English for MSc Economics: a Flipped Approach to Pre-sessional ESAP.
This article proposes a 4-week (90-hour) pre-sessional English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) course titled ‘English for MSc Economics’. The primary aim of this paper is to demonstrate how the goals, objectives, materials, and assessment methods were chosen and developed in close consideration of EAP literature and the specific needs and context of the prospective students. The paper concludes that the course has two unique selling points: (1) a purpose-made academic vocabulary list specifically for Economics students; and (2) a purpose-made online learning space to facilitate a flipped approach to instruction.
Keywords: EAP, ESAP, flipped approach, academic vocabulary, material design
Whereas many EAP courses are generic, ‘English for MSc Economics’ is a 4-week (90-hour) pre-sessional course specifically for students enrolled, or planning to enrol, on an MSc Economics course in the UK. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how the goals, objectives, and materials of the aforementioned course are all based on sound principles of EAP course design and were developed to fit the specific needs and context of the prospective students. Furthermore, the purpose-made course materials (Available to download here: https://jamesaoflynn.wixsite.com/engeco/resourcepack) will be discussed in relation to two key issues in EAP literature: academic literacies; and methodology. Following this, the approach to student assessment and course evaluation will be briefly outlined.
The reality across pre-sessional EAP courses at UK universities is that international students enrol as a condition of their offer of postgraduate study. This course, therefore, is primarily for students with an overall IELTS score (or equivalent) of 6.0, with no components below 5.5, but who require a score of 6.5 to satisfy the English language requirements for admission to an MSc Economics. However, because this course has been designed in consideration of contemporary approaches to academic literacies, it is also for students who already satisfy the English language requirements for admission, but want to feel more confident about studying on an MSc Economics in the UK and meet fellow specialists before their postgraduate degree starts.
The course’s process-oriented syllabus is comprised of authentic materials and tasks that have been selected and developed for medium-sized classes of 10-20 students. The course utilises technology to adopt a ‘flipped’ approach to instruction to maximise the effectiveness of the short duration of the course. For this reason, students will be required to work independently, demonstrating a high level of autonomy, and therefore should be instrumentally motivated to develop the discoursal practices of an MSc Economics course.
3. Key issues in EAP
3.1. Study skills versus academic literacies
For logistical reasons, English for General Academic Purposes (EGAP) courses, which reflect a one-size fits all study-skills perspective on EAP, are still offered to a substantial number of students in many university settings (Rogers, 2016:38). Yet, these courses fail to take sufficient account of context and promote a model of language development that does not reflect the practices of individual disciplines (Murray, 2016:2). Furthermore, many students enrolled on EAP programmes have already completed gatekeeping tests, such as IELTS, and therefore have had their fill of the study skills-based teaching-learning associated with EGAP (ibid:4). Therefore, this English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) course has been designed to reflect the academic literacies perspective, which ‘sees the literacy demands of the curriculum as involving a variety of communicative practices, including genres, fields and disciplines’ (Lea and Street, 159). In this paper, I will discuss how the course endeavours to identify and develop the specific literacies that MSc Economics students require in order to be consumers and producers of economics focused research.
3.2. ‘What’ versus ‘how’
Most EAP research focuses on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’ of teaching. This imbalance not only presents ambiguities to EAP outsiders but also to EAP insiders, who it seems may require greater clarification as to the relationship between EAP methodologies and General English (GE) methodologies (Campion, 2016:66). Yet, despite this ambiguity and the research focus on content rather than methodology, Watson Todd (2003:149) verifies the importance of the ‘how’ in EAP, stating that ‘we need to consider the process of reaching the goal at least as much as the content that needs to be covered’. Therefore, this course aims to balance the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ by emphasising five important approaches that, according to Watson Todd (ibid:154), need to be considered in EAP course design. These approaches are inductive learning; the process syllabus; promoting learner autonomy; authentic materials and tasks; and the use of technology. In this paper, I will discuss how these five approaches have been considered and incorporated into the selection and development of the course and content.
