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The secrets of a happy partnership


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by Claudia Civinini

Durham University’s English for Academic Purposes (EAP) department has been piloting a project which sees international students actively involved in shaping the curriculum.

International students as curriculum advisers for academic writing courses: developing and implementing staff-student partnerships, is led by Terri Edwards, project leader and teaching fellow at the university’s English Language Centre (ELC).

It is funded by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).

Edwards and her team work with six students who were ‘purposely sampled’ from the ELC, to improve the materials used in their Academic Writing Workshop.
‘Staff-student partnership are definitely the way forward for increasing international student engagement in EAP’, said Edwards. The project has involved students choosing, reviewing and evaluating materials and feeding back their opinions in interviews with the ELC team.

Materials will be developed and trialled next year, but the programme has already positively influenced the EAP provision at the university. Edwards said it has, for example, increased the range of text types that are used on the programme.

‘Texts have been too heavily focused on social science writing’, she explained. ‘I now use three samples from arts/humanities, social sciences and sciences for each activity’.
Also, student input has encouraged her to think more carefully about the ways questions, instructions and slides are worded.

‘This is something EAP teachers don’t always consider carefully enough, and the input from the curriculum advisers will help in-sessional teachers to run the classes more smoothly’, she added.
Feedback from one of the curriculum advisers, Tamara Bakarat, is very positive. ‘We have the opportunity to be agents of change. It’s not just about developing curricula: it’s also giving students the opportunity to do things that we otherwise would not be able to do, such as going to conferences’, she said.

Other institutions should implement similar programmes, she added, as ‘it makes students feel as if they are trusted and the university has faith in their opinions and abilities’. How can other institutions implement a similar partnership? ‘We are developing a process of working in partnership that could potentially be applied to other courses and other institutions’, said Edwards. Her main tip is a simple one: ‘start small, on no-stakes courses, before moving on to high-stake courses such as pre-sessionals’.