One of the most exciting changes in language teaching at universities in the UK has been in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I found this out at Sheffield Hallam University while attending the 29 November, 2014 meeting of The British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP). BALEAP is an institutional reboot of a much older association, founded in 1972 for the development of language materials for overseas students. The group took its current name in 1989, and rebranded itself in 2010 to help promote a new approach.
That approach proves impressive in both scope and execution. First of all, it recognizes that language teaching at British universities is very different than providing ESL teaching in elementary or secondary education, or in community-based adult language education that is generally for immigrants. In contrast, language teaching at universities prepares students for academic work and may also provide some assistance to students during the regular academic term, particularly in writing.
It also acknowledges the economic importance of this educational sector at a time when universities around the world, including prominent Japanese ones, are competing for foreign students. Summarizing an article by the British Council on High Education, Sellgren (2014) reported that International and EU student numbers at British universities were 307,205 in 2012-13. That academic year, these same students brought an estimated £3 billion to the universities. For almost 29 years, their numbers in the UK have been steadily growing. Often, British universities will accept these foreign students provided that they take pre-sessional courses to prepare them for academic work.
To cope with the demand while ensuring a high quality of education, BALEAP has developed standards for teacher training and qualifications; for courses, and their design, outcomes, and assessment; for program development; for student welfare; as well as for institutional requirements in terms of resources and facilities, management, and administration. As an example of a required competency related to teaching practices, an EAP teacher should be “familiar with the methods, practices and techniques of communicative language teaching” (BALEAP, 2011, p.3) and be able to apply them to academic contexts.
The conference I attended was a Professional Issues Meeting (PIM) on the subject of teacher education. This is one of the several meetings that BALEAP organizes each year in addition to holding a biennial conference. It drew about 180 participants, proving so popular that organizers had to turn away a number of people who wished to attend.
The first plenary speaker, ELT Consultant Simon Borg, formerly a professor of TESOL at Leeds University, outlined the role of practitioner research in professional growth. According to him, teachers are typically “consumers of knowledge.” Borg (2014) argued that their professional development is better sustained when they become “creators of knowledge” through action research, study groups, discussions, and other collaborative efforts.
Phil Martin at the University of East Anglia described how ELT teachers felt after transitioning into EAP teachers. Among the differences they described were “the higher stakes” for students and teachers and the focus on building learner autonomy. Martin Seviour of Nottingham Trent University spoke of the challenges in getting new EAP teachers to provide quality feedback on student writing. Other presentations ranged from peer coaching, the differences between ESL/EFL and EAP, ways of scaffolding teacher reflection, and efforts to promote professional development.
During one presentation, an audience member commented on the applicability of The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) which is being adopted by some universities in Japan and elsewhere as a tool for assessing language ability. However, the presenters made it clear that BALEAP’s value was not primarily in assessment, but in addressing students’ academic needs, and in suggesting how teachers and institutions can meet them.
On a lighter note, some cultural and linguistic differences between JALT and BALEAP became immediately apparent to me. While we refer to teachers as “instructors,” “part-time teachers,” and “professors,” British educators refer to themselves as “lecturers,” “tutors,” and “senior teaching fellows.” Equally bewildering, BALEAP offers sophisticated teacher and program accreditation plans that are termed “schemes.” In American and Canadian English, a “scheme” suggests something underhanded or subversive. The BALEAP (2014) scheme, however, is a valuable document that provides a roadmap for assessing professional development and institutional practice.
The second plenary speaker, Olwyn Alexander of Heriot-Watt University, a past president of BALEAP and co-author of a very lucid and readable description to teaching EAP (Alexander, Argent & Spencer, 2008) presented “a transformative model” of teacher expertise. She described how it develops through experience and reflection. Alexander contrasted “experienced teachers” with those who were “expert,” continually seeking new challenges in the classroom. She also outlined how teachers could become accredited through BALEAP as “associate teachers,” “fellows,” and “senior fellows,” the latter, enhancing the teaching practice of others through scholarship.
At the conference I also learned about a new publication by Edward de Chazal (2014) that has concise summaries of relevant research on EAP and excellent suggestions for everything from teaching reading to dealing with student plagiarism.
Unlike more broadly-defined organizations such as TESOL, IATEFL, or JALT, BALEAP emphasizes language teaching at the university level. As such, it offers a valuable look at EAP through targeting student skills, teacher and course development, and the institutions that support them.
Alexander, O., Argent, S. and Spencer, J. (2008). EAP Essentials: a teacher’s guide to principles and practice. Reading: Garnet Education.
BALEAP. (2014). The BALEAP Accreditation Scheme for English Language and Study Skills Courses in Universities, (rev. ed. 2011). Retrieved from <baleap.org.uk/accreditation/scheme.pdf>
BALEAP. (2011). Competency Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes. Retrieved from <baleap.org.uk/media/uploads/pdfs/teap-competency-framework.pdf>
Borg, S. (2014). Teacher Research in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
de Chazal, E. (2014). English for Academic Purposes (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sellgren, K. (2014). Decline of overseas students at England’s universities. BBC News. Retrieved from <bbc.co.uk/news/education-26836962>