4. Needs analysis in EAP
Needs analysis (NA) is often cited as the major difference between English for specific purposes (ESP) (within which EAP is situated) and GE. Hutchinson and Waters (1987:53) state that ‘what distinguishes ESP from General English is not the existence of needs so much as an awareness of the need’. This awareness is gained through the collection and analysis of data, meaning that NA is a type of research, and as such, there is a wide range of methodologies that can be useful (Charles and Pecorari, 2015:64). The NA for this course took an academic literacies approach, that is, ethnographic methods were used to gather data about the students’ prospective social context – an MSc Economics course at a UK university (ibid:55). It is, however, important to note that an exhaustive NA is beyond the constraints of this paper (as is the case in many contexts), and for that reason, the NA was informal and small-scale.
4.1. Rationale for NA tools
Semi-structured interviews were the main NA tool because, although time-consuming, they provide the opportunity for more extended exploration than do questionnaires or checklists (Robinson, 1991:70). The semi-structured interviews gathered data about the perceptions of stakeholders, particularly the subject-area faculty in the Department of Economics and EAP faculty in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, both at a UK University. The subject-area faculty are, in many ways, best placed to identify the target of EAP instruction because they know the sorts of tasks their students will have to perform and set the standards for successful performance (Charles and Pecorari, 2015:63). However, EAP teachers are also a valuable source of information as they are experts in assessing language skills and planning how to improve them within the scope of a course of study (ibid:64). An observation of MSc Economics students in an in-sessional EAP class was also carried out to allow for the triangulation of data, thus improving the reliability and validity of the NA (Long, 2005:8).
It is important to note that it was not possible to collect data from the most important stakeholder – the students – as the nature of a pre-sessional EAP course implies planning the course before many of the students have enrolled. Repeated attempts, therefore, were made to gather qualitative questionnaire data from students who are currently studying on an MSc Economics at a UK university and completed a pre-sessional EAP course in the previous academic year. All attempts proved unfruitful, however.
4.2. Key findings from the NA
|Despite the informal and small-scale nature of the NA, it provided rich information about the students’ target situation and their perceived needs, wants and lacks. The key findings from the NA are summarised below. Key findings:
- • Students are newly arrived in the UK and are generally highly instrumentally motivated.
- • The IELTS requirement for the MSc Economics course is ‘Band A’ (the lowest band)
- • Most students are on the pre-sessional course did not meet the IELTS requirements
- • Classes are somewhat homogenous, with 85-90% of students hailing from China.
- • The genres of writing that are most important in the MSc course are technical writing, exam writing (short answers), research-based writing, and dissertation writing (using the APA referencing system).
- • Assessment is through written work (except 6 largely maths based exams), with word counts ranging from 1000 words to 8000 words.
- • Students have to give a 20-minute oral presentation to accompany their dissertation.
- • Lectures are the main mode of delivery, but students also take part in seminars, open house sessions and group and individual tutorials.
- • A lot of the library research students will do comes from research articles.
- • Students are encouraged to take their own notes during lectures to aid concentration and revision.
- The Economics faculty is comprised of international lecturers and for some students understanding accents and international variations of English can be challenging.
- Students are expected to use Moodle as a channel of interaction (among other things)
5. Determining goals and objectives
Identifying goals and objectives is an important and necessary step in course design after a needs analysis (Nunan, 1988:24). The goals and objectives for this course were determined by considering the academic literacies students would require on an MSc Economics course, as revealed through the NA (see Key Findings above).
5.1. Course goals (CG)
I used Stern’s framework to set goals (1992) because it is comprehensive, comprising proficiency goals, cognitive goals, affective goals, and transfer goals. The following course goals represent the destination of the course (Graves, 1996:17).
|By the end of the course:
- • CG1: Students will be better able to process and produce the academic written and spoken texts typical of an MSc Economics course (proficiency).
- • CG2: Students will have gained awareness of the different cultural norms and values of the broader UK context (cognitive).
- • CG3: Students will have engaged in a range of communicative activities to help them acclimatise to and function confidently in an interactive learning environment (affective).
- • CG4: Students will have developed the academic literacies required to be functioning members of the economics discourse community (transfer).
- • CG5: Students will have developed a range of core academic skills and learning strategies that will enable them to work autonomously at postgraduate level (transfer).
5.2. Course objectives (CO)
The course objectives express the specific ways in which the goals will be achieved (Graves, 1996:17), therefore each objective references a course goal/s.
|During the course:
- • CO1: students will identify the features of a range of spoken and written texts that are typical of an MSc Economics course, particularly research journal articles, examination questions, critical literature reviews, technical writing and oral presentations (CG1/ CG4).
