EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner

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

SA upload

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36 Comments on “EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner”

  1. Thanks Alex – for the post, and for getting this discussion off the ground.

    From attending the event you organised and from your thoughts here, I am left with these questions:

    1) why should we do scholarly activity (SA)?
    2) do we (all EAPers) actually want to engage in it (whatever it is)?

    I know these questions beg the very notion of ‘scholarly activity’, but if we assume that SA loosely means all of the taxonomy you list, plus variations to theme (which, as Diane said at one point, is actually what happens in academic practice, i.e. different knowledge communities engage in SA differently), then how would each of us answer these 2 questions?

    I’m thinking that maybe by trying to answer these questions – which are about expediency/gains/’what’s in it for me’ – then we can work our way towards a definition of SA for the EAP community ….

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  2. UEfAP says:

    The answer to Julia’s first question is that if we do not engage in scholarly activity then we can not be considered experts. This assumes that we agree – as I do – with Olwyn Alexander’s summary – at the PIM on Saturday – of Amy Tsui’s work – expertise is not a state, it is a process. Alex has given us some good ideas about what kinds of activities are involved in this process. So coming at the question from the other end, scholarly activity is the kind of thing(s) we do that makes us experts. Furthermore, if EAPers want to be considered experts, then they need to want to engage in this process by doing scholarly activity – Qu 2!

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    • Alex says:

      I wonder though what expert means. Not in a pedantic way, just whether expert in the sense of having the skills and knowledge entailed in being an EAP practitioner (whatever that might be) or considered and recognised as an expert amongst peers (an expert in a particular aspect of EAP). The question of why scholarly activity isn’t always undertaken by practitioners in either sense of the above remains unclear to me. Is it something we should be required to do? Part of what it means to be a practitioner? Why don’t some (many?) undertake scholarly activity?

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      • One reason why some/many don’t take up SA – apart from precarious working conditions – is that they never entered EAP to do research in the first place, unlike those who embark on a traditional academic career: if you decide to be a lecturer in something, then you expect to research, it’s part of the deal. Not so for EAP.

        I also don’t think we need to necessarily engage in SA because we want to be seen as experts – that is not my motivation, at least. Many professions have ‘experts’, and that expertise is accrued through networks, skills, professional training, reputation and interpersonal skills, not scholarly activity. Scholarly activity means research, and doing research is about identity, as Sally Zacharias says, below.

        SA, for me, is about understanding complexity, and is not finite. Whereas becoming an ‘expert’ suggests the end of a finite process.

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  3. Alex says:

    What I took from Julia’s comment is a sense of investment, why do it? What are the outcomes of scholarly activities? What would motivate us to do it? Who do we want to recognise our endeavours and again why? On one level it seems so self evident yet on the other academic careers or even a career path are far from self evident in EAP.
    Is teaching EAP ‘academic’? Part of the service industry? Of marginal intellectual capital in universities?

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  4. Kerry Tavakoli says:

    Perhaps the best reason for engaging in scholarly activity is satisfaction. Who,is ever completely satisfied with every lesson they teach? Steve Kirk’s notion that we should decide what the most valuable part of the lesson is and which is therefore worth devoting the most time to in order to achieve the required outcome takes a bit of consideration and it is by reading and thinking that we can perhaps justify any prioritisation.

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    • Alex says:

      Hi Kerry,
      Thanks for your comment. Certainly satisfaction is important, essential even. But what you describe, and I went to steve’s talk and like what he suggested, isn’t scholarly activity I think, its excellent practice. I don’t see how it’s scholarly activity at least in how I outlined it in my post. Perhaps I’m missing something here?
      Alex

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  5. Sally Zacharias says:

    Thanks Alex for starting this… perhaps for some of us, engaging in scholarly activity is a means of finding our position amongst our colleagues and the wider EAP and sometimes if we’re lucky the wider university community. So, it’s a way of finding our own identities. For those who are motivated but as you put it are marginalised by contract status, lack of funding etc, this becomes more of a struggle and one which requires them to use their resources more creatively and effectively. It also calls for us to recognise that we belong to and depend on a community to achieve this.
    Sally

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    • Alex says:

      Hi Sally, for those on the periphery of EAP who lack the support and resources of a community establishing an EAP identity is, as you say, a struggle. I would be keen to see the EAP community do more to support colleagues in this situation. Its easy to say that but something should be done. In the context of Nottingham I am thinking about how I might be able to extend opportunities and projects out to others. I don’t have any firm ideas yet but Im thinking about it. Any suggestions would be very helpful at this stage. I also believe dialogue and collaboration with others can only benefit us in any case too. Its mutually beneficial.

