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Cross-disciplinary collaboration, pt. 2

If you haven’t yet read Part 1, please do so now.

In this post, I aim to examine how the History course professor, my colleague, and now very good friend, Dr. Alexandra Guerson, and I collaborated more specifically, with regard to how our assignments connect to each other, as well as the affordances we have from working together than alone. Alexandra also discusses this here about her assignments.

Connecting explicitly to the content course

Another consideration in building my assignment was how to connect this to the History course beyond simply scaffolding how to read texts for the most meaning. We do not use the same texts as the History course anymore because we found that the types of sources used there were not wholly appropriate for language learning purposes (some are very long; others are written very long ago, etc.) and we did not want to encroach much into History content as the place to discuss historical concepts with most accuracy is inside the History course itself with its instructors.

Alexandra and I discussed this issue at some length. In these discussions, we noticed that the type of aspects each ARC role was investigating coincided with aspects of the history readings that her course had students write about and prepare for in their tutorials (weekly meetings with smaller groups of students to discuss History readings and lecture content).

The solution was to explicitly connect parts of the ARC Notes assignment (see Part 1), which occurs in the fall term of my course, and the Lecture Notes assignment (see here), which occurs in the winter term in the History course.

While working on this Google doc forces students to practice many critical reading and academic writing conventions, the area of the document that aligns most with the History course is Part A – Group notes. In each box, students are asked to write 100-200 word answers to questions about the text we’ve read. Each one coordinates with a similar type of content that Dr. Guerson asks for in her Lecture Notes assignment.

She and I then worked together to tighten up connection between these two assignments in terms of requested content, length, and style of response. We also embedded mentions of this connection clearly on our two assignment instructions. For example, on mine:

Stating the connection so explicitly (and highlighting it even moreso) on both assignment instructions reinforce the idea of skill transferability far less abstractly/more concretely that would have been without it. Throughout the term, we give feedback on what they’ve written so that they can not only improve their skills for assignments in my course, but are more prepared for the type of writing they’ll do in the History course a few months later.

Affordances of design collaboration

The fact that not only does the History course and the Critical Reading & Writing course share students, but in fact the nature of my course is to partly support their success in the History course definitely contributes to the amount and type of collaboration that is afforded to us in the IFP program (see part 1 for information about the structure). As such, we have a few points that may be difficult to replicate in other EAP programs:

  • Access: Our offices are very near each other, so access for discussion between Alexandra and I is maximised.
  • Experience: Alexandra shares experiences with our students, in that she rose up through the undergraduate and graduate stream in Canada in English, while having done so earlier in her birth country, Brazil. Naturally, she recognises many of the benefits of a language and academic support program that other professors may not.
  • Target: She and I regularly meet (with the lead instructors of the other two support courses) to share particular insights and experiences with specific students.
  • Expertise: She knows we have the expertise in language instruction and skill scaffolding for L2/3 speakers, so she trusts what we say and we trust her expertise in undergraduate assignment design. We are all open to each other’s input into our course designs.
  • Clarity: it’s extremely valuable to be able to hear directly what a content professor wants from students in their assignments. I’m sure we can all relate to relying solely on ours and our students’ interpretations of assignment instructions.
  • Expectations: Alexandra and I can look at the same writing and examine how we grade it, in terms of what we’re looking for in an answer and the related language, and work together on understanding where our final grades come from or how necessary differences in grades may exist because of expectations. It definitely gives me a stronger sense as to how best to focus my efforts with students in class and through assignments, so I’m not just stabbing into the dark or through intuition. This type of collaboration also came up at BALEAP session last April by Els Van Geyte (an EAP tutor) and Anke Büttner (a lecturer in Psychology). They are not otherwise connected, in that they are not from the same department nor share students. However, they purposely sought each other in their university to look at this type of similarity/difference between L2 writing feedback given by professors and language instructors to better understand expectations on both parts.

While our type of intensive cross-disciplinary collaboration may not be currently operational in different EFL/EAP programs, I have noticed in my own university setting that with the internationalisation initiatives prominent these days, professors have more students who struggle with English-only content courses and are confronted with the types of issues that would benefit from collaboration with EAP experts AND THEY NOTICE THIS. I strongly urge EAP professionals to seek out these types of professors in their own contexts, even if direct assignment connections are not possible.

Before moving on, I’ll leave you with one salient (and gratifying) point Alexandra makes in her post:

“I believe colleagues in other departments could benefit immensely from consulting writing instructors and ELL specialists in their university when designing assignments. I have avoided many pitfalls over the years by listening to their experience.” 🙂

Coming up in part 3

It has been noted by students themselves and their grades, that this scaffolding and connection has helped. More on this and where we’re going on a research level. Next time on Serial. No wait, wrong post. 😉



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Thank you for this second post. I read but rarely comment on blogs, but… I wish I had the opportunity to directly interact with the professors of courses my students take like this. It looks like your program is well-thought out in terms of its design and infrastructure in this regard. Having said that, I believe that content course professors at universities are coming to the realization that they need to collaborate with language instructors who have this expertise. It’s more a matter of knowing even where we are in the university and how to contact us.

Tyson Seburn

I do feel pretty lucky. Thanks for the comment, Amelia.

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