IATEFL 2016 Supporting postgraduate EAP students: teaching tips and technology tools (Angela Smith)

My intention in attending this session was to answer the question that sprang to mind when I saw the title and abstract in the programme: I wonder if  there will be anything that David hasn’t told us yet? (David Read is in charge of technology and technology focused TD at the ELTC!) Then lo and behold, who should turn up at the session but David?! 🙂

This session is focused on teaching tips and technology tools for supporting postgrad EAP students and will be delivered by Angela Smith of the University of Bradford. The room is pretty small and it’s very full too! Angela is an EAP lecturer and a technology enhanced learning coordinator.

She is going to tell us who her learners are, what postgrad EAP learners want and how to meet those needs. The students come from more than 150 different countries (those on campus attending face to face). Mainly Nigerian, Iraqi/Libyan, China, Japan and South Korea.

The extra things that are offered at Bradford Uni are:

  • drop in sessions (6hrs per week)
  • one to one support sessions (for PhD students, advance booking)
  • online support via Blackboard (materials on a shared area and a specific PhD student area in collaboration with academic skills)
  • small group tailored support sessions (faculties have been networked with and when issues arise, they will send small groups of ‘supervisees’ for help);
  • regular timetabled classes in academic skills.

The challenges that postgrad students face cover all four skills within which there are particular issues. E.g. oral/aural – discussing complex subjects with classmates, supervisors, presenting in seminars or at conferences: need appropriate language and levels of formality. With reading, there is the volume of material, the speed required, taking bits out and making valid notes. If students take poor notes, the output will be poor as well (e.g. presentations and pieces of writing). Note-taking and note-making are something that students have had little training in. Writing includes things like articles, literature reviews, annotated bibliographies and lab reports. Students know their subject but can’t communicate it effectively to the wider audience. Self-management is another area, about meeting deadlines and managing time without handholding. They also have to work with a supervisor which can cause a lot of angst. Supervisors are great but may be short on time and can come across as abrupt or not interested even if it is not the case. Students may feel scared to approach the supervisor.

There are some common difficulties that students face:


Another issue is language appropriacy in emails…


Students try to be very respectful and polite but wind up being completely inappropriate. This is an example of pragmatic incompetence. They don’t know the words to use with the correct level of formality. They overuse hedging language etc. and it turns out to be waffling:


What do the students want?


Well, a lot of it comes from written work e.g. summarising and paraphrasing, synthesising resources from different areas. Cultural misunderstanding can occur. So what do we do?


Angela gets examples from faculties of what students have to produce. Using this kind of subject-specific model motivates students. She also makes sure that the syllabus matches their needs at various times, again by liaising with departments.

By adopting these kinds of activities, you can help learners become more adventurous.


Shared note-taking – all students look at the same article and make notes, then share their notes on a platform and then the notes can be compared.

Angela explained that there are a lot of things that are done to help students become more autonomous:


For example, she has also set up a help desk. Students can post a question in one of the three categories – Grammar, Vocabulary, Assignment title. If one person posts a question, probably a whole other group of students finds it useful, has the same question. It’s grown enough that 2 members of staff are needed. 2 day response guaranteed.

Angela emphasises the importance of the teacher in the role of guiding the students in developing autonomy.

Next, she moves on to the tools they use.

  • Foxit.reader: can be used to annotate/manipulate texts
  • Scribl.com: You can take a webpage and students can use different tools to work independently or together to deconstruct a text.
  • Mindmeister: a mind-mapping tool. Free and simple to use. You register with an email address and input students’ email addresses and they get access to what you send. Then you can see what students are doing and when in the mind-mapping process.
  • Notes.io: You can make a note then generate a web address which you can give to students and they can see it and edit it. Students can share multiple sets or work on a smaller number in groups.
  • Classtools: You can make a crossword with an associated link. Students create them in class and then work on one created by a peer-group. Good for consolidating knowledge in areas of difficulty.
  • Markin: enables text to  be marked using a code. You highlight and click on the code you want. You can also put comments in. (A little like Turnitin without the plagiarism element, so, the feedback element!) Good for highlighting problems but the student has to do something about it, as vs. proof-reading. So that students have to edit their own work.
  • Padlet: good for brainstorming. Free and easy to use. Generates a link and students can see and post notes. Good for initial planning etc.

There was a handout with all the links to the above on it but it disappeared like snow in sunshine… nevertheless, Uncle Google is your friend!





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