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    • UEfAP says:

      I’ve just managed to get a copy of Lia Blaj-Wards recent publication. It seems to be an excellent book, very relevant to what we are discussing here. In the first chapter Lia quotes Liz Hamp-Lyons: “the co-existence of teaching and research in EAP is, and needs to be, emblematic of our discipline”. More support for the view that to be a true EAPer, you need to engage in scholarly activity.

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  6. UEfAP says:

    Just out of interest, this is what the contract I used to have said about scholarly activity:

    6. RESEARCH AND SCHOLARLY ACTIVITY
    6.1 As part of your duties, you will normally be expected to engage in research and scholarly activity. The nature and extent of this will vary with the nature of the subject(s) you teach and the full range and balance of your duties and other commitments. In this context, ‘scholarly activities’ includes the production of books, contributions to books, articles and conference papers, and is to be construed in light of the common understanding of the phrase in higher education.
    6.2 While it is in the nature of research and scholarly activity that it may take place throughout the year and be integrated into the overall pattern of your activities, it is envisaged that normally the period(s) of the year outside normal teaching weeks (clause – 5 “Working Year”) and your holiday entitlement (clause 9 – “Holidays”) will primarily be devoted to research and scholarly activity.
    6.3 Your research and scholarly activity will be principally self-managed. In addition, these activities (and their relationship with your other duties) will be considered as part of the staff appraisal and development system, under which objectives for the coming year can be set and achievements over the past year can be assessed. The University undertakes to give you such support as is reasonable within the resources available in order to help you realise the objectives so set.

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    • Alex says:

      This is, I think, far more detailed and explicit than what we have here at Nottingham .. I’ll check and post our version up …

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      • I’ve just seen our draft research plan which differentiates research activity from scholarly activity. It doesn’t define scholarly activity, but I gather more ‘informal acts’ are subsumed under this umbrella, like blogging, presenting etc. I get 25 days a year to dedicate to this alone. Research activity (i.e. more ‘formal’ forms of activity – published papers in journals, contributions to books etc.) is factored in separately as not all staff are expected to be research active. Is this an acknowledgment of the importance of newer ways to engage in scholarly activity (Twitter, blogs etc) that we should all be doing? Or a way of management separating the ‘wheat from the chaff’ in research terms in their minds? Not sure I know the answer yet.

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      • We have a similar distinction between research and scholarship at my institution, though I’m not sure how many colleagues are aware of it. AFAIK we don’t have a precise number of hours allocated for scholarship, but all academic staff are expected to engage in it, and there are funds available for conference attendance, etc

        Research ‘proper’ is considered to be RESEARCH THAT BRINGS IN MONEY (I write this in big as the discourse is relentless), either directly through funding awards or indirectly by contributing to the REF, which essentially means getting articles into peer-reviewed journals. Blogs and tweets would not be considered unless they were part of the accursed ‘impact’ agenda in support of a ‘major’ output.

        It’s a tough ask but ambitious young EAP lecturers (not like me!) should look to be getting into this latter kind of research*, building bridges with other researchers, and getting themselves published. Only that way will EAP become properly embedded in institutions. Either that or change the system.

        Otherwise I think we are in danger of creating a second class of non-researching academics, ripe for privatization, and we’ll all end up working, for less pay, for property developers disguised as educational institutions.

