Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Integrating English language proficiency: Moving towards a whole of course approach (#12)

Anne Harris 1
  1. Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Through their graduate attributes, Australian universities claim that graduates have the ability to communicate, an attribute encompassing, at the least, written and oral skills. Despite this assertion, over the past decade, universities have faced intensive criticism for their lack of rigour in assessing this attribute. The main observation has been, and remains, perceived weaknesses in graduates’ English language proficiency (ELP); with international students in the spotlight. Arkoudis, in her recent ‘Good Practice Report – English Language Proficiency’ (2014) asserted, ‘ELP learning outcomes have not traditionally been core business within universities’. In order for this to be rectified, ELP needs be everybody’s business; i.e., integrated into the curriculum and included in course design. However, as Arkoudis found, literature analysing practices in Australian higher education institutions indicates that ELP outcomes are invariably an add-on; a function of academic language and learning professionals rather than discipline specialists. 

In this presentation, Australian initiatives linked to ELP will be briefly overviewed. Research from the US, UK, South Africa and Australia that informs good practices in integrating written English language skills into the mainstream will also be considered. An approach within one university that has ELP policy and practices in line with recent government requirements and good practice will then be analysed.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

In 2009, the executive team in the Faculty of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University initiated a small project to assess the English language skills of its students. This was generated by academics who voiced concerns about students’ apparent lack of proficiency and their feelings of inadequacy in how best to assist. By 2014, ECU had instituted, arguably, the most wide-reaching ELP policy and strategies of any Australian higher education provider and is currently involved in prominent ELP research through a nationally funded project. The process had three phases: identifying and responding to needs; instituting a post-entry English language assessment as core business in all undergraduate courses; and creating, establishing and implementing ELP policy and subsequent strategies. Research from the US, UK, South Africa and Australia guided each stage. From an early juncture, a whole-of-course approach was viewed as the most effective way to progress the development, monitoring and assessment of English language skills. The progression has essentially been positive and lessons have been, and continue to be, learned.

This presentation looks at the graduate attribute, the ability to communicate. More specifically, it looks at a process that aims to integrate students’ written communication skills within the core curriculum.