What is it to Lead an EAP Mega Module?
Anastasiya Bezborodova and Liliya Makovskaya, Uzbekistan
Anastasiya Bezborodova is the module leader of English for Academic Purposes module at Westminster International University is Tashkent. She has eight years of teaching experience and two master’s degrees. The first MA is in English Linguistics and another is in TESOL. The areas of her research interests include ESP material design and assessment, written feedback, teacher training and academic writing. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Liliya Makovskaya is the module leader of English for Academic Purposes at Westminster International University is Tashkent. She has almost 14 years of teaching experience and has been a teacher trainer and material designer. Liliya has a BA in teaching English, an MA in linguistics, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning. Her research interest is assessment in higher education (academic writing and feedback). E-mail: email@example.com
Content of the EAP course
Assisting students’ learning
Westminster International University in Tashkent (WIUT) is a prominent internationally validated University in Central Asia that was founded in collaboration with the University of Westminster (UoW) in the UK in 2002. It is the first international university that represents a model of UK Transnational Education in Uzbekistan. It offers a wide range of courses mostly related to law, economy and business both at under-graduate and graduate level. They are all taught in English. Even though the university is transnational, the content of the courses is developed locally, and then UoW in London validates them. The focus of this article is English for Academic Purposes (EAP) module, a core for students at the Certificate of International Foundation Studies Course. The EAP module is a yearlong module, and it is developed for a targeted group of students who are interested in pursuing different undergraduate degrees at WIUT.
We refer to this module as a mega-module, because of the large number of students enrolled (about 850 students). Each class is two-hours and is held twice a week. This introductory course mostly focuses on the development of academic English and covers writing, listening and reading, referencing, presentation and basic research skills. Jungic, Kent, and Menz (2006, p2) rightfully believe “Such introductory courses often serve a gate-keeping function and issue early warnings to those students with inadequate academic abilities or working habits.” We believe that our EAP classes are a very important part of the education that the students receive at our university. Therefore, the module leaders and the team should plan everything carefully and support students in their transitional year.
Since one of the requirements for pursuing the degree at WIUT is to be able to write different types of academic papers and to read articles, books, and materials written in different fields of study in English, students should be aware of the variety of genres; that is, writing reports, summaries, reflections and essays. And this is what we focus on in the EAP classes. The first semester of EAP is mostly built around argumentative essay writing, referencing the academic sources, paraphrasing and teaching students to search for online / printed articles and look for effective supporting arguments. The second semester is focused on speaking, reading and listening strategies, presentation and basic research skills, referencing, summary and report writing. Even though the requirement for entering this university is an IELTS band score of 5.5 and above, most of the content of the course is new information for the majority of the students. Many have no prior knowledge of academic English, essay writing, plagiarism, and so on.
Our EAP teachers are the major contributors to the materials being prepared, and we all try to design the course in accordance with the diverse interests and needs of our students. There are plenty of books, journals, media, and online resources both at the University Learning Resource Center, on the Intranet (university internal online system) and on the Internet that are freely available to the students. Teachers to scaffold students’ learning provide some of these resources, both online and in print.
Our job as module leaders is to ensure that the course runs smoothly. We do this by monitoring and supporting the work of the 10 - 15 lecturers that work in our department and making sure that our almost 850 students are being delivered effective seminars and are assessed fairly. The administrative responsibilities that we have are guided by many principles, which have direct impacts on many aspects, including program quality, consistency in the delivery of seminars and staff working environment. Being involved in the process of updating the module program, teaching and assessment practices module wide, we focus our attention on planning and holding meetings, handling any resistance to change, and paving the way for reaching agreements within our group and the university. Leading a mega-module, we address different situations that require us to be flexible, inclusive, decisive, considerate and sometimes firm.
Our university was established 15 years ago; and since then, the members of the EAP team have constantly made attempts to create plans and programs that would accommodate the needs of the students and at the same time are along with the modern trends of language teaching. This has meant that we are constantly trying to make changes and develop new plans. This has been a significant but at the same time interesting challenge. However, along these lines, we sometimes face a more serious challenge. At times, some of the colleagues show resistance to this constant change. This is partly due to the fact that innovations and implementations of these changes require extra training, increased workload, and adaptation to new resources. In addition, old habits die hard. Sometimes the reason for their initial resistance may be that they are satisfied with what they have been doing and are not convinced that the any change is required. According to Stoller (2012), innovations often provoke disagreement and dissatisfaction among the teachers with the status quo.