        * …or failing that, into paying consultancy or knowledge transfer

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      • Hi John,
        I agree with you that we need to be part of ‘the system’ and that means undertaking ‘proper’ research … or change the system. Without a raised profile (only achieved through having an enhanced research profile?) I fear attempts to change the system will fail.
        I have to say that I think we are in the privileged position of having ANYTHING to this effect in our contracts. I have just moved institutions because previously it was constantly reinforced that as EAP practitioners in a service department we were not academics and research was not in our remit. I am of the belief that EAP IS a discipline and needs research/scholarly engagement to drive it forward. Without it, EAP is in danger of stagnating and becoming increasingly nebulous.
        I have to say I am thankful of my 25 days’ scholarly activity and, while I am not young or ambitious, I am passionate about EAP and hope to be able to play some small part in helping it develop.
        I just wish all EAP practitioners had that opportunity available to them.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting to compare. I’m curious about what amount of time in the year (i.e. how many weeks) does the “outside normal teaching weeks and holiday entitlement” totals. Our EAP teachers have May-August that fills this time, but the university can’t justify ongoing pay during this time. I doubt a case could be made for this to be filled with scholarly work either. What is reasonable, I’m wondering.

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  7. Even if not indulged in for its own sake, I think scholarly activity is strategically necessary for EAP practitioners within universities, to avoid being marginalized and seen as second-class academic citizens. It’s an ‘added value’ we can offer as compared to the para-university private college sector. Otherwise we risk becoming lambs to the slaughter of privatization.

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    • I wish more care was taken in choosing words. Yes, many departments “live in constant fear” of private providers, and maybe some universities are less amenable to advances if employees in their EAP units of whatever shape were engaged in scholarly activity of whatever shape. But there are also practitioners who happen to work in an EAP unit that was relocated to a private provider long before they started and who are engaging in scholarly activity. I’m sure it’s possible to get your point across without drastic language that makes part of the actively engaging EAP community feel second class within EAP.

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  8. Alex says:

    Hi John, I wonder what others think about this. I would like to agree with you … I do wonder though, in reality (at times and in certain EAP centres) what the difference between private and public providers of EAP programmes is. I don’t think for profit organisations have any place in public education at all but observations and experiences of how (nominally public) universities are run (and based on an aggressive ethos of profit seeking) makes me wonder what qualitative differences (will) exist between the two. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t differences that remain, but for how long? Can EAP practitioners through scholarly activity help stem the tide of privatisation? I’m a little pessimistic I have to say. I wonder what criteria universities judge EAP centres (and success) – would scholarly activity be one of them. Surely, there must be (more) enlightened universities out there?
    To me, collectively engaging in scholarly activity has to be one route to establishing or maintaining credibility in a university. Is the key thing collective activity, what if some colleagues do and some don’t? Are those who don’t putting at risk the centres they work in?
    I don’t know …

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  9. UEfAP says:

    A bit more from Amy Tsui.

    A few quotes from the abstract of Tsui (2009) that Olwyn referred to at the PIM in Sheffield.

    “This paper attempts to identify the distinctive qualities of successful veteran teachers. referred to as “expert teachers”, which separates them not only from novice teachers but more importantly from experienced non-expert teachers. ”

    “The paper … addresses the question of why some teachers become experts while others remain experienced non-experts.”

    “The findings suggest that engagement in exploration and experimentation in teaching and learning, in problematizing the unproblematic, and in tasks which challenge teachers to extend their competence are crucial to the development of expertise. The implications for teacher development are discussed.”

    So if “engagement in exploration and experimentation in teaching and learning, in problematizing the unproblematic, and in tasks which challenge teachers to extend their competence” is what we are calling scholarly activity, then this explains why expert EAP teachers need to continue to engage in scholarly activity.

    Tsui, A. B. M. (2009). Distinctive qualities of expert teachers. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15, 421-439.

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  10. Jonathan Smart says:

    Is it possible to argue that EAP is a discipline? I would suggest not, as it is not, in itself, a branch of knowledge being studied or taught to students in universities, but an ‘enabling’ process through which students can more readily engage with the subjects they are studying. Thus, can the term ‘scholarly activity’ (SA) apply to an area which is not in itself a discipline? It seems to me that this dilemma can be mirrored with other groups of professionals with a teaching role in universities with, for example, professional subject librarians (graduates with a teaching function and academic role) and Learning Development staff (again, graduates with a teaching and academic role). Neither teach a subject as such, leading to the teaching function of such professional groups being labeled as ‘training’ or ‘support’ – both terms being guaranteed to sound the death knell for any aspirations to be perceived as academic or scholarly.
    SA is surely worthwhile for us as professionals, both for the personal stimulation and reward and if we are to be seen to progress beyond the objectivist ‘training’ function to the constructivist ‘development’ of our students. However, whether the university will acknowledge it in its own right as SA is another matter; there is no question that the aforementioned other groups of professionals are involved with SA, but it is generally only when conducted collaboratively with subject staff within a discipline that it is recognised as SA. Collaboration has to be the way forward, for as someone looking around the hall at a conference once said, ‘Where are the faculty teaching staff?’. Without their involvement, there’s a risk that the conversation becomes a micro rather than macro one, turning inward on ourselves and not outwards to involve some of the very people who can actively contribute to putting EAP on the academic and scholarly map.

