The Towards Higher Education (THE) Conference

THE Conference 2017, Boğaziçi University 15th April 2017

Reviews by Cameron Dean, Akif Çal, Okan Bölükbaş, Andrew C. Bosson, Berna Akpınar Arslan 

Review by Cameron Dean

On April 15th, 2017, the Towards Higher Education (THE) Conference took place at Boğaziçi University.  I was very happy to be one of the presenters on this day, amongst some highly esteemed speakers in the industry, such as our own Andrew Bosson and Okan Bolukbaş.  The day began with a plenary by Paul Kei Masuda, who was speaking on Identity in Academic Writing.  He was an engaging speaker and emphasised the diversity in identities that our learners possess and how we should therefore anticipate and be open to the different forms these may take.  Overall, he emphasised the importance of identity in writing and that raising awareness of it to our students is necessary and can be a motivating activity.

I had the opportunity to speak about our PBL/Proj 001 course that we have been running over the past three years.  I explained the rationale for PBL and the needs we felt it could address at Sabanci University.  I discussed how we had interpreted PBL through the different curriculums we have run so far and how we felt it had been successful in promoting English language learning with our students.  

After my own presentation anxiety had subsided I was able to take in some of the other presentations and discuss some of the ideas that were being floated about on this lovely, sunny spring day.  Ashley Hazell (University of Hong Kong) and Helen Lavender (Chinese University of Hong Kong) presented an interesting programme that they had piloted on peer learning in their ESL setting.  They had trained student volunteers at their universities in Hong Kong to be peer advisors/feedback givers on student writing.  They were focusing on the positive effects that this had for the student advisor giving the feedback; for example in the increased motivation it gave them for their language learning and also in the increased awareness it gave them of their own abilities in and knowledge of English.  It was an interesting programme and gives rise to the idea of volunteer Freshman students being trained as peer tutors to SL students.  

Another interesting presentation was a Poster by Nathan Stone (Istanbul Kemerburgaz University) on evaluating the perceived benefits of volunteerism.  The ESL preparation programme at his university has set up a volunteer programme to involve their students in areas of the local community that they are interested in.  They are required to work in groups and initiate and organise a specific task and complete a report on this for their English class.  There were many parallels between this programme and our own PBL approach and our CIP programme and like at our university an increased level of motivation and multiple skills engagement were seen as the main benefits to the students.  


Review by Akif ÇAL

* •Identity in Academic Writing: Developing Academics Who Write.... Paul Kei Matsuda 

Paul Kei Matsuda gave a very nice speech covering an important aspect of academic life for a language learner, which is writing. He touched upon issues such as salient features of academic writing and how reviewers perceived those, student identity, academics and their expectations from students and the implications of his talk for curriculum design.

The presenter helped me gain new insights into how to evaluate student writing by first emphasizing that students are in a learning process and we as teachers should not expect them to write like academics. The presenter stated that academics sometimes expect too much from students owing to their own expertise in writing, which is a combination of subject-matter knowledge, rhetorical knowledge, formal knowledge and process knowledge. However, rather than focusing too much on language in academic writing, it would be more appropriate to focus on content of student work.

The talk helped me to gain a new perspective of student identity in an academic setting. The presenter argued that students take on different identities in the classroom, university community, and academic community. These different identities may result in a perceived identity gap for academics as academics treat students as language learners but expect them to write like academics.

The implications of Paul K. Matsuda’s talk were that teachers need to integrate subject-matter knowledge and form knowledge and allow more time for development for students. This means that rather than separating subject-matter courses and language courses in a university curriculum, ways of integrating subject-matter courses and language courses should be employed. Lastly, students should be treated as not language learners but professionals who are getting ready for the workplace. In order to do so, students needs from their past, present and future identities should be discovered and careful curricular planning as to different career paths students may choose need to be considered. 

* •What Preparatory School Students Think of Native and Non-Native Teachers... Elif Kemaloğlu 

The increase in demand for English all over the world means that more English teachers are needed nowadays. As a result, both more native and non-native English speaking teachers are entering the profession. According to research, about 80% of the world’s English teachers are non-native speakers of English, which makes the study more interesting for a non-native English speaker teaching English. This session gave implications regarding how students perceived both native and non-native English teachers in their settings in pedagogical aspects and strengths and weaknesses.

The study focused on the following for native and non-native English teachers:

* •In-class teaching roles

* •In-class management roles

* •In-class communication skills

* •Some individual qualities

Using a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews, data were collected from 95 students and suggested the following:

Both teacher groups are well-prepared and know their subject matter very well. They speak clearly and comprehensibly in lessons. They adjust the lesson according to the level of the students. Teachers in both groups are punctual, prompt and able to maintain discipline during classes. Overall, no significant differences were stated by students between native and non-native English teachers.

* •Establishing Peer Learning in an ESL Setting: Successes and Challenges... Ashley Hazell & Helen Lavender 

In this session, the presenters gave an introduction about the peer learning services that were employed at their own institutions by focusing on roles taken by students in a peer learning session, both for the tutor and the tutee. The way the presenters detailed how interaction took place between the tutors and the tutees in those sessions and how both parties constructed meaning using a variety of techniques was quite motivating to incorporate a Peer Tutoring Scheme into university English support. In the session, presenters showed how both the tutor and the tutee constructed meaning through dialogue, developed interaction in a gradual mutual process, supported each other’s learning and knowledge building and realized personal strengths. Interpretations from their practice were that peer learning provided students with opportunities to examine peer texts from the perspective of a critical reader, thus giving them a chance to understand how readers might interpret the texts students produce. Moreover, peer learning brought into play important problem solving processes by giving students a chance to analyze the work of peers, diagnose problems and suggest solutions. Finally, thanks to peer learning, reviewers (tutors) learn by producing explanations and by generating comments about what makes the work of their peers strong or weak. 

