Learning how to work with instructors of international EAL graduate students to better support their students' development of academic writing skills




Waye, Laurie

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As more students enter Canadian universities from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, supporting the development and transition of their academic writing skills through assignment and feedback design has become very important. Many of these students and their instructors identify academic writing as one of the students’ biggest problems in a Western university or college (Robertson, Line, Jones & Thomas, 2000; Yang, 1994; Zhu & Flaitz, 2005). Yet there is little support available for the instructors who work with these students (Dedrick & Watson, 2002). This study focuses on my interactions with three instructors in graduate programs that have a high proportion of international students who use English as an additional language (EAL). By weaving together action research and case study research, three themes became apparent: the instructors saw no clear distinction between the needs of EAL students and those who have English as a first language; the instructors were unclear about how to teach writing in their discipline; and, the instructors felt frustrated and overburdened by their workload. I also learned how I, as a researcher and an educational developer, can better interact with instructors to ensure support at the level of assignment and feedback design. The first lesson is when interacting with others it is necessary to identify the lens that represents one’s institutional and cultural lens. Because I did not adequately identify and interrogate my lens, I gave in to my colonial impulse to direct the study and the participants. The second lesson is the space in which we two instructors – the person from a given discipline and the person who is an educational developer – come together as a kind of “contact zone” (Pratt, 1998). I had hoped that the instructors and I would come together as a kind of Venn diagram, with our knowledge overlapping in a neutral and fruitful way, but I learned that the space where we come together is fraught and vulnerable for both the participants and the researcher. The third lesson is that relationships, which traditionally are not highly valued in our workplace in higher education, are extremely important in order to foster dialogue, continue conversations, and allow for the necessary revisiting and development of our work together. The main recommendation stemming from this study is workplace training for administrative staff who are in educational development positions. This study is important because there is little previous research in this area. As more Learning and Teaching Centres emerge at Canadian institutions, we must learn how to work effectively with instructors to affect curricular and assignment change. We must also question whether the kind of support a member of a Learning and Teaching Centre can provide is enough to affect this change, or whether other models, such as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and faculty mentoring, are essential in the development of the understanding of how to better support the development of the academic writing skills of international EAL students.



international students, graduate students, academic writing, assignment design, feedback design, teaching instructors