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    • UEfAP says:

      Is it possible to argue that EAP is a discipline?
      Without wanting to get into a complicated discussion about what a discipline is, I think we can argue that EAP is a discipline, or a sub-discipline. Or if not, it certainly has some disciplinary aspects to it, as shown in the large number of journals and academic publications associated with it. It is similar in many way to subjects such as medicine, law, theology, architecture, etc which all have a vocational element to them. (It’s a bit strange isn’t it that some of these old vocational subjects are some of the most prestigious courses around, even today.) The big difference I think is that the vocational side of these other subjects is practiced outside the university – doctors work in hospitals, lawyers in companies etc., whereas EAP is practiced within the same place it is studied. That causes some confusion! I would argue that, similar to medicine etc, the practical/vocational side of EAP cannot exist without the theoretical/research side and therefore EAPers need to engage with this.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jonathan,

      EAP at Nottingham is as close as we get to an ‘academic discipline’ (as far as I know): this is because there is an MA in Teaching it which sits within the School of Education (it could/should equally sit in a department of Applied Linguistics, or MFL …).

      Would it require a huge stretch of the imagination to envisage an MA in EAP, tout court?

      I take your points, though, that, overall, EAP is seen as a corollary and feeder to the disciplines. Maybe this is because EAP has a relatively recent history (2002, if we count the first journal as a landmark in establishing the origins and the remit of a ‘discipline’; or 1972, if we start from SELMOUS/BALEAP). Or maybe because market forces have hijacked us.

      My feeling is that we are at an identity-defining junction: which way do we want EAP to go? What do we want it to be? Do we see ourselves as ‘professionals’ or as ‘academics’? As humble servants to the other disciplines, or as a discipline in our own right? Perhaps we could envisage an applied and a theoretical focus to our identities.

      Since we also teach the ‘academic’ bit, then we do need to be active scholars in defining what ‘academic’ means for/us. And perhaps we can’t define that, without involving Higher Education in our conversations.

      I would be very much in favour of asking representatives of the traditional disciplines to publish in JEAP, for example, showcasing/reporting on what they expect from EAP. Perhaps they will tell us they just want language fixing. Perhaps they will tell us they want aptitudes honing …. either way, the process of engaging in these conversations defines who we are.

      I think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jonathan Smart says:

        Hi Julia and Andy,

        Regarding the 2 groups I identified by way of comparison – subject librarians and learning development, the former (Librarianship) has its own scholarly and research output (professional journals, conferences, etc.), satisfying that criterion, though I guess the latter (LD) is much more an ‘umbrella’ term embracing several areas of competence, so would draw from several academic areas. In the case of LD, there is also a pedagogical underpinning to the areas it embraces (Kolb, Schon etc), but in terms of what it delivers, it is imparting learning skills rather than teaching disciplinary theory. The same goes for librarianship (whether end users become information literate or the niceties of where information sits in a structure is of much less concern to them than locating the optimum and most reliable sources for their specific information needs – pragmatic considerations outweigh the theoretical). However, for, say, librarianship to be included in the research output of a university, it would have to have a clearly defined ‘home’ in the institution – that is to say being taught or perhaps included as part of an existing cluster. For the main part, it is seen as ‘servicing’ the faculties (in, to use a ghastly term, a ‘para-professional’ sense) and surely therein lies the ‘problem’ that EAP encounters in the way that it feels it is perceived in many institutions?

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      • juliamolinari says:

        ” … EAP is seen as ‘servicing’ the faculties … and surely therein lies the ‘problem’ that EAP encounters in the way that it feels it is perceived in many institutions?”