Review by Okan Bölükbaş

I attended and presented at the THE Conference 2017 which was held at Bogazici University on April 15. I would like to highlight some points I learned in this conference. The keynote speaker Paul Kei Matsuda, who is also a professional scuba diver, stressed that identity matters in language learning. He said that identity in academic writing is more about knowledge than language. I understood from his talk that in the classroom we as teachers treat our students as language learners but expect them to write like academics. In other words, we ask students to write like an expert when we as the reader actually know more than the students. Therefore, in terms of curriculum, it is important to integrate subject-matter knowledge and form knowledge. At that point, I thought we are actually doing this in SL through EMS, PBL and CTSS. Mr. Matsuda also added that more time should be allowed for development. On the other hand, in terms of pedagogical aspects, we need to shift emphasis from language learner identity to professional identity. Also, we need to learn about students’ past, present and future identity.

In his presentation, David Albachten talked about the errors of students in writing. It seems that the biggest problem is the articles (%41) followed by spelling (%15) and comma (%14). The list continues with prepositions (%7) and S/V agreement (%5).

One of our ex-SL instructors Ashley Hazell talked about embedding peer learning at her current workplace, University of Hong-Kong, and how this promoted independence in learning. She also sent her regards to all SL instructors.

Finally, in my workshop, I shared a practical teaching idea with the participants. We, as the preparatory school (hazırlık) teachers, must face with the challenge of engaging students who just graduated from high school to read long academic texts that the students themselves usually find tiring and boring. Many students struggle to concentrate on the reading tasks based on long academic texts. I shared with the participants a practical method to engage the students and turn long and "boring" texts into fun. It was tiring as there were about 40 participants; however, we had fun. I would like to share this with my colleagues in the future.

Review by Andrew C. Bosson

Conferences are a great chance to meet and share ideas with friends old and new. So it was with great pleasure that I was able to attend two sessions delivered by SLTEP alumni.

Aylin Selin Dewan, along with Hale Kızılcık delivered a presentation entitled ‘Insider Reflections on the British Council (BC) Turkish Higher Education Report”. This report sought to highlight issues regarding the state of English Language Learning in Turkey. Aylin and Hale presented the results of their research which sought the responses to the report of nine administrators from foreign language schools in English Medium (EM) universities.

The findings was detailed and among the many interesting points of note was the agreement, with the BC report, by eight of the participants that English language preparation programmes should only be available to students who will be studying on EM courses. This, it was felt, would address issues of motivation amongst the learners. There was some concern, however, that other students may miss opportunities to learn English that may not be immediately beneficial.

The suggestion for a standardised university entrance test was met with resistance on several grounds including the fact that it would not, as suggested in the report, increase student motivation and that it would reduce the opportunity for alternative, more progressive forms of assessment.

A suggestion in the report to increase training for teachers was generally welcomed. The participants in the report suggested that formal qualifications such as CELTA and DELTA offered opportunities for development as well as the establishment of a national pool of trainers who could deliver specific training when needed. It was also nice to hear that sharing and collaborative development was considered important.

Ümran Üstünbaş, another SLTEP alumni, presented the results of her research which investigated teacher’s perceptions of their Professional Development (PD) needs, preferences and the factors affecting their ability to undertake PD. Ümran’s presentation entitled “Reflections of Teachers in Two Rings of the Educational Chain” investigated two populations of English language teachers, one from a university and the other from a high school. It was very nice to hear their voices through Ümran’s presentation.

One of the interesting results to emerge from the research was that both cohorts reported that their main form of PD was through engagement in professional dialogue with colleagues.  This form of PD, sharing ideas and collaboration, was identified in the previous session as being important – although maybe they were also talking about inter-institutional links.  To lesser extents teachers participated in other forms of PD such as: attending courses or workshops; attending conferences; undertaking courses leading to qualifications, observation visits; and undertaking research.

Ümran also reported the obstacles that teachers found in undertaking PD. They ranged from the problem of a heavy workload, which not only prevents attendance at PD events but also is a demotivating factor to undertake PD. Other teachers suggested that PD should be integral to their profession and others that it should be compulsory. If it were to be compulsory, however, it should be relevant to the teacher need. These are important barriers to many forms of PD and as Ümran pointed out PD ultimately has an impact on the quality of education our learners receive. 

One possible way of partially resolving this issue, and of the training issue addressed in Aylin and Hale’s presentation, is to encourage a reassessment of the importance of sharing practices and ideas amongst colleagues. This should not be seen as secondary to other forms of more formal PD that may involve attending courses or workshops, for example. This sharing, collaboration and professional dialogue can be very valuable as it is situated in the practitioner teaching context and is likely, therefore, to be highly relevant. Teachers in this situation are in this sense, to use Julian Edge’s phrase, theorising their practice. The challenge then would seem to be getting this form of PD to be recognised as the valuable and valued practice it is, not just by the practitioners themselves but also by administrators and other relevant stakeholders.

Review by Berna Akpınar Arslan 

THE Conference held on April 15th, 2017 at Boğaziçi University was a good opportunity to meet and listen to professionals from different institutions. It was also a nice opportunity to promote our conference. I would like to briefly summarise below my impressions of some presentations I attended.  

It was a pleasure to listen to the presentation entitled “Identity in Academic Writing: Developing Academics Who Write” by the keynote speaker, Paul Kei Matsuda from Arizona State University. He shed light on the importