UTS was well represented at the recent Australian Awards for University Teaching ceremony. The Academic Language and Learning (ALL) team received the ‘Student Experience that supports diversity and inclusive practices’ award for their Embedding English Language (EEL) framework. In this post, Caroline Havery and Rosalie Goldsmith from the ALL team takes us through the framework and its development since it was first implemented in 2018.

What is the EEL program?

When students arrive at university, they’re suddenly faced with new and possibly daunting expectations about reading, writing, speaking and listening in their disciplines. This can cause students to feel overwhelmed and under-prepared for this new environment. The EEL program is designed to support all students to develop their disciplinary and professional language throughout their degree programs. 

The EEL program starts by screening all commencing students for their academic language level. It then provides targeted, subject-specific language development for students who require additional support. It also embeds ongoing language milestone assessments throughout the degree programs.

The OPELA factor

You might have heard of OPELA (Online Post-Enrolment Language Assessment). This is the language screening tool that we use at the beginning of semester, to screen all incoming students for academic language – students with accessibility needs can complete an alternative task.

Students who receive a result that indicates a need for language support must attend compulsory Language Development Tutorials (LDTs) that are aligned with a core disciplinary subject. The activities and tasks in the LDTs are aligned to the assessment tasks in their subject, so students will practise the language skills required for the satisfactory completion of assessment tasks.

Evolution of the EEL framework

We constantly evaluate and improve the EEL program, based on feedback from students, faculty staff and our language development tutors. 

COVID-19 had a big impact on the LDTs. In the 2020-21 period, 38-46% of students participating in LDTs were offshore due to border closures. The ALL team moved to remote delivery in early 2020 and has continued to deliver LDTs and alternative forms online so that all students can participate. We learned to adjust our teaching to create interactive and engaging activities where students could develop their communication skills and confidence in an online space, as well as continue to build social connections with their peers.

In 2022, we adapted the EEL program for UTS online courses. We’ve designed two workshops for students to develop individualised learning plans to improve their academic language.

Measuring its success

The EEL program has gone from strength to strength, with UTS now being recognised as a leader in the field of university-wide language support and development. This has been recognised with a UTS teaching & learning award in 2021, and an Australian Award for University Teaching in 2022.

Some of the successful outcomes of the EEL program are:

  • Improvements in academic language 
  • Increasing language confidence 
  • Development of social connections– these give students a sense of belonging and increase their motivation to be engaged about language and learning

[I have] met some international friends who are in a very similar situation with me, so I met some good friends there… [it] was a huge benefit to me… we’re more close than my other subjects, because we’re all in the same boat.

FEIT student, 2019

I’ve got two [goals], basically to improve my writing skills and reading skills … I read a lot of articles during this semester so I think this subject really helped me to improve many things in my [life]

Business student, 2020

Next steps

We continue to research the impacts of the EEL program. We have already published several journal articles on the design and implementation of the programan evaluation of the outcomesthe move to online teaching during COVIDthe delivery of the language development tutorials in block mode, and the identity shifts of academic language and learning practitioners.

We are now planning for a longitudinal study on the effects of the EEL program on students’ learning. Read more about the EEL program on this SharePoint site (UTS log-in required). 

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