloan and Porter argue, that supports the work of Biggs and Tang (2007) “who advocate the system of constructive alignment whereby good teaching supports the activities that result in students attaining intended learning outcomes” (p.199). The authors take time to reflect here on the very familiar obstacles that are in place that mean working in synergy is often an aspiration rather than a reality. They paraphrase Handy’s (1984) observation that “the culture of an organisation can be unsupportive of attempts by staff to work together” (p.200). This is exacerbated by the fact that EAP units are often geographically as well as organisationally separate from academic subjects. For the authors then, the focus in this article is “on how in-sessional EAP tutors can form and sustain working partnerships with subject specialists” (p.200).

Following on from the background to the study, the aims of the research are reiterated and the methodology explained. Data was collected via mostly qualitative methods; focus groups, interviews and meetings with a questionnaire allowing the collation of some quantitative data. The data was collected from “150 full time international Postgraduate students and 7 Postgraduate Programme Directors” (p.201). From this data the researchers gathered the views of the programme directors and hoped to glean the extent to which students placed importance on the academic content in their EAP provision, how far the students saw EAP provision as part of their degree programmes and how far the EAP programme aligned with the students’ working patterns.

Sloan and Porter then explain EAP provision at Northumbria as it was at the time of the research. This is fairly standard for the sector. The majority of students are Chinese, students have diverse educational and academic backgrounds and students have wide ranging ability with the English language. The English Language Centre was responsible for the administration of students onto in-sessional programmes, therefore the courses started later than the academic programmes, the Centre had to cope with a huge glut of registrations over a very short period of time and as they were not privy to academic programmes’ timetables, students had to change groups regularly due to timetable clashes. Sound familiar?

The reader is then taken through a breakdown of what constitutes the CEM Model. The three elements that combine to make up this model were consistent themes that emerged from the data analysis of both student and staff responses. CEM = Contextualisation, Embedding, Mapping.

Contextualisation which relates to the context in which the learning and teaching of EAP was presented and communicated to the students; Embedding which reflects the position of the EAP programme within the overall degree programme and the position of the EAP tutor in the academic business team; and Mapping which involved coordinating the EAP teaching with students learning needs and outcomes throughout the academic year (p.202).

Contextualisation essentially aims to ensure that the EAP material relates to the students’ academic studies through direct dialogue with the subject specialists. This direct dialogue was facilitated by the business ‘champion’ who arranged meetings between EAP and business tutors. Subject-specialists also came to gain a better understanding of the role of the EAP practitioner – as not only language teachers, but teachers of academic literacies.

Embedding is perhaps the most interesting and contains the most innovative elements of the CEM Model. It is the component that has the greatest impact on shifting student and subject-specialists perceptions of EAP. It positions EAP within the subject, breaking down the barriers created by ‘distance’ (in all its forms) keeping EAP at bay. Sloan and Porter identify several elements that are needed in combination to make embedding successful: “the presentation of the EAP programme at induction; the starting date; student groupings; placement of the EAP programme on the student timetable; and the inclusion of the EAP tutor on business programme teams” (p.203). Interestingly, admin of the in-sessional provision was managed by the subject teams. This enabled classes to start at the same time as academic programmes and for students to be grouped according to programme of study, allowing greater specificity. The EAP provision was also published on the academic timetable – a minor detail which “represented a major cultural shift and recognition of the importance of the EAP programme at both student and business staff level” (p.203). Sloan and Porter also speak of the importance of embedding taking place within the management structure where:

… none of the above could have taken place without support being provided as a number of key management levels. At a macro level, key decisions relating to the central timetabling of the EAP programme were sanctioned as Associate Dean level, whilst as a micro level, the role of the Programme Directors, Programme Leaders and Module Tutors was critical. Also … the role of a ‘champion’, a senior business tutor, cannot be underestimated (ibid).

Through direct dialogue and regular communication regarding student need and syllabus content, the EAP programme can be aligned with the real-time needs of the student body. This ‘mapping’ ensures a coherent experience for the student, where EAP tutor and subject-specialist are in sync regarding when the EAP programme should deal with particular skills and or literacies.

