Should EAP courses be worth university credit?

I’d like to believe that the work my colleagues and I do with our students in their EAP year at the International Foundation Program (IFP) at University of Toronto greatly contributes to their eventual appearance in a convocation parade, but officially, it really doesn’t. Our contributions to their official transcript don’t exist, like they didn’t spend a tough year with me and my colleagues, its success only inferred from the other numbers that appear there.

This program is currently the love of my life. I wish that were the case for all my students over my three years within it, but it’s not. Some students try very hard where others see it as a burdensome means to an end: successfully completing it so they can move fully into their degree credit courses. One reason for this attitude may be that for the three language-related components of the program–Academic Skills Development, Written English Discourse & Spoken English Discourse–though a minimum grade of 60% is required to result in full offer of admission by the university, the eventual result appears as NC or “non-credit” at the end of the year and not at all in the GPA. Get the 60%, move on to where you want to be. Unfortunately, achieving that minimum does not accomplish two important factors: a true reward for the students’ hard-work that goes into any EAP course; and motivation to excel at the language components that best prepare them for the demands of their undergraduate coursework.

TESOL official supports degree credits for ESOL courses

While the thought of granting university credits for the courses I teach had been a passing thought with limited conversation among colleagues at break times, often ending with “yeah, that would be nice,” it wasn’t until TESOL released the affirmative position on the issue that I began to think about it more concretely. Is it really a possibility? How do I feel about this? How would it affect me, my job and my students? This led to further discussion during #EAPchat, where many issues concerning our circumstance were added to by the contexts other global EAP educators are in. The bottom line? I lean one way over the other, but am not completely convinced.

The equivalency of work
A lot of educators and administrators who do not actually interact much with the students in the context of the classroom and workload itself may suggest that an EAP course remediates the skills (linguistic, critical and academic) required in full-credit courses. You could suggest that this starts off true, but actually EAP courses quickly scaffold the skills, building them towards a proficiency ahead of native-English speaking first-year students by the end of the course. This is even evidenced through my experience as both teacher and student.

A lot rests on the shoulders of our students

Additionally, many EAP courses mimic the nature of full or half-credit content courses in length and contact hours (mine even has 400% the normal office hours). Within this similar timing comes the opportunity for a multitude of readings, assignments and the need for time management, all reminiscent of a content course. The quality and challenge of these EAP assignments, by design, are meant to prepare students for the demands of their concurrent/future content courses, so why shouldn’t they be rewarded with credit for this effort too? Believe me, come March (near the end of our academic year), students have like the pressure, stress, time management issues and worries of all other undergrad students–even moreso, since their future at the university often rests on their success in EAP.

Credit for what?
It had never occurred to me before #EAPchat to consider what receiving a university credit means beyond the fact that you had attended and passed a university-level course. But is that just it?  Or is the point that you have mastered some amount of delivered content (which EAP courses usually support). If the latter, does this preclude EAP courses from bearing credit because it lacks the goal of content mastery?

It’s true that the EAP course I teach doesn’t test content itself, but the application of skills learnt on one source of content (e.g. guessing the meaning of unknown vocabulary in a class text) onto another source of content (e.g. guessing the meaning of unknown vocabulary on a new text). I’d argue that this is the point of many content courses as well: successful application of skills learnt and demonstrated through the year. Let’s face it, content courses that encourage simple memorisation and test such are on their way out, or at least should be.

Another way to look at this is that if one were to take a language course other than EAP, let’s say French, wouldn’t they receive a credit for their work in that class? Yes, of course. But Tyson, EAP courses aren’t just language, you say! Exactly. They are learning to complete university-level courses in that language.  Seems to me like the mastery of content is no less than any other language course. Indeed, it’s more.

Credibility and motivation
One demotivating problem for not only the students, but also the teachers, is that when the stakes of taking an EAP program don’t include a lasting effect on paper, students often approach our courses with a few unfortunate perspectives:

  • they feel putting full effort into a course other than the credit-course is a waste of time
  • they feel they are being punished for being required to take a non-credit course
  • they feel that the content of the EAP course isn’t as valuable for them as a credit-course’s

Even in the IFP where students concurrently take a History credit-course and the EAP language courses AND they need 60% in all programs in order to gain full admission to the university, they still can look at the EAP side as less important than the History course.  This clearly isn’t the case since failing our courses would mean the same sad result as failing the credit course. It would be nice if my students thought of my courses the same as the credit course, at least from the get-go.  If they were worth credit and appeared on their transcripts affecting their GPA, they just might.

Becoming credit-bearing may also change the way universities look at the EAP programs offered in different faculties. It may increase attention to them. It may increase  university support. It may improve conditions the teachers work in and students study in.

