There has been much discussion recently about what exactly students have to do in order to succeed in HE. Gillett & Hammond (2009), for example, identified a range of tasks that need to be managed in order to succeed and Nesi & Gardner (2012) looked in great detail at the genres which students need to work with. This has been a very useful contribution to the development of EAP. However, Feak (2011) identifies the difficulties that some students might have with these genres in multidisciplinary degrees and courses. Furthermore, my recent experience working with students from one discipline, business students, has shown that many of the assignments that the students have to produce are much more complicated and not so easily classified. I’d like to show some examples of these and ask how we can best help our insessional students to deal with them.
I’ve been running insessional workshops for part-time undergraduate business students recently. In these workshops I have had the opportunity to look in great detail at the assignments that the students have to produce and, although in a 1:1 workshop situation it is possible to come to some specific conclusions, I find it difficult to generalise from them.
Did it use to be easier? If a student had an assignment question such as:
How successful have international institutions been in promoting and achieving free trade?
it was easy to analyse this using Nesi & Gardner’s categories. The primary purpose of this question is Developing Powers of Independent Reasoning, which can be further categorised as an Essay. Essays have clear well-defined structures, which we can work with.
In a similar way:
Write a critical evaluation of a topic relevant to the field of English Language Teaching in the form of a literature review.
can be broadly described as Building Research Skills and more narrowly as a Literature Survey, which is easily described.
But now they seem to be more complicated. The first time I noticed this was when several students showed me that they had been asked to write a report for their manager – a professional genre – but had been required to give references – typical of academic genres. The students were all in full-time employment and many of them had had years of work experience and knew how to write reports for their managers. However, they were confused and annoyed when they received low marks for their academic work. It seems that higher education institutions in UK clearly think that the issue of employability is important and are trying to integrate it into their courses, but not doing it very well. Is EAP helping?
Here are some more examples of 3rd year assignments that we cannot easily categorise. Using Nesi & Gardner’s (2012) categories, they all seem to be a mixture of case-study, report, explanation, essay and reflective writing.
Leadership Skills Development Plan
A 1000 word evaluation document which analyses your leadership capacity based on a detailed self-appraisal of your behaviour and motivation in a work context. This will include an Emotional Intelligence exercise designed to provide 360% feedback, providing insight into your impact upon your partners, manager, board, peers, and team. You will identify your strengths and create an action plan for improvement which will inform and help to shape your research project.
The complete project report of 6000 words will demonstrate your engagement with the process of practice based research and link together:
- an analysis of your leadership challenges;
- the organisational and contextual constraints;
- an evaluation of the impact/outcomes;
- a critical review of the relevant theories and models of management/leadership which has informed your understanding; and
- an evaluation of the development of your management and leadership skills.
Evidence of both a completed learning journal and online discussion with peers must also be submitted as an appendix.
A 3000 word report and critical analysis of a situation or event in which you are required to show leadership and influence others. You should use theory from the module to analyse the leadership and related issues and draw on this and your own experience to make recommendations on how the issues should be addressed. You should conclude with a brief reflection on what you have learned about your own leadership practice during the module.
How we can best help our insessional students to deal with these kinds of assignments?
In Successful Academic Writing (Gillett, Hammond, & Martala, 2009), we described and provided examples and exercises for what Ian Bruce (2008) calls cognitive genres:
- Description of objects
- Description of systems
- Description of processes
- Classifying / categorising
- Including charts and diagrams
- Providing reasons and explanations.
- Arguing a point of view
- Evaluating a point of view
- Comparing & contrasting
- Providing support by – giving examples, or providing evidence
- Drawing conclusions
and tried to show how these cognitive genres could be combined to form typical social genres (Bruce, 2008). This seemed to be a useful way forward with the genres that have been well described. However, it is not clear how these cognitive genres combine to form the more complicated pieces of writing that students need to undertake these days. It seems to me that understanding how to write these “typical” social genres continues to be important, but is it enough?
What do we need next for EAP with multi-disciplinary courses and multi-genre assignments?
Bruce, I. (2008). Academic writing and genre: A systematic approach. London: Continuum.
Feak, C. (2011). Culture shock? Genre shock? In S. Etherington (ed.), English for specific academic purposes (pp. 35-45). Reading: Garnet.
Gillett, A. J. & Hammond, A. C. (2009). Mapping the maze of assessment: An investigation into practice. Active Learning in Higher Education, 10, 120-137.
Gillett, A. J., Hammond, A. C. & Martala, M. (2009). Successful academic writing. London: Pearson Longman.
Nesi, H. & Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.