Informal Order, Needs Analysis, and the EAP Curriculum

By Al-Maamari, Faisal Said | The Qualitative Report, June 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Informal Order, Needs Analysis, and the EAP Curriculum


Al-Maamari, Faisal Said, The Qualitative Report


The academic curriculum is developed through a systematic process whereby content is created through the alignment of needs to stakeholder or target group. This qualitative research study features a small-scale, English for academic purpose (EAP) needs analysis (NA) of three credit-bearing EAP programs and the corresponding departmental programs conducted at a Language Center at a higher education institution in Oman. Based on interview, observational and documentary data, the analysis showed divergences in academic literacy (writing and reading) between the EAP and content programs. Principally, the findings pointed to the presence and operation of a group of informal orders and the emergence of two interrelated stories: public and real. The public story purported to blame the learner's English language proficiency for unfavorable performance at EAP and Departmental levels, whereas the real story revealed that institutional factors were equally responsible. The paper ends by making a few conclusions about the importance of heeding informal order when carrying out needs analysis. Keywords: Assessment, Curriculum, EAP, Higher Education, Informal Order, Needs Analysis, Oman

It is well-known that needs analysis (NA) is the foundational pillar for curriculum development and design. In their paper discussing current debates around the curriculum and why it is important today, Tedesco, Opertti, and Amadio (2014) argue for the need to conduct a wider and more inclusive dialogue around the area of curriculum development and design. Because curriculum design entails "statements related to the underpinning principles and core values, general objectives, expectations for learning achievement, and guidelines for organising both the teaching and learning process and assessment methods--assessment of, for, and as learning" (pp. 535-536), it is important to consider the first step on the road to this goal, which is a sound needs analysis. The same could be said in syllabus design in relation to the field of foreign English language instruction, and perhaps more so here, because of the special characteristics of the learners who are enrolled in these programs.

The current study arises out of an overdue process for investigating the curriculum and assessment of three credit-bearing English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs and their relationship with the three respective disciplinary departments in a Language Center (LC) in an English-medium higher education institution (HEI) in the Sultanate of Oman. As I had been an English language instructor in two of the three researched credit-bearing EAP programs a few years ago with no real affordances (i.e., opportunity and/or power) to conduct a proper needs analysis, we as ordinary instructors had to carry out our teaching based on superficial "needs analysis" in the form of transient meetings between the LC, in which these EAP programs were situated, and the corresponding disciplinary departments. The concomitant discourse in the setting generally laid the blame on the learner and the EAP programs in relation to the former's inadequate English language performance when students subsequently join the departments.

The three credit-bearing, science-based EAP programs, which existed to serve their three disciplinary departments, were under the umbrella of the LC which equally delivered pre-sessional English language foundation programs in addition to the in-sessional credit-bearing EAP programs in question. All in turn were housed hierarchically in the HEI. This multiple hierarchy and layers sometimes added to and at other times fueled the dominant discourse. Therefore, when an opportunity presented itself in the form of institutional release time from the same institution and after taking institutional approval from the respective office, I took it with the view of conducting a proper needs analysis study.

It is renown that "Needs analysis is the necessary point of departure for designing a syllabus, tasks and materials" (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001, p. …

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