Visions of Social Responsibility in EAP: Reflections from World Cafe at Kent PIM

– EAP for Social Justice SIG –

As part of the Visions: Looking Back and Looking Ahead PIM hosted by the University of Kent last month, we ran a World Cafe session focusing on Visions of Social Responsibility in EAP. We felt that, after a year which has posed many challenges to us all, and has thrown light on a number of social justice-related concerns in and around our EAP contexts, the time was right to hear from the EAP community about their visions for a better future, and their practical ideas for how this might be achieved. To this end, we posed the question, “What would EAP look like if social responsibility were to be placed at its core, and how might we get there?” 

Participants came to the discussion with a wide variety of social-justice related interests and varying degrees of experience of putting these into practice. These areas included: critical digital pedagogies; teaching EAP/ESOL to refugees (e.g. trauma-informed pedagogies and teaching on the CARA Syria Programme); developing course materials related to global studies and cultural communication; creating in-house EAP materials and authentic materials, co-produced with students; designing student-driven syllabi; promoting teacher autonomy within EAP centres and within their wider institutions; decolonisation of the EAP curriculum; factors such as race and financial privilege of EAP students; social justice in pedagogy and teaching practice.

Participants’ visions

There were a number of main themes which emerged from our group discussions, which we have summarised below:

Theme 1: Enhanced student-student engagement and communication

We discussed how we might encourage students to genuinely listen to and engage with each other. This discussion branched out in different directions: 

  • we could explore intercultural communication and competencies with our students, both through the pedagogies which we use (e.g. pedagogies of compassion and care) and also some of the content of our courses (one group member had developed modules in this area). It was noted that, in order to be able to do this, teachers would benefit from accessing CPD in effective intercultural communication strategies, particularly if this were tailored to the needs / backgrounds of students in their particular contexts. 
  • another suggestion was to encourage more engagement between and among international and home students on campuses through adopting Internationalisation at Home (IaH), which offers an international experience to all students, and removes the onus on international students to make disproportionate effort to ‘fit in’ or ‘acculturate’. An example was given of home students being invited to EAP classes at one university, as all students need to learn how to engage effectively with academic culture and discourse.

Theme 2: Transforming/transformative EAP curriculum

It was noted that the EAP curriculum has strong potential to transform students’ learning. This discussion branched out in two directions: 

  • we shared examples of moving away from published materials to introduce curricula with global issues, global citizenship and critical skills at their core; these were both in-sessional and pre-sessional courses across various institutions; we also discussed student-driven EAP courses, and materials co-produced with students incorporating authentic texts from previous cohorts; finally we talked about what our students’ real needs are as opposed to the perceived needs.
  • however, producing in-house materials requires knowledge, continuous professional development, time, autonomy and leadership; curriculum can also be a constraint if any of these aspects are lacking as we may end up teaching students what we know rather than what they need; in addition, EAP centres have different cultures and different positions within institutions which result in various degrees of teachers’ agency and autonomy

Theme 3: inclusivity

This main theme addressed the need to increase student access to university and participation in EAP provision. This discussion focused on the following: 

  • widening participation – it was noted that finances constituted the biggest barrier to student participation in HE. The widening participation policy was not seen as being as effective in attracting students from underprivileged backgrounds as the Government and universities may have initially hoped for. It was noted that EAP provision is generally only accessible to those who have succeeded in securing a university place: predominantly international students coming from backgrounds of some privilege regardless of their race or ethnic origin. 
  • age and work commitments – both age and work commitments were identified and key obstacles in students from underprivileged background enrolling for university study. It was pointed out that applying for student loans may be impossible for those who are in employment, which further closes the access routes for some individuals. 
  • disability and protected characteristics – disability and protected characteristics were also identified as clear obstacles to accessing EAP support at universities. It was pointed out that, to the best of our knowledge, EAP classes are designed for mainstream students without any explicit pedagogical considerations given to different forms of disability. 
  • lack of inclusivity in online teaching – it was pointed out that the current online teaching lacks inclusivity and the quality of support, in the view of some of our participants. The students have less contact with the tutors, and they are not receiving the same support as when studying face-to-face. The current online teaching constitutes a crisis response and is not driven by learner-centred pedagogies. 

How might we get there?

There were a number of practical suggestions regarding how we may develop a more socially responsible EAP, which, when analysed more closely, can be grouped around the two emerging themes: reimagining the spaces we hold and gaining strength through collaborations.

