Recently I organised an event on scholarly activity and the practitioner which was held at the University of Nottingham. 40 participants came along from various EAP centres in the East Midlands and beyond. I promised to write up a summary of discussions for participants and the BALEAP mailing list. I haven’t been able to do this or, more accurately to do justice and provide an accurate summary of the discussions. Instead I am going to give my impressions of the event and my concerns in the hope that other participants will add to the discussion by commenting. Of course, everyone is welcome to add ideas, suggestions and comments too.
One of the reasons, selfish perhaps, why I wanted to organise this event was because I had recently been asked to lead scholarly activities and development of language education colleagues (including all EAP colleagues) in the School of Education and wanted to get a sense of what was happening elsewhere in other EAP centres/departments/units. And, indeed, it seems that there is significant variation in support for colleagues in different institutions. It was also because scholarly activity, as far as I could tell, is, at best, a somewhat nebulous concept and, at worst, a contested one.
I introduced the event by suggesting that scholarly activity is difficult to define – and I couldn’t find a definition only lists of what might count as scholarly activity (writing articles or text books, developing e-learning materials, conference papers etc…). What these activities suggest (an EAP taxonomy of what counts as scholarly activity would be very useful!) is that scholarly activity differs from CPD or ‘good’ teaching practice in a significant manner – scholarly activity is the visible, tangible outcome of specific engagement (research, investigations, readings ..) to improve teaching and learning and/or developing theoretical /practical understandings that can inform teaching and learning and related activities.
And it must be recognised – simply ‘doing’ scholarly activity isn’t enough, it has to be recognised by peers, managers, the institution, the profession, the wider academic community. There appears to be a qualitative aspect – an evaluation of this activity, impact, quality, or (?) by peers. Scholarly activity is making visible and public (open to scrutiny, recognition, discussion and use) to various communities (EAP, the university, colleagues, HE colleagues, students, ..) concerted and rigorous engagement with teaching and learning that has resulted in a tangible and public outcome (a conference publication or article are the most obvious examples). In this it differs considerably from CPD or reflective practice in that these can often remain private or silent activities (although of course they don’t have to).
This notion of scholarly activity then, by EAP practitioners, poses a number of questions: time to do it; resources and support available; what to do and why (for promotion, interest, ..), and how to do it. Is scholarly activity part of the identity of practitioners? Part of who we are? An optional activity (even when written into contracts)? Is it a collaborative or individual endeavour? If it’s to obtain promotion how likely is this unless we publish in high ranking journals that are recognised as such by those that decide promotions? Why do some colleagues not engage in scholarly activity? Is it simply the case that if obstacles were removed that they would? How does research fit into scholarly activity? Can we complain about our often marginal positions within universities if we aren’t engaging in scholarly activity?
These are just some of the questions that come to mind. We didn’t have time to discuss solutions as such or projects that might be supportive of a more collective endeavour.
I did want to highlight during our session that we should be more mindful, more supportive and more engaged with those practitioners who are on zero-hour contracts, on the margins of EAP, who don’t have access to journals, CPD, conference funding and university resources. Sadly, we didn’t discuss this much but we shouldn’t forget those who are not in full-time permanent positions.
As I said, this isn’t a summary as such, just some questions really. Perhaps other participants can add their thoughts?
I’d like to follow up this event with another in February looking more positively at what we can do.
PS Last week I led a staff development session on scholarly activity. Here are my handouts below (click on link). Some of what I spoke about was influenced by your comments, so thank you all very much