Why Chemistry students should be given the chance to notice more scientific conventions (2016)

chemistry-image-to-use-in-pagesMany universities in Europe and Asia encourage their students to take up research writing classes in order to acquaint them with current scientific trends  and conventions. In most pre-sessional and in-sessional English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) classes, international students are introduced to formal academic English in accordance with the requirements of  IELTS examinations (Moore and Morton, 2015). However, given the lack of exposure to discipline-based texts in preparation for IELTS exam, teachers often ignore discipline-specific dos and don’ts which students are expected to notice and eventually use in order to communicate veracious scientific data in an appropriate way.

What is more, with discipline-based norms not being set in stone and varying from journal to journal even within the same discipline, undergraduate students are often confused. Coming from a learning environment that traditionally favours the duality principle of right or wrong, widely evident in secondary education around the world, students are often taken aback by the diversity of norms, practices and conventions featuring research papers. Not only are they shocked by the degree of hedging their ESP/EAP teachers use hesitating to commit themselves to anything but they are also dumbfounded by the sheer number of scientific journals within the same field-of-study or sub-discipline and a formidable amount of publications that often contradict each other in terms of content, methodology, evidence and style.

Yet, it is not just students that often feel bewildered by it all. EAP/ESP teachers are way out of their comfort zone when asked to provide generalisations when asked to confirm the normality of a linguistic feature. They often resort to published genre-related papers hoping to find some kind of direction. Not always aware of the very nature of the discourse they are to expose their students to, teachers may proudly show their students tables or research confirming a trend in a specific discipline making sure that they put emphasis on the sheer volume of exceptions, inconsistencies or deviations (Table 1). Then, in an attempt to facilitate student discipline acculturation, teachers find themselves vying for approval within an established status quo. Yet, by doing so, they  deprive their students of experiencing genres as “community resources which allow users to create and read texts with some assurance that they know what they are dealing with” (Hyland, 2015; 33), often misunderstanding an essential element of creativity scientific writing entails.

Table 1. Hyland 2015 Genre, discipline and identity

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It takes a lot of courage and experience to resist the temptation of spoon-feeding students whilst avoiding losing face as an “expert”. As such, some ESP teachers, regardless of their background, tend to fall into the trap of being prescriptive in order to meet the expectations of their students, managers observing classes and peer-pressure. By doing so, they often defy the very purpose of the course they are supposed to be facilitating. They might also deprive their students from the mere realisation that what seems to be the status quo in their discipline is actually highly organic in nature and not static. It evolves constantly depending on various factors. In fact, this realisation may at first bewilder students but eventually it can provide an empowering framework for young scientists, a springboard for academic research publications.

This might explain why more and more ESP teachers recently put more emphasis on noticing genre-specific features and examining the various circumstances and contexts that may determine the choice of one feature over another. They do so, without being prescriptive and by allowing students to make up their own mind regarding what may constitute a “convention” or a current trend. In an attempt to provide even more chances of discipline acculturation, some teachers may adapt existing processes by encouraging students to take an active role of peer-reviewers instead of just being recipients of teacher feedback, hopefully becoming more accountable for their own learning and taking ownership of their own experience “by constant exposure to [their] discourse…[and] work[ing] out what norm the[ir] group favours” (Hyland, 2015;33). Besides, isn’t that what every single national framework for teaching science aspires to attain?

References

Hyland, K. (2015) Genre discipline and identity. Journal of English for academic Purposes 19, 32-43.

Moore, T. and Morton, J. (2005) Dimensions of difference: a comparison of university writing and IELTS writing. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4, 43-66.

 

 

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Author: Kallia Katsampoxaki-Hodgetts

EAP/ESP lecturer and instructor Academic Writing Specialist School of Science and Engineering University of Crete Tel. (0030) 2810 545102 Office Γ301, Chemistry Department Panistimioupoli Vouton, Heraklion, Crete, 71003 https://twitter.com/kalliacrete

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