In order to address the instances of resistance adequately, we follow three main principles. The first principle is to present the innovation in a manner that highlights the advantages. As MLs, we emphasize the issues of innovation, relevance, feasibility, and applicability to the module. This way the innovation will usually seem practical and will be seen as an improvement. Our second governing principle for addressing the resistance to change is the systematic implementation of this change. All changes can be accepted as an inevitable part of teaching only if they occur gradually, but the faculty must be open and willing to change. To reach this acceptance, we increment small steps to introduce, trial, and later implement the changes. Although such an approach might seem time consuming, we believe that it has a long-lasting effect. Lastly, we sometimes seek the help of other faculty members who are willing to champion the innovation and support the change. Thus, the third principle is to strongly support suggested innovations and search for those who agree with the change share our point of view. Following this principle, we usually discuss the module content and structure with the colleagues from other departments as they, too, can contribute to the module development. Building a team of interested staff members and providing them with the necessary leadership helps us to address the resistance of change as well.
As MLs, another challenge we face regards decision making and negotiating. Since we try our best to keep all of the people we work with satisfied and involved in the final decisions being made, after reaching the initial agreement, we try to delegate tasks. For example, as MLs, we involve staff in designing the teaching calendar and the development of seminar materials, discussion of the topics for the assessment tasks and any other assigned responsibilities. In this way, teachers are also contributing to the program development in general. We also try to listen more than to speak because we want to learn about different points of views, in order to incorporate as many ideas as possible in the future. Active listening also allows us to get a better understanding of critical issues and to look at the situation from different angles. We understand that as decision makers and negotiators, we have to take sensible risks and keep strategic considerations in mind. Therefore, we try not to be dependent on our individual decisions and be prepared to negotiate.
Another challenge that we sometimes face is when some lecturers leave and new colleagues join our team, mainly in the middle of the semester. Since we are a growing university, and since many of our lecturers are young and still pursuing their own dreams and plans, this happens frequently. There might be different reasons why some colleagues leave their job: some of them have personal/family issues, such as marriage or relocation to another city/country, while others might be finding a new work place or pursuing a degree course abroad. In all these cases, we need to recruit new lecturers. Although most of the newly-employed lecturers have quite good teaching experience, they still need to learn about our working environment. Our solution is to appoint mentors for them. In addition to the induction organized by university, we provide them with the module overview. We find it important, because EAP is taught only at our international university and most of the new colleagues do not know some EAP-specific concepts. We ask the new teachers to observe classes of other team members and only after that, they start delivering the lessons, which are in turn observed by us. The assessment process is also explained because the key principles should be applied and criteria should be followed by all the team members regardless of their experience with the module. In general, we find the adaptation of most new teachers quite interesting, but sometimes time-consuming.
Encouraging teachers to exchange their ideas dynamically is crucial for improving the module. Thus, when we are planning and holding meetings, one of our important responsibilities is to develop an atmosphere that all staff members feel confident and would like to share their thoughts. We encourage them to discuss those materials, which worked well in the classroom as well as those that should be modified; and assessment tasks that were either relevant or challenging for the students. As a team, we conduct meetings almost on a weekly basis throughout the academic year. These weekly meetings also provide us with an opportunity to assess our own work, divide the responsibilities, and set future goals. We also organize the meetings at the end of each semester to discuss teaching calendar and the sequence of seminar topics. By doing so, we make sure that all the areas for improvement are addressed and the necessary alterations are made. An important thing to be mentioned is that we usually keep the meetings with the lecturers in English, because some members do not speak Russian or Uzbek. This makes us be sure that international colleagues being part of our team are not be left out. This is also a good opportunity for all of us to feel being part of the international university.
During the meetings, we both try to control the overpowering members and draw out the silent participants, which, according to Davidson, Tesh, and Hartmann, (2012), is of crucial importance. Some people can stay silent during the whole meeting or go off the agenda and speak for too long. Our role as MLs is to break the silence if it is a sign of indifference and hostility and gently manage garrulous participants. It is important to let people know that we respect well-run meetings. Although most teachers in the team usually contribute to the discussion, it is sometimes important to make special notice. However, some staff members may be neither indifferent nor overpowering, but would keep silent because they are junior, new, or inexperienced teachers. To avoid it, we strongly encourage seniors to listen to new and fresh ideas, to give new teachers a chance to express their views so as not to feel detached from the discussed topic, and to help new teachers see themselves as useful members of the department. In a diverse group, it is also necessary to control the cross flow of the ideas and guide a discussion in a manner that will discourage the clash of personalities. Thus, because meetings should be a collection of great ideas for the module improvement, we encourage staff to share their ideas in a form of suggestions, to pose their questions or concerns for the future success of the module, and indicate their agreement or disagreement with other colleagues. This way, we can grasp as many good ideas as possible and give team members the feeling that we have made a commitment to the agreed upon suggestions.
Until quite recently, most schools in Uzbekistan had teacher-based approach to teaching. At our university, we try to have a more learner-based approach. This is new to many of the students and it takes time for them to adopt to this. In addition, since the subjects are taught in a language other than their other tongue, they need extra support. Therefore, being MLs does not mean only dealing with challenges in the module and within our own team, but it also implies proper organization of students’ studies at the university. One of the most essential tasks for us is to structure the course appropriately. Jungic, Kent, and Menz (2006, p3) assert that “Students in a well set up course are better able to focus on their learning rather than dealing with logistical issues of where to hand in or pick up assignments, where to turn for help, and so on”. Hence, we first design and discuss the teaching calendar within our team and then upload the last improved version of syllabus and calendar to both the Intranet and Moodle (an online platform implemented at the university in 2016 for sharing the materials) for students. In addition, we send notifications via email to all the students enrolled in the module regarding the important uploaded documents. Overall, both the teachers and the learners are informed of any important information or changes via university email. This ensures that everybody on the course has up-to-date information about the module structure and content.
Another significant aspect of working in a mega-module is to prepare the resources before the classes actually start. We usually pair the lecturers up and everybody begins developing the materials during the summer period. The next important aspect of our work is to make the materials available to all students; therefore, the use of technology is important in ensuring the availability. All the homework tasks, PowerPoint presentations, video material and in-class resources are uploaded simultaneously to both the Intranet and Moodle prior to each class, which means the materials are accessible for both teachers and students. Moreover, usually two days prior to the class, hand-outs are printed out. Providing students with both electronic and hard copy materials helps us to make sure that in case students do not have an access to the Internet, they can always use the paper version and we can manage the lesson appropriately without wasting any time on searching for the resources.
We also pay much attention to the assessment in our mega-module. To ensure academic integrity, students submit their coursework via one of the electronic systems, Turnitin, which helps all team members to see the plagiarism level and provide electronic feedback via Feedback Studio. As the learners are just on the foundation level of their studies and might face problems with the online submission, they are also required to submit the hard copy of their work. This gives equal opportunities for all of them regardless of having access to the Internet and ICT knowledge. In case it is a student’s presentation to be assessed, all the team members learn about the criteria and are paired up to evaluate this oral task. Therefore, students receive more feedback on their progress and lecturers have the opportunity to see the academic achievement of other students on the course and then help their own students accordingly, if required.
To conclude, being good MLs is not an inborn ability but a skill. Leading a mega-module is quite a challenging task that requires us to be responsible and well organized. We should always make sure that there is a consistency in both the delivery of the content and assessment of students’ knowledge and skills. We should deal with any misunderstanding between the teachers and learners as well as any unexpected situation that might happen. As leaders of the module, our main responsibility is to make the program stand out and be legitimate. The work that we do should not only empower the faculty, but should also meet the most current needs of students, which will result in better enrolment and higher quality of the module and the students’ success in their academic future.
Davidson, J. O., Tesh, J. S. and Hartmann, S. L. (2012). Effective governance. In M. A. Christison and F. L. Stoller (Eds.), A handbook for language program administrators, 199-217. Miami: Alta Books.
Jungic, V., Kent, D. and Menz, P. (2006). Teaching Large Math Classes: Three Instructors, One Experience. International Electronic Journal of Mathematics Education 1(1). Available from http://www.lon-capa.org/papers/JungicKentMetz.pdf.
Stoller, F. L. (2012). Catalyst for innovation. In M. A. Christison and F. L. Stoller (Eds.), A handbook for language program administrators, 37-55. Miami: Alta Books.
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