        I agree, so my next thoughts would be:

        1) why is it perceived as a service by the institutions?
        2) to what extent are we responsible for this perception?
        3) to what extent do we want to change this perception?
        4) and, if we do want to change it (and I am not convinced that all EAPers do want to change it), what do we want to change it to?

        Liked by 1 person

  11. UEfAP says:

    “servicing”

    I wonder!. If EAP is seen as “servicing” the other faculties, then is it alone? How is it different from , say, mathematics? Most scientists, engineers, business students, etc need to study mathematics, even though they are not primarily interested in it! What about computer science? Education students study psychology. Where does it end?

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  12. Alex says:

    Perhaps, but not entirely sure at all, that mathematicians are better paid, expected to do research and are given time, have a clear career path and are accorded serious academic and social status and recognition …

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  13. lookbeforeyoul.eap says:

    This seems to be a little late, but just had a few thoughts … if it is possible to define scholarly activity might one part of the definition (to add to those already suggested by Tsui above) be that one is sharing the fruits (or otherwise!) of that ‘exploration and experimentation’ to other practictioners?

    Exploration and experimentation, though laudable in their own right, might only be carried out for personal development only. However, the sharing of the results and the interaction that this entails through attending conferences, blogging, writing up in professional journals etc. is where this might change from the personal into the more formal scholarly activity? (In a sense, this is similar to research activity where as part of the process researchers are under an obligation to publish and share findings/insights).

    One of the problems as I see it is that apart from events organised by BALEAP there are few opportunities/outlets to share this in EAP. JEAP appears to focus more on ‘research’ rather than practitioner led exploration and EAP practitioners in one institution are otherwise generally isolated from those in others by the largely competitive and boxlike nature of higher education in the UK. A well-used EAP ‘professional’ journal emphasising practitioner-led exploration would, to my mind, not only help clarify what scholarly activity might mean to us, but also might help to strengthen the identity of EAP in general?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. peapwhole says:

    I think that some in EAP get a little bit unnecessarily uncomfortable – even intimidated – when mention is made of academic and pedagogic terms such as ‘scholarly’, ‘research’, ‘evidence-informed’, ‘the literature’, ‘literature-informed’, ‘practitioner’. ‘We’re not academics’ goes the narrative. Yet, such terms are very often built into HE programme narratives which students themselves (and ESAP teachers), especially (but not exclusively) at PG level, are required to engage in.

    At an extreme, it’s possible that terms like ‘scholarly’ may even be considered subversive of existing, perhaps more comfortable, daily local workplace EAP narratives, particularly where notions of ‘EAP as a Service’ might exist, underpin and, yes, be used to constrain more scholarly-like EAP ambitions, roles, identities and purposes. Blogs such as this one, and integration of this discussion within mainstream EAP narratives, are critical to moving the EAP narrative forward from that kind of mindset. As ever, getting through to local-level EAP-role ‘gatekeepers’ (and ‘naysayers’), in particular, seems key, and is why the continuation of discussion on this important theme, and integration of it within the EAP mainstream, needs to be ongoing and pervasive. Many thanks.

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  15. Alex says:

    I’ve added a PS to the original post above. I have uploaded slides from a staff development session on scholarly activity I led last week here at Nottingham. Your comments have informed some of my thoughts, so thank you all very much.
    https://teachingeap.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/sa-upload.pptx

    Liked by 1 person

  16. How timely, Alex! I’ve been thinking about what scholarly activity means for EAP practitioners for some time in that in attempts to shift colleague thoughts to being more embedded in the university than an isolated ‘language program’, I find myself facing questions of whether or not scholarly activity is appropriate. Still thinking. We’re discussing it on #tleap now in case you want to chime in. https://plus.google.com/+TysonSeburn/posts/3uBCAg2sSBJ

    Liked by 1 person

  17. […] i.e. not prescribed by my syllabus, nor is it part of my research. I am doing this as a form of scholarly activity and as a professional commitment to good teaching and learning practice. My students are not […]

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  18. […] This makes my workplace sound more “valid” and confirms my suspicion: in the global picture, private EAP providers are not “the evil ones”, even though some colleagues from other institutions like to make this out, as here: […]

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