Effects on our employment
One final point to consider–a very important and complex point– is how a move to credit-bearing would affect our employment as EAP instructors. I suppose this depends on the hiring qualifications in the university and all that goes along with them. Most EAP teachers here have many years of classroom experience and most with related-MA degrees too, but not all.  Would a change like this affect the latter? Also, employment is riddled with union variables. If you are on a contract that comes with a non-credit course, you’re probably not in a union, so employers are free to hire whom they want and teachers can organise and teach the curriculum they want. Once the course bears credit, university and union rules may require only certain candidates may apply for the job and many other restrictions apply. Could those candidates only be PhD students or above? Would we all be necessarily replaced by researchers with less contact experience? Would our contact hours with students be decreased by 300%? Maybe. Somehow, I don’t think the EAP programs would have a large enough pool from which to hire and rules would have to change. Besides this, some student visas require students to be taking a full course load at the university they attend. As non-credit courses, some may be turned down.  Bye bye expensive tuition and the ability to pay your staff.

What do others have to say?
In the end, for me the pros outweigh the cons, so I lean towards yes, students taking EAP courses held at their university deserve a credit equal to the duration and effort needed of a first-year content course. And you? As of this post date, my poll showed 3-2 for yes, give them a credit.  What’s your say?  Click here.

Leave a comment :)
 

12 Responses to EAP for credit

  1. phil wade says:

    Hi Tyson,

    I’ve had the same thoughts. It’s also why EAP is sometimes seen as not important. I remember before the days of Foundation courses, students went to language schools then to uni. At one point some realised they could make a heck of a lot of money and stretch this course out for a year. The result was foundation and pre-MA courses. I was sceptical until I started teaching them and found that students really couldn’t do presentations, work in groups and had a completely different approach to studying. Whether this is financially worth a year of fees is another matter. On our 1 year course we had pre-….. course in everything they would study at uni. They acted as introductions with language support. And, of course, students go the famed ‘guaranteed uni place’. I can honestly say that a lot of the students didn’t enjoy or need the courses but just did them for the uni place. They could have easily done an IELTS course though for 3 months and got the same English grade. The cost too of those year courses was actually more than an MA.

    Now, for credits you have to admit that EAP is not a content subject taught by MA/PhD professors. CELTA/DELTA teachers aren’t qualified to teach any subject really but to help students improve their English. In France, there is still a heavy stress on Linguistics so English courses at uni tend to be grammar or translation taught by locals with relevant degrees who are paid in a different band to use EFLers. I saw the same in Asia where many professors asked me “what is your subject?”. For them ELT isn’t as subject, just a language to use to teach knowledge.

    So, credits. If you have English for… or Introduction…to courses they should be worth something in my book but just a presentation or basic EAP class probably will never be I think, sadly.

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      Thanks, Phil. What I’m coming to realise more and more with the various people with whom I discuss this is that it really comes down to context (doesn’t everything?). Your experience with EAP, Adam’s in Turkey, mine… it’s all different hours, lengths, schools, expectations with a wide variety of relationships with content courses. With so many variables, can we even come to a resolution about this? Probably not globally. I think along those lines, the type of EAP program I’m referring to most often isn’t one of the “just a presentation or basic EAP class”. I also fail to see how a program offered outside the university that the students aim to attend could be credit-bearing either.

  2. Anne Hodgson says:

    Hi Tyson,
    I think pre-session courses should have credit, simply because students need incentive – that’s the way they tick under time and work pressure.

    The way things work at the college I teach, is that I have 5 4-unit sessions with the one-year international masters students to get their communications skills up to standard. While I teach presentations, discussions and basic writing skills, another lecturer (a social scientist) is teaching study skills (how to research and write academic papers in that field) and a third (a psychologist) is teaching self-management. These courses add up to 15 session at 4 teaching units, a nice package to help the students from very diverse backgrounds get through their tough year abroad, far from their families and home cultures, and attuned to the challenge of managing their international studies. The three mini courses add up to one overall course, for which they earn as much credit as for the content courses.
    Anne

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      Hi Anne,

      That courseload does sound equivalent to the one in my program too. We have three language support courses: Academic Skills Discourse (teaching listening skills for lectures, academic culture and expectations), Written English Discourse (teaching how to read efficiently and write for disciplines) and Spoken English Discourse (an oral communications course for university discussion). These are all attached with a 1st year History credit-course, which all teachers also attend. It all seems to me that they should receive credits for all but perhaps the Speaking course.

  3. Ellen says:

    I think another point of comparison is the American style composition course. These are required (and are for credit) in many US colleges, usually in first year. I would say they’re comparable to EAP Writing courses in their goals – training students (all students, not just ESL) to meet university expectations in terms of writing, rhetorical, research skills, etc.