Spaces for opportunities

  • CPD/SoTL sessions – in-house CPD/SoTL sessions were identified as one of the spaces where the inclusion of social justice-related topics would increase their visibility and relevance. This approach has been adopted at one University’s EAP centre, where colleagues discuss SJ topics at their weekly CPD forums. 
  • curriculum – this was felt to be a particularly promising space for impact and empowerment, which would reflect and contribute to a wider HE sector interest in decolonisation, community engagement, global citizenship, inclusivity, and innovation. Participants felt that co-creation with students and student-driven curriculum have the potential for creative and innovative T&L, in turn offering increased engagement from students and teachers who become co-investigators in the process of curriculum development. It was also noted that many EAP centres are now creating their own materials, which, as mentioned earlier, needs to be acknowledged and rewarded with the allocation of time, resources and opportunities for development available to those responsible for creating in-house materials. Once again, it was felt that a community wide-forum for sharing those ideas, co-creating and critiquing each other’s work would be a welcome addition to the already existing internal possibilities.
  • online teaching – participants felt that the sudden move to online teaching, various social movements and protests brought to light issues around social justice, including who is able to access and benefit from online spaces.
  • ‘third spaces’ – operating in a ‘third space’ also offers us a degree of freedom to co-create with colleagues in a range of different academic departments. The de-centering of EAP was felt to offer more opportunities than current ‘central’ positions. Joint teaching and research projects were felt to be a good way to visibility and creative practice; such collaborations would also strengthen EAP Practitioners’ knowledge base (pedagogical content knowledge, disciplinary linguistic knowledge and discourse conventions) which in turn could be shared within our community. Additionally, some EAP activities naturally fall within the wider interest of HE institutions. For example, EAP SoTL projects around international student experience can be of relevance to colleagues working in Internationalisation and Internationalisation at Home, Widening Participation, library services, support for refugee students, student councils, and mental health and disability services, to mention some.
  • current socio-political context – the current socio-political crisis and discomfort also serve as an opportunity for change, which can help SJ issues in EAP come to the fore. This is a good time to work towards the inclusion of a range of important issues as they are also becoming more prominent in academic disciplines as well.

Strength through collaboration

It was emphasised that many EAP practitioners would benefit from peer support in order to embark on social justice work, both in their own institutions and across the wider EAP community.  

  • SJ buddies / peer mentors / critical friends – even within the centres where SJ topics are embedded and/or discussed, there was a keen interest among the participants in strengthening networks with colleagues in other institutions.  It was felt that, unlike some EAP activities (e.g. assessment), social justice-related initiatives are often undertaken in isolation and would benefit from more structured and regular support, for example in a form of peer mentors or critical friends, perhaps facilitated by the SJ SIG. 
  • community-wide networks – social justice initiatives can suffer from being seen as an optional add-on within a teacher’s individual practice; a choice rather than a necessity. Some colleagues also expressed their concern over imposing SJ related topics on international students. These are valid concerns and worth robust analyses and discussions as they may be holding some of us back from engaging with SJ matters in our practice. It was also suggested that it would be useful to continue sharing ideas with each other in a more dedicated online space (something more static than the SJ SIG discussion list, and something more private than the SJ SIG website). Such online space would require registration to ensure privacy and allow the community to build a collective effort of mapping areas of SJ related practice as well to share their concerns and seek practical suggestions of how to approach them. 
  • inclusion of  all EAP practitioners – across the wider EAP community, we felt that getting fixed on ‘success’ may not be the best way forward; instead we are stronger collectively, in particular as many of us are sessional, some are part-time and some do not have SoTL time built into their contracts; collective effort, possibly across institutions could be an effective solution for EAP Practitioners to gain more agency, visibility and voice.

And finally …

We would like to thank all participants for sharing their visions of social responsibility in EAP and discussing some of the challenges and potential ways forward in this area. We are intending to revisit these ideas and use them to inform our direction over the course of the next few months … so please watch this space for further developments! Please feel free to add any further thoughts / comments in the comments section below.

Published by EAP 4 Social Justice SIG

What is the EAP for Social Justice SIG? Welcome to the website for BALEAP's EAP for Social Justice Special Interest Group! This SIG is intended to provide a forum for EAP practitioners to discuss, deepen their understanding of, and address concerns related to, social justice within and around EAP, whilst also broadening and strengthening the evidence-base of the impact that social justice initiatives can make in this field. Through bringing this often-sidelined area into the spotlight and examining the knowledge, skills and values that a social justice lens can contribute to EAP, this SIG aims to encourage more EAP students, practitioners and managers to take action and play their part in fulfilling the vision of the university as the “critic and conscience of society”.

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