In their discussion of the CEM Model, Sloan and Porter state that the CEM Model really is the melding together of many elements that in combination make subject-based EAP, not only possible, but successful. Pivotal to this, however, is the need to have support from senior management / subject tutors and for the EAP tutor to be visible. Sloan and Porter continue to offer anecdotal evidence proving the success of their model; students see relevance in their EAP provision, and transferability (an element that alludes many EAP programmes), the EAP tutor has raised the profile of EAP in the School, external examiners see improvement in students’ performance, attendance is much improved. The authors also offer a ‘strategic framework for CEM Model integration’ (p.208) which consists of 7 levels. All good stuff.

 

As I said at the start of this post, I am in the fortunate position of being able to start from scratch with the in-sessional provision at my new institution. Fortunate in that fossilised practices do not need to be excavated, which is incredibly back-breaking. I am starting at ground zero. This means that from its inception the key drivers of success / cultural change, I would argue, in the CEM Model of visible timetabling and aligned timetabling can be seen as standard elements of provision in my institution – no need for a ‘higher being’ to intervene on EAP’s behalf.

Direct dialogue with subject-specialists afforded by the CEM Model ensures that, in this ever changing landscape of learning and teaching, that we address the key skills students need. As EAP tutors somewhat distanced from the ‘front-line’ we can rely on our possibly out-dated notions of key academic literacies. Do EAP courses focus on speaking enough when involvement in spoken activities is becoming ever more important – and assessed?

I think it is important in articles such as this that the bi-directionality of dialogue is given equal weight. I am sure it is not their intention but Sloan and Porter compound the notion of EAP tutor as ‘servant to the discipline’ in their positioning of the EAP tutor as deficient in knowledge, dependent on the subject-specialist to give meaning to their courses (why also were EAP tutors not included in the data collection? Do they not have valuable opinions on the efficacy of their provision?). Power is such a key factor in this discussion and, disappointingly, there is no comment made on this issue by the authors. Sloan and Porter constantly highlight the involvement of the university hierarchy. For me, they fail to give sufficient consideration to the direction of power here. It isn’t simply hierarchical; there are dimensions of power at play in the horizontal directionality here too. At no time do subject specialists look to the EAP practitioners. There is limited discussion of how the subject specialists benefit from working under the CEM framework, and no indication of how their pedagogy is affected. From my experience, the enhanced knowledge (and appreciation?) of each other (EAP tutors and subject-specialists) afforded by the CEM Model often naturally leads to an awareness that EAP practitioners have much to offer the university wide teaching community in terms of teaching international students, such as projects like the writing of accessible assignment briefs all too briefly mentioned in Sloan and Porter’s article. Perhaps this is a separate article, but it should not be overlooked because in doing so we continue to place the EAP tutor in a subservient position.

Perhaps because @EBEFL wrote the last post on this blog, I now want more evidence! This article is too reliant on the anecdotal. I would have liked to have seen statistical evidence of improved student performance and it would have been interesting to see what questions they asked students to analyse the EAP provision (in an appendices for example). This might be useful to other institutions that need to review the usefulness of their programmes in the eyes of students and staff (including EAP tutors!), or who might be advocating for implementing a similar model and need hard evidence to convince the senior managers.

This article was published in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, which is increasingly criticised by the EAP community for publishing work with little relevance to the EAP classroom. This is another problem with the article for me. I would like to see some of the materials developed under the CEM Model, or at least have a greater discussion of how the CEM Model translates into the classroom.

The CEM Model is not rocket science. It is what many EAP practitioners strive for (and I’m sure many routinely employ some elements of the model). It is, though, nice to see that some EAP departments can achieve it all. Well, I say EAP departments, but it is evident from Sloan and Porter’s experience that success can only really occur with an amalgamation of elements from across the university (at all levels) – that’s when the real chemistry starts.

 

Sloan, D. and Porter, E. (2010) Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: using the CEM model Journal of English for Academic Purposes 9 (3), 198-210.

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5 thoughts on “The CEMistry of EAP

  1. A lot of this resounded with me as our department at the University of Toronto has increasingly improved the working relationship between EAP instructors and content lecturers, as well as aligned most of our practices within the overall university framework, which not alone, has definitely improved attitudes towards us from all stakeholders. We’ve just done a 5-year program review ourselves. I’ll be glad to share in the coming months.

  2. Over a year-long process, we collected a lot of qualitative data including interviews with past students individually, as focus groups, instructors, lecturers, program administrators, department heads and college principles. We also collected quantitative data including student grades from our program over five years, their CGPAs going forward through their undergraduate degrees (our first cohort just graduated) and average grades of direct entry international students. These data were analysed particularly in terms of defining student success from all these stakeholders.

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