    Maybe it’s because we don’t have these courses in Ontario universities (I don’t know about the rest of Canada) that it seems like such a leap from EAP to credit-worthy course.

    In terms of staffing, if EAP courses were made for credit, I would assume, as you said, that (at least at U Toronto) they would move to a different category of course and would then be taught by PhD students or post-docs (in education, applied linguistics, English lit, etc.), of which there is no shortage.

    But I don’t think universities are motivated to make that happen – it would cost too much to pay all those unionized PhDs.

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      Good points. Not only American composition courses either, but Tania Iveson teaches one at Sheridan (oh wait, that’s a college…). I’m not sure if there isn’t a shortage of PhD candidates who actually have classroom experience in an EAP context. When it boils down to a program writing the job description they way they want, they may have a hard time finding someone they want…and rules may change? Or maybe not, damned unions (I say this in derogation until I’m in one, likely).

  4. phil wade says:

    When I was in Asia our students studied 8-6/8 with an hour for lunch. They had English thesis writing, debate or speaking skills that were credited. They definitely weren’t real uni courses by western standards. They had 1 tiny course book that we couldn’t use but….yes, but, compared to the actual content courses they weren’t bad. I know the grammar class was terrible, the translation one wasn’t great, as too was the interpreting one and intensive and extensive reading. From my perspective, they were just padding out the course by finding anything they could run for 20 weeks. In the end the 3/4 year course was like high school. Not a real international degree at all.

    So, by those standards I’d say that the EAP classes were as good as, if not better, than the content ones. I’d also say that many external foundation courses are as good as the ones in unis, some far better.

    I was involved in trying to set up accredited content classes in English last year, why? Just so we could get exchange students. It fell flat as no content teachers could do their classes in English. What we were left with were ‘terrible’ (my choice of word) old sub-standard ‘English support’ classes that were compulsory and just a waste of time. The students were doing IT and maths so the English dept had us teaching them numbers, basic maths, equations, shapes etc in English. It was like primary school. Yes, I understood that they needed to be able to talk and write about them but the way of doing those lectures/seminars was ridiculous. Then when they were asked to write a 20 page report and do a 2 hour presentation they got a shock.

    I really believe that the English courses should be on a par with the content ones and taught in a serious way with content that’s useful. Not just a bit of fun or a dos. Yet, in my colleague’s words “we are at the bottom of the bottom of the uni food chain”. “We only do these classes because the government say we have to”. The result was poor attendance but then colleagues calling students for not coming etc. Silly. And many failed their full degree because they didn’t come. As they didn’t believe in differentiation of materials or levels I understand why good students didn’t come and poor ones disappeared. I’m of the mind that if they are really good and don’t need the class then don’t come. At my current place we have that Students do a test, when they get 90+ the don’t have to come but some still do and some even attend extra classes.

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      Teaching kindergarten-like classes to university students? Sounds awful. If students lack that basic language maybe they shouldn’t be at an English-speaking university to begin with.

      Our program doesn’t have levels either. What we require is students having above 5.0 in all IELTS bands. With direct entry being at 6.5+ overall, this still leaves us with a wider range of proficiencies, especially since I’m not 100% convinced that all IELTS test centres around the world /cough – China – cough/ are legit. For this reason, it can be a little challenging to know where to pitch the material. Of course, in the end, all students need to achieve a higher degree of proficiency to succeed in our classes and the History content course. But ultimately, I’ve found first-year content courses (unless they are weeder courses) are very forgiving on language.

  5. phil wade says:

    You lucky man. At my old place students had to get 5.5 to graduate that meant they started at 4 or some at 3. At my current place I have a band 2 student but they abandoned all compulsory tests so a few do TOEIC on their own. Think what fun I have doing grammar with band 2-4s.

    Legit? Hmmm. I’d say they are as in accredited but many are done in hired buildings with dodgy security and others in language schools, oh in-house uni ones too. It’s not ideal but it’s still FARRR better than TOEIC when tests are sent to some teacher who keeps them on his desk then hands them out with unaccredited staff and doesn’t bother following any guidelines.

    The Chinese matter is simple…They do 5.5 crash courses and memorise phrases to get 5.5. Some pay doubles to do their speaking test. For the speaking and writing it’s pretty hard not to give 5/5.5 as they always hit those bands.

    It’s a tough one as foundation courses need an expert on the topic with an ELT background too. But saying that, when I was at uni we had tons of ‘foreigners’ with dreadful English and they had to manage. They never got extra classes or help.On the other hand, we had to attend weird classes about working in groups and writing essays.

  6. Scott Douglas says:

    Hi Tyson . . . we are thinking a lot about these issues here in BC as well. Here is an article I wrote on the issue of credit bearing EAP in the BC TEAL news: https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/BCTealSpring2012draft10-copy.pdf. It’s on page 9.

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