Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Embedding English Language across the Curriculum in Higher Education: A Continuum of Development Support

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Embedding English Language across the Curriculum in Higher Education: A Continuum of Development Support

Article excerpt


Growing massification, as well as internationalisation of tertiary education, have highlighted the need for all students to develop both academic literacy and proficiency in the language of delivery, increasingly English around the globe. While in the past, those students entering universities through traditional pathways were thought to be reasonably well-prepared to undertake tertiary studies, the more common complaint from academics now is that some students lack the necessary linguistic skills to complete their studies successfully (Bretag, 2007; Murray, 2010). In response to this need, universities across Australia and the UK, for example, have increased their language and academic skills support services for students. Statistics from the Australian professional body, the Association for Academic Language and Learning (AALL), indicate a steady growth both in the number of support structures and staff employed, as well as broader strategic initiatives at university level (Johnston, 2011).

Support structures operate under different models, sometimes within the same university, including faculty-based, campus-based and centrally based services. As well, there is a range of different strategies in operation, including: self-access materials for students (and staff); programs of academic language and learning (ALL) classes and other support delivered by ALL staff; a range of collaborative strategies between ALL and academic discipline staff; and totally embedded support delivered by discipline academics. This is presented in Figure 1 as a Multi-layered Model of Language Development Provision (the MMLDP), a model of language and academic literacy support that ranges from 'least embedded' to 'most embedded'.

Embedded language development is deservedly receiving much attention in more recent times (Arkoudis & Starfield, 2007; Crosling & Wilson, 2005; Evans, 2009; Harris & Ashton, 2011), lauded as the best or perhaps most efficient model to reach the greatest number of students. According to Harris and Ashton (2011) embedded approaches can be categorised in three ways, as follows: embedding language support into key units, with language and discipline specialists working together; specialised tutorials/ classes for identified students, taught by language specialists; and running voluntary classes for students outside of lecture time. This paper argues that while fully embedded language support, as illustrated in the top right hand quadrant of the MMLDP in Figure 1, would be the ideal, any large international university in the twenty-first century should, in fact, have the full array of provisions at the various levels. This would ensure optimum reach for the majority of students in a variety of learning modes and contexts in order to satisfy the full range of learning needs (Hill, Tinker & Catterall, 2010; Rochecouste, Oliver, Mulligan & Davies, 2010). That is, all of the strategies in the MMLDP in Figure 1 may be viewed as elements of 'embedded' support that need to be maintained, while aiming for a model of 'fully embedded' support. In any case fully embedded language development evolves over time, generally after sustained collaborative activity between ALL and discipline staff, and cannot be achieved without significant effort.


Statistics for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicate that student mobility has quadrupled in the last three decades and that there were 3.7 million international students studying outside their home country in 2009 (Knight, 2011). Alongside these global shifts in student mobility and growth, the Australian higher education sector has experienced rapid transformations, a situation that was foreshadowed by the Green and White Papers of 1988 issued by the then Commonwealth Minister, John Dawkins. The overlapping dimensions of this transformation include the push towards globalisation, the reduction of Commonwealth funding of higher education, a progressive corporatisation of the sector (Marginson, 2000), and more recently, the government push to boost enrolments of low socio-economic groups (Bradley, Noonan, Nugent & Scales, 2008). …

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