I have been supervising dissertation students recently at several institutions.
One thing that has been mentioned several times is the interpretation of the Turnitin Similarity Report. One student showed me her Turnitin report in which she had received a similarity score of 32%. She was worried as she had been told that anything above 20% was problematic. I looked at her work and found that most of the 32% similarity was made up of typical EAP phrases. Examples are “questions have been raised over the ,,,”, “… have received very little consideration” and “this evidence leads us to reject the hypothesis that…” These are kinds of phrases that EAP students are expected to learn and use and are covered in books such as Jeanne Godfrey’s The student phrase book (Godfrey, 2013) and John Morley’s online Academic Phrasebank.
I have been supervising students doing research at both undergraduate and graduate levels recently and many of the students have been doing qualitative studies, involving interviews. In doing so, I have found that many of them find it difficult to report their findings and provide evidence. I am not surprised as there does not seem to be much information available. As Robert Yin (2011, p. 234) has made clear:
At a minimum, a common kind of narrative data would take the form of quotations and paraphrased passages, representing your study participants’ descriptions their own lives, actions, and views. In qualitative research, even these briefer descriptions serve as an important form of data. Not surprisingly, the choices about how to present these narrative data are more than a matter of literary style. Methodological issues also are relevant. Yet, this type of narrative — whether brief or lengthy — has not received much attention in existing guides for doing qualitative research.
I have looked through the publications in the references list below. Most of them are excellent, but none of them provide the useful information that my students need.
There are some useful suggestions, but none of them – apart from Yin – are detailed enough:
A group of students wrote something for me at the beginning of the semester. They were scientists and their lecturer wanted to see how well they could write so if they needed to develop their writing, we could start early in the year and not wait until they had submitted their first assessed assignments. Much of the writing was not very good and the lecturer was determined to arrange writing classes as soon as possible. I decided I’d try to talk to the students before we made decisions to see what I could find out about their experiences of writing.
I was recently asked to work with a group of students on blogging. The students had been asked to write a weekly assessed blog of between 500 and 700 words and were having difficulty.
As I thought about it, I realised that I did not have enough information about what the students were expected to do, and neither – I think – did the students.
I recently took part in a TESOL – IATEFL online discussion about how ESP projects can create positive social change.
Kevin Knight – the organiser – gave us the following task:
You are all members of a task force team to provide language training for employees of multinational corporation. The HR department of the company is interested in your ideas about providing not only in-house training but also involving local universities in the training of its employees. In addition, the HR department is wondering how such training could be connected to its annual report on Corporate Social Responsibility. Share your ideas in connection with the big picture: How ESP projects can create positive social change.
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 was visiting a colleague’s office recently and he showed me a piece of student work from another university where he was an external examiner. The piece of work was covered with red ticks, crosses, under-linings, crossings out and illegible comments. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that this feedback – if that’s what it was – was not very useful and that it was something that he – as an external examiner – should comment on. As I was leaving the office, I suddenly thought of something and went back to look at the text again. As I thought, the text was on formal examination paper and it was clear that the writing we had been looking at was an examination answer, something that the students would (might) never see again. It made me realise that comment/feedback on student writing – as with all writing – depends on purpose and audience, something that does not seem to have been discussed elsewhere. Continue reading
The theme of the Pre-Conference Event was employability and transferability in EAP and ESP. It was a joint event with BALEAP – the global forum for EAP practitioners. Thinking about this topic from a needs analysis point of view, I tried to investigate from different angles how institutions of higher education are dealing with this issue. My conclusion was that they they are trying to deal with it, but there is a large amount of confusion, especially with regard to professional and academic genres. One example I mentioned – and so did others – was when students are asked to write a report for their manager – a professional genre – but are required to give references – typical of academic genres.
I’ve just returned from the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Special Interest Group (SIG) Pre-Conference Event (PCE) in Manchester, UK.
This was a joint pre-conference event between the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes Special Interest Group (ESPSIG) & BALEAP, the global forum for EAP professionals.
The theme of the PCE was employability and transferability in EAP and ESP.
As usual it was a very interesting day with teachers from many parts of the world discussing how they go about trying to meet the academic and professional linguistic needs of their students, sometimes with limited resources.
I’ve been asked to give a short talk at the next BALEAP PIM on the the history of BALEAP PIMs (Professional Issues Meetings). As I was preparing this, I thought it would be interesting to see how the topics, as shown by the titles of the presentations, have changed over the years. Continue reading