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Supporting student academic skills development - an evaluation of an English for Academic Purposes pilot

  • Project leader(s): Jo FayramJohn Woodthorpe
  • Theme: Supporting students
  • Faculty: WELSSTEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: October 2019 to December 2021

Highly Commended at the 5th eSTEeM Scholarship Projects of the Year Awards 2022.

The English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Support Project was initiated in response to requests from Associate Lecturers in the Faculty of Business and Law for assistance in tackling EAP issues that they had encountered in their students’ written work and verbal communications. At the time, in 2018, there was no option to refer students to an EAP tutor for specialist support. Module tutors could offer additional support sessions themselves, but some felt that they lacked the subject-matter expertise to design and deliver the individualised EAP teaching their students needed.

Staff in FBL and the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics (LAL) came together to investigate this problem further and found that other Faculties and Student Recruitment and Support Centres (SRSCs) had identified similar support needs in their students. A referral process was designed with SRSC staff, and 16 specialist EAP tutors were recruited to provide 1:1 EAP support sessions. The EAP Support Project was launched in February 2019. As of October 2021, 625 students had benefitted from 1:1 support with the EAP tutors at a total cost of £52,677.

Funding for the sessions is provided from the Individual Student Support Fund (ISSF), by agreement with Academic Services and Faculties. The EAP support scheme remains open until July 2022 to students studying any module at any level. All students are referred by their module tutor (or sometimes by an Academic Services advisor), following the identification of EAP issues relating to their written work (such as tutor-marked assignments), reading comprehension or verbal communications.  On referral, each student is matched to an EAP tutor according to their subject area. The EAP tutor designs and delivers a bespoke one-hour teaching session and provides the student with follow-up resources to address their particular EAP skills gaps.

This report expands on an earlier evaluation of the EAP Support Project (Fayram et al., 2020), on the basis of which the project was extended for an additional year, from July 2021 to July 2022. It aims to analyse in more depth the effectiveness and value of these individual support sessions, and the potential impacts that EAP support might have for the OU’s Access, Participation and Success Strategy (The Open University, 2020).

A mixed methods methodology (Cresswell, 2021) was used to evaluate the EAP Support Project, including quantitative analysis of the participating students’ module results after the EAP sessions, and thematic analysis of feedback from students and their EAP tutors.

The headline finding is that the EAP sessions showed a statistically significant positive impact on student retention, as measured by module completion rates. EAP support attracted a relatively high proportions of students from widening participation groups, in particular Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students.

Encouraging quantitative outcomes were reinforced by consistently positive feedback from students and tutors about the quality and value of the sessions. Open comments in post-session evaluation forms, together with semi-structured student interviews, indicated that even a single, one-hour EAP session can have a transformative impact, not only on students’ subsequent academic progress but also on their confidence and self-belief.

Based on these results, the project will seek agreement for 1:1 EAP support to be extended to students on an ongoing basis beyond July 2022, when the current funding arrangements expire. The report also argues for the OU to invest further in the expansion of EAP support as a core component of its Access, Participation and Success Strategy, and in line with EAP provision at other universities.

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