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.
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.
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.