The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A foot in both camps

At the weekend, I was at an EAP event in Durham; a BALEAP PIM (that's a professional issues meeting, not a summer cocktail!). The main theme of the day was professional development for EAP teachers and I went along to speak about my experiences with webinars as a means of providing professional development opportunities to current, new and potential EAP teachers across the world. I've been to a couple of PIMs before and found them pretty daunting affairs with people who all seemed to know each other talking in acronyms and terminology I didn't understand! Even though I've been involved in EAP as a teacher for some six years, as a temporary summer tutor at Bristol University who just flits in and out for a few weeks every summer, I've never really been fully inducted into the world of academic English teaching.

I've been particularly immersed in EAP for the past few months as part of the Oxford EAP writing team, so I was feeling, at least, a bit more up to speed with some of the jargon this time. I still immediately came across the phenomenon though of people's opening remark being "So, where are you?" ... I started the day with the long answer "Well, actually I'm a freelance materials writer, but I do some teaching at Bristol ...", but soon gave in and just replied "Bristol". Then came the name-dropping. As soon as I got chatting on any topic, there'd be "Well, you know so-and-so at Nottingham's stuff on ..." and 9 times out of 10, I didn't!

So it made me smile rather when in her plenary, Prof Julie King was talking about "communities of practice" and how EAP teachers often feel misunderstood by both the academic community on one side and the more general EFL community on the other (you can read more in her pre-talk blog post here). As someone who feels quite comfortably part of the EFL community, I couldn't help thinking that the EAP community aren't always perhaps as welcoming and inclusive as they could be ...

Having said that though, as the day went on and I found myself in sessions about more practical, concrete teaching issues, I felt I was on more familiar ground. People started talking my language and I found myself in lots of interesting discussions about EAP teaching, teachers and teacher development with some very friendly, interesting, and interested people. So, by the time I got to my session in the afternoon, I felt comfortable enough to raise the issue of making EAP more accessible to a wider audience of teachers globally and perhaps raising the profile of EAP on social media like Twitter and Facebook as a way of reaching out. Although, to be fair, Steve Kirk, the organiser of the event was already thinking along the same lines and was tweeting from many of the sessions (using the hashtags #ELTchat and #EAPchat).

The feeling I took away from the whole day is that as EAP grows, both in the UK with rapidly expanding pre-sessional programs and globally with more demand for English-medium universities worldwide, the EAP profession can - and needs to - become more approachable, more visible, less confusing and less intimidating without dumbing down and, crucially, without losing credibility amongst the academic community either.

I was also encouraged by a few people eager to spread the EAP word and came away with some new links and contacts to explore.  Looking forward to the next #EAPchat and just generally more EAP-related discussion, blogging and sharing online.

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