On authentic presentations, slides and webcasts

Audio slides accompanying published Materials science related research papers in Elsevier can be a useful resource for ESP classes. Following students’ work on vocabulary, themes, functions and genre of a research paper or even as a note-taking task, it can surely provide authentic input to ESP students.

I usually ask my students to read one article and assume it is the only valuable source of information, the only input or resource they have available. I then ask them to design the first four slides (with a two-minute time limit). It’s interesting to see how students veer away from copying and pasting long chunks of undocumented text when they realise they all have the same resource. It is also surprising to hear that they start to realise paraphrasing skills are essential for presentations too.

Using the webcasts or audio slides from Elsevier adds to their learning experience as they can compare their own versions to the one provided by the authors. Hopefully, with the right scaffolding tasks, they might notice some differences between recommended presentations styles in EAP/ESP books and actual researchers.

Needless to say, students love to be provided with rules or guidelines that demonstrate what is right or wrong, what is savvy and what is poor. In this context though authenticity may come at a price; there are times when I feel uncomfortable trying to explain why a researcher does not comply to the norms of Presentations slides structure and/or style. There could be numerous reasons for this; genre-specific and culturally-bound norms may determine content and style, respectively. Also, presenters may be either novice or well-established in their field, thus using different discourse markers depending on their degree of certainty and confidence.

Yet, there are privileges in this fluidity and plurality; students eventually realise that language is not rigid and the way scientists communicate their science cannot be strictly prescribed or invariably restricted to previously established norms.

University of Crete New Summer School

Some people dread holiday breaks claiming that breaking out of their routine can be really hard; they say holidays are “hard-work”. Others volunteer and start to work either as hobbyists, doing charity during vacation or trying to learn a new skill. But there are also those who put a lot of time and effort during holidays so as to take the next step forward without feeling out-of-place.

The thing is Crete is an ideal holiday destination, a safe place to be and excellent research hot spot. If you know you are going to take a Master’s degree in Chemistry (in English) and if you are a bit apprehensive about your language level and study skills, you should take this course. Academic English for Chemistry is designed for prospective post-graduate students who wish to get themselves acquainted with the language of Chemistry in English and learn scientific conventions in order to read and write scientific papers.

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If you are not afraid of hard work and if you like to combine training whilst visiting a sun-drenched, vibrant and one of the most diverse and enchanting holiday destinations, then you should take this course. If interested, check out this link.

NB. A considerable amount of the content of this course is similar to that of English for Chemistry 1 and 2, English for Materials Science 1 and 2, and Academic English and Chemistry Terminology; hence, students that have previously taken these courses during the winter and spring semester should note that they have already gone through similar materials and skills.

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.