Co-authored by Rosalie Goldsmith and Caroline Havery, Academic Language & Learning team, Teaching Learning & Curriculum 

Many people at UTS will be familiar with the OPELA task – the online post-enrolment language assessment. All commencing undergraduate and postgraduate students need to complete OPELA at the start of semester. But what happens after the students complete OPELA? And what underpins this approach to academic language support? In this blog, we outline the four principles which have informed the team’s design of the award-winning Embedding English Language (EEL) program, which ensures that all students can meet the language and literacy demands of their subject areas. The blog is based on a recent publication by some of the ALL team. 

Embedding English Language (EEL)

The EEL program consists of:  

  • a compulsory academic language screening task for all commencing coursework students – OPELA;  
  • follow up compulsory discipline-specific language development tutorials (LDTs) for students who do not meet requirements (15 hours over a semester);   
  • ongoing explicit assessment of students’ language within existing discipline assessments (see Edwards et al., 2021 for further details).   

The program has been running at UTS since Spring 2018, and has been evaluated by the ALL team, as well as winning teaching and learning awards both locally (UTS, 2021) and nationally (Australian Universities Award 2022).  

So what are the principles on which the EEL program is based?  

Principle 1: Design in academic language development throughout degrees 

Students need to see academic language development as a long-term prospect, and we need to help them to stay motivated. To ensure that students continue to develop their academic language practices throughout their degree, we use ‘milestone assessment tasks’. The Academic Language and Learning (ALL) team works with faculty staff in the disciplines to identify existing assessment tasks that are linguistically demanding, and that assess core disciplinary literacy practices.  

Principle 2: Embed academic language development into discipline, subject, and assessment-specific practices 

Academic language development is most successful when embedded in the discipline, subject, and assessment-specific discourse and genres of students’ degrees. So we help students to unpack complex texts, analyse exemplars, unpack assessment questions and marking rubrics, understand discipline-specific readings, and learn discipline-specific terminology.  

Principle 3: Build language self-confidence, academic identities and a sense of community 

This principle is enacted in the design and structure of the language development tutorials, where the emphasis is on providing students with the tools to learn the language of their fields of study. By developing confidence in using the discourse of their respective disciplines, students can begin to construct their academic identities.   

Principle 4: Use tools for autonomous language learning and goal setting 

The fourth principle is that academic language development can be supported by introducing students to tools for autonomous language learning and goal setting. In the language development tutorials, we encourage students to access one of the available university support services, and we also support them to develop their own language learning goals.  

Supporting students

So you can see how the Embedding English Language program is geared towards supporting students throughout their degree, and how it weaves academic language with disciplinary discourse. And of course, none of this could happen without the support of the subject coordinators and tutors whom we work with, particularly on the evaluation of the milestone tasks.  

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