- • CO2: students will process and produce a range of academic spoken and written texts, particularly literature reviews and oral presentations, based on current economics research in order to better prepare them for their MSc Economics assignments (CG1/ CG4/ CG5).
- • CO3: students will be exposed to a range of international variations of spoken English (through the use of video) in order to better prepare them for instruction by an international faculty (CG1).
- • CO4: students will engage with a range of activities that explore cultural norms and values in the UK in order to gain greater cultural awareness and prepare them for their year of study in the UK (CG2).
- • CO5: students will actively participate in interactive learning activities, working in pairs and small groups, to help them acclimatise to the lectures, seminars and discussions that are typical of their MSc Economics course (CG3/CG5).
- • CO6: students will critically analyse and synthesise spoken and written economics research from multiple sources in order to adopt a stance and construct an argument (CG1/ CG4).
- • CO7: students will develop the academic grammar and vocabulary of economics discourse in order to produce them in economics written and spoken texts (CG1/ CG4/ CG5).
- • CO8: students will use and develop a range of learning strategies and academic skills (particularly vocabulary diaries, reading reaction journals, online study, forum discussion, corpora analysis, peer-reviewing and self-evaluation) that will enable them to be efficient and autonomous postgraduate learners who can monitor and check their own learning (CG5).
As can be seen, these objectives are broadly process-oriented, that is, the objectives ‘describe not what the learners will do as a result of instruction, but the experiences that the learners will undergo in the classroom’ (Nunan, 1988:70).
6. Designing an EAP course
6.1. Conceptualising course content
After formulating goals and objectives, the next step is to select and balance what will be taught on the course (Graves, 2000:39). Many GE courses conceptualise their content along the lines of the four skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. However, as Caplan (2016:28) states, students entering academic programmes can no longer afford to practise these skills separately, meaning that EAP programmes need to find flexible ways to integrate language skills. Therefore, the content of this course has been conceptualised following Guse’s (2011) EAP framework, adapted from The Four Resources Model developed by Freebody and Luke (1990), which encompasses four competences: coding competence, semantic competence, pragmatic competence and critical competence. This framework provides a broad repertoire of textual practices for both oral and written language, while allowing teachers to assist students to produce and receive meaningful language (Guse, 2011:2). For example, developing students’ critical competence is likely to involve the integration of speaking, listening, reading and writing. For the purposes of this course, the framework was adapted to incorporate intercultural communicative competence by removing coding competence.
6.2. Course content
Please see Course Content in the Resource Pack (pages 8 to 10)
The content was chosen to promote attainment of one or more of the course objectives (which in turn satisfy the course goals), and therefore each piece of content references its main objective/s. For example, the content ‘using top-level structure knowledge as a framework for taking notes’ was chosen to promote attainment of CO1, CO5 and CO8, that is, they are the main objectives attained by that content.
In contract with a product-oriented GE syllabus, which might consist of a list of discrete linguistic items that students will learn, e.g. ‘the passive voice’ or ‘travel collocations’, the English for MSc Economics syllabus focuses on the tasks that students are expected to carry
out with the language (Richards, Platt and Weber, 1985:289), e.g. ‘analysing errors in student generated texts’ and ‘using corpora to check collocations’. This syllabus, therefore, is broadly process-oriented.
6.3. Organisation of course content
Please see Timetable in Resource Pack (pages 11 to 14)
The final stage of the course design process involves the organisation of content into a course timetable, also known as sequencing. For this, I followed the principle of scaffolding to sequence the content, that is, the principle that ‘A provides knowledge or skills required to do or understand B (or B builds on knowledge and skills provided by A)’ (Graves, 2000:136). This approach is best exemplified by looking at the sequencing of the sessions that focus on the assignment. The assignment brief is introduced in Week 1 Day (D) 4 and then the students are scaffolded towards completing the spoken and written components of the assignments before the deadline in W3 and W4 respectively. Nation and Macalister (2010:83) describe this as a linear approach to sequencing, yet the approach used for this course is a variation known as the ‘matrix model’ which takes into account the need for recycling material. For example, the session ‘synthesising ideas: summarising and paraphrasing’ relies heavily on processes from the session ‘note-taking with top-level structures’. Recycling material in this way provides repeated opportunities for important material to be met and enriched (ibid).
7. Developing EAP course materials
Developing course materials depends not only on the goals and objectives of the course but also the course designer’s beliefs (Graves, 2000:166). Therefore, I will discuss the development of the course materials in relation to the key issues outlined above (see 3.1 and 3.2), in which my beliefs regarding EAP course design were briefly discussed.
7.1. Academic literacies
The academic literacies approach ‘emphasizes that there are many different literacy practices in academia’ (Charles & Pecorari,2015:55). Therefore, the specific literacies that Economics students require on an MSc course, as revealed by the NA, have been closely considered in the development of the course material. For example, whereas many EAP courses use the
Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000), a list of ‘general’ academic vocabulary, to design and select the most relevant teaching materials, this ESAP course uses the purpose-made Economics Word List (EWL), a subject-specific academic word list for economics students. Rather than misrepresenting academic literacy as a uniform practice, which might be inferred from such general lists as the AWL, the EWL acknowledges that different items occur and behave differently across disciplines, thus engaging with current conceptions of academic literacies (Hyland and Tse, 2007). The EWL is introduced to the students early in the course (W1 D1) and has been used in the selection and development of all the materials, particularly for the session ‘note-taking with top-level structures’. In this session, the EWL items on the handouts are bolded for use in the extension activity (see Resource Pack, p. 28-37).
7.2. The process syllabus
While process approaches are becoming more widespread in GE, much of the impetus came from EAP, where they are still frequently used (Watson Todd, 2003:151). Hyland (2006) suggests that this is because they are learner-led and extend the idea of developing language through negotiation of meaning during tasks to negotiation of the teaching learning process itself. All the materials follow the processes of a task-based approach but are perhaps best exemplified in the material for the session ‘understanding assessment questions’. In this session, the students negotiate meaning through a series of tasks involving deconstructing assignment questions and generating and discussing ideas, before reaching a conclusion about how they would answer the assignment questions. This is referred to by Dudley-Evans and St John (1998:117) as the thinking stage of a process approach to writing (see Resource Pack, p. 17-21). Following this session (aka the thinking stage) there are multiple sessions following Robinson’s (1991:104) writing processes of draft – feedback – revision – input – redraft (see Timetable in Resource Pack – W3 D4/ W3 D5/ W4 D1/ W4 D2/ W4 D3).
7.3. Authentic materials and tasks
A key feature of this course is authenticity because EAP students, moreover ESAP students, have clearly-defined real-world purposes for the use of English, which promotes the use of authentic materials and tasks (Watson Todd, 2003:153). Furthermore, academic texts are embedded within specific disciplinary contexts in terms of both content and structure (cf. academic literacies), therefore it is vital to ensure that the materials (and tasks that they generate) closely reflect those that the students will encounter when they move onto their
economics studies (Charles & Pecorari, 2015:75). Authenticity is best exemplified in the materials for the session ‘synthesising ideas: summarising and paraphrasing’. In this session there are two key pieces of authentic material (an economics video lecture and an economics journal article), which generate a series of authentic tasks involving note-taking, summarising and paraphrasing (see Resource Pack, p. 41-46).
7.4. Inductive Learning
An inductive approach requires the teacher to facilitate the learners’ processes of discovery (Charles & Pecorari, 2015:48). In EAP, there is a preference for inductive approaches over more teacher-centred deductive approaches because, as Watson Todd (2003:151) suggests, ‘if we want students to gain understanding of (as opposed to knowledge about) the conventions and values of academic communities, an inductive approach is likely to be more successful’. Therefore, much of the course content is based on inductive learning practices, particularly investigating the discoursal practices of the economics community. This is best exemplified in the materials for the session ‘synthesising ideas: summarising and paraphrasing’. In the extension activity, students are required to find all the examples of reporting verbs in an economics journal article and then make inductions regarding their function and strength (see Resource Pack, p. 44).
7.5. Learner autonomy
There is a greater than usual emphasis on learner autonomy in EAP, particularly on short pre-sessional courses, such as English for MSc Economics, where students ’need to be able to continue their EAP learning without EAP teachers after they have moved on to their specialist studies’ (Jordan, 1997:116). Therefore, because EAP students have the characteristics which are most likely to lead to successful learner autonomy (Watson Todd, 2003:153), this course incorporates the explicit teaching of learning strategies that foster autonomy and can be transferred to work outside of class. This is best exemplified in the course materials for the session ‘understanding assessment questions’. This session emphasises learner autonomy through online self-access learning, peer-reviewing using a checklist (see resource pack, p. 20 & 22), vocabulary learning strategies (see Resource Pack, p. 19 & 24) and interaction and collaboration (see Homework Task).
7.6. The use of technology
Technology supported courses ‘provide better support for the less able, engage students who do not respond well to ‘traditional’ classroom learning, provide opportunity for accelerated learning for gifted and talented students, and develop independent learning skills’ (Boulton, 2008:11). Furthermore, they provide additional channels for interaction and opportunities for collaboration (Richardson, 2010). This course, therefore, uses technology to adopt a ‘flipped’ approach to instruction. Peachey (2012:72) states that using a flipped approach ensures that participants come to the face-to-face sessions readily prepared with a strong understanding of background issues and basic technical skills and experience. The flipped approach is particularly suitable for this this short EAP course because it maximizes the effectiveness of the face-to-face sessions. The flipped approach is best exemplified in the materials for the session, ‘note-taking with top-level structures’. Before the session, students use the purpose-made online learning space to watch two short videos about note-taking and read three short web pages about top-level structures in order to prepare them for the practical tasks of identifying and applying top-level structure knowledge in the face-to-face session (see Resource Pack, p. 28-33).
8. Assessment and course evaluation in EAP
8.1. Formative and summative assessment
Formative assessment will be carried out informally by both the students and teacher throughout the course using three assessment tools: self-assessment questionnaires; peer-to-peer observations; and teacher observations. Self and peer assessment were chosen because they are closely linked to autonomy, encouraging students to monitor their own progress (Hughes, 2003:5), which ‘enable[s] [them] to assume greater responsibility’ (von Elek, cited in Bailey, 1999:42). Teacher observations were chosen for reasons of practicality and to diagnose problems to be dealt with by the teacher. To ensure reliability, the teacher observations will be carried out using a criterion-referenced assessment rubric based on the course objectives (Harris and McCann, 1994:10).
The summative assessment of this course is an assignment with two components: an oral presentation and an essay. These were chosen to reflect the assessment methods of an MSc Economics course, on which students are required to propose their dissertation research through an oral presentation. To that end, the oral presentation component of the assignment is
of the research proposal genre, and proposes the topic and research for the essay component. The essay, then, is of the literature review genre because it is an important sub-genre of postgraduate research and dissertation writing (Cooper, 1988), moreover economics writing, which requires students to critically analyse and synthesise research from multiple sources in order to construct an argument (Turner and Bitchener, 2008) (see Resource Pack, p. 23). To promote beneficial backwash, the assessment rubrics for both components of the assignment will be criterion-referenced and based on the course objectives. Furthermore, the students will be provided with the assessment rubric so that they know and understand what is expected of them (Hughes, 2003:55). To improve scorer reliability, both components will be marked independently by two scorers, with the scores being compared to produce a reliability-coefficient that should be above 0.70 (Ibid:39).
8.2. Formative and Summative Evaluation
This course will be evaluated by both the teacher and the students using formative and summative evaluation tools. Formative course evaluation will take place during the course through an observation sheet, filled out by the teacher, based on Long’s (1984:57) suggestion of ‘process evaluation’, whereby classroom behaviour is systematically observed with reference to the theory which underlies the course being evaluated. Further to this, qualitative/ quantitative questionnaires will be distributed to the students mid-way through the course (formative) and at the end of the course (summative). Questionnaires provide focused data that can be compared quickly and easily (Long, 2005:37), which will be important when triangulating the data from the three sources of evaluation (observation sheet, formative questionnaire and summative questionnaire). The triangulated data will be used to retain effective aspects and change ineffective aspects to improve the course for future use (Graves, 2000:208).
This rationale proposed an ESAP course with two unique selling points: the use of the Economics Word List; and an online flipped approach to instruction. Firstly, whereas many pre-sessional EAP courses, both EGAP and ESAP alike, rely on the AWL to select and develop materials, this course uses the purpose-made EWL. By doing so, the course disengages with the study skills approach to EAP and engages with current conceptions of academic literacies. Secondly, while many EAP courses rely on pre-packaged online learning spaces, such as
Moodle, this course utilises a purpose-made website to adopt a flipped approach to instruction. By doing so, the course designers have maximised what can realistically be achieved in a 4-week course of study.
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