Expectations of and on international students in UK HE: Perspectives on English for Academic Purposes

On 16th September, I and my colleague gave a talk at BAAL/Routledge Workshop ‘Expectations of and on international students in UK HE’ at Manchester Metropolitan University. The workshop was a very fruitful event which brought together researchers, professionals of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and international students. Our talk entitled ‘Internationalisation in UK higher education: Experiences of international PhD students’ drew on our own experiences of academic writing and intercultural communication with reference to internationalisation agenda of higher education. During my PhD journey, it was the first academic event in which I gave a presentation which was not directly related to my PhD (learner language), though I made some reference to my research and other relevant research studies.

I focused on the dynamics of my identity as an academic writer and my experiences of being a teaching assistant of Study Skills course which encompasses critical reading, identifying appropriate literature, and academic writing. Study Skills course is delivered to MA students in order to improve their academic reading and writing skills, and it is useful to provide shortcuts to the conventions of academic writing in English. However, the generic content of academic writing may not enable students to understand how they can present their arguments and contribute to the debate in their own specific disciplines and sub-disciplines. For instance, the way the arguments constructed in TESOL can be markedly different from those of educational technology. Admittedly, it is hard to design a discipline-specific study skills course, but there is room for improvement. Special corpora that would include journal articles and academic books in MA students’ specific disciplines can be used to improve students’ knowledge of linguistic choices, evaluation of the previous literature and argumentation. Additionally, students can be trained to create their own personalised corpus by using the virtual corpus functionality within the Brigham Young University’s collection of corpora.

The second point I made was the academic writing support provided to students. Though we are lucky to receive academic writing support at institutional level, the way it is framed should be changed. In its current format, academic writing support/tutorial service at many universities in the UK is generally available for students whose first language is not English. This makes the assumption that students whose first language is English would not struggle with academic writing, and/or that students from a non-English L1 background would have problems that should be ‘remedied’. In fact, corpus research shows that novice writers may share the same struggles in academic writing, regardless of their first language. Therefore, academic writing support at universities should be given to all students, as the labels ‘home’/‘L1-English speaking’ students and ‘international’/‘L2-English speaking’ students may divide ‘us’. Though there are changes to this approach, the change is slow, and it is remarkable that research in this area has informed the practices little in this area so far. As one of the discussants in the workshop noted, researchers may need to find more effective ways of reaching out to stakeholders in this area. 

calvin-and-hobbes_2During the workshop, there were similar talks and discussions on academic support given to students in UK higher education. Until the workshop, it was inconceivable for me to hear ‘EAP’ referred to as ‘industry’ followed by the rationalisation that ‘it is the reality.’ Although we cannot deny the ideological and economical underpinnings of EAP through which major publishing companies make profits in the Anglophone context, seeing EAP as ‘industry’ would benefit neither students nor educators. Instead, EAP can be framed as collective endeavour of students, educators and researchers. At the risk of romanticising, students’ progress in EAP would be of priceless value to both students and educators.

CorpusMOOC: The most brilliant MOOC I have completed!

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 reused under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 reused under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Corpus linguistics: method, analysis, interpretation’ was my third Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that I completed, but it was my first MOOC on the FutureLearn platform. While some educators may give up on MOOCs due to the low completion rates and little interaction among the participants, there is evidence that they are becoming much more internationalised and multilingual! I am always very optimistic about MOOCs, and I completely agree with Anant Agarwal on his view that MOOCs are making education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind, and bank account–blind.”

I enjoyed every minute of the CorpusMOOC because of its three most distinctive favourable features:

  • Continuous individualised guidance and feedback from the course team: I was amazed at how quickly the course team responded to our comments during the course. I remember that I got a response to my comment within just one hour!
  • High quality and rich content of the course: The course includes impressive wide range of videos, tasks, reading materials, discussions, in-conversation videos, quizzes and presentations in each week. I think it would not be possible to cover all these materials in the mainstream classes in just 8 weeks.
  • Comments from the course participants and course team: Comment sections were hidden treasures of new sources and inspirations! I learned many things from the participants who not only consumed, but also generated the content in the course. They shared quite a few articles, links, books and programmes that I bookmarked.

Although there was a lot of interaction between the course team and participants, it could have been more interaction among the course participants. This might be attributed to the features of the FutureLearn as we could not get any notifications when other participants or mentors liked our comments or replied to them. Also, we could not even see who liked our posts. One of the principles of the FutureLearn is to ‘create connections’ as it is stated on its website. I liked the easy-to-use and modern design of FutureLearn, but more interactive features are needed to enable us to ‘create connections’. For instance, a direct message function for the participants, rating system for the comments and social media sharing are the three features that would have improved my learning experience for this course to a great extent. Looking at its FAQ’s page, I realise that these will be added soon. Nevertheless, the principle of ‘create connections’ might be difficult to apply in the current courses at least in the beta version of FutureLearn.

I was not a complete beginner in corpus linguistics, so I cherished the flexibility of the course. Here are the three most useful gains of the corpusMOOC for me:

  • I definitely feel more confident to work with a POS-tagged corpus now. In the course, we used Corpus Query Process (CQPweb) and BNCweb, both of which have quite user-friendly interfaces. We also used AntConc to search in a corpus that had been tagged. Even though UCREL’s CLAWS POS Tagger is available to tag up to 100,000 words of English online, we need to buy a licence to tag large numbers of files. The good news is that Laurence Anthony is developing a free POS-tagger, and it will be available on his website soon!
  • I have become familiar with the semantic tagging which could be useful to group the words, conduct a research on metaphorical language and identify semantic preferences of the lexical items.
  • In-conversation videos, which were my favourite part of the course, gave me a wider perspective on the applications of corpus linguistics. I would not have imagined that corpus linguistics could be used for accounting and finance!

    I created this word cloud from my notes that I took during the course!

The CorpusMOOC, which has inspired me to pursue new research ideas, is the most brilliant MOOC that I have completed so far. For those who are interested in corpus linguistics, the course will be running again in September. Finally, I would like to thank Tony McEnery, educators and mentors of the course to offer us such a great MOOC!

Aston Corpus Linguistics Summer School

British National Corpus

In August, I spent 5 wonderful days full of corpus linguistics in Birmingham at Aston University. Corpus and corpus tools are definitely a great way to explore real language in use. I was simply fascinated by how corpus can be an extremely useful tool to conduct research in many fields, such as pedagogy, discourse analysis, translation and lexicography.

Since the summer school, I have been playing with  some of the corpus tools and exploring corpora that you can find on this website. I am asking myself “Why don’t we use corpora more for language teaching and learning in classes?”. Of course, there are various contextual factors for that, but I am of the opinion that if we use corpora for language learning/teaching, language learners will be more exposed to real language, which may prevent them from using bookish language and help them improve their pragmatic competence to some extent. For language learners, British National Corpus is a great start to have a go! It might be a bit intimidating at first, but it will be fun to play with this tool soon!

 As a beginner in corpus linguistics, I am still revising the topics (yes, there were too many for just 5 days!) that we covered at Aston Corpus Linguistics Summer School, and I have created a corpus of German exams for my self-study in order to test to what extent using corpus will be effective for me to improve my German. I thank Ramesh Krishnamurthy who is one of the pioneering researchers in the field for organising such a fruitful summer school. He and his team instilled the love of corpus linguistics into me, and I was inspired to carry out research in Turkish context. Of course, there is much progress to be made in Turkey. I am looking forward to Aston Advanced Corpus Linguistics Summer School and Postgraduate Conference in 2012! Also, I hope to meet some enthusiastic corpus linguists there and collaborate with them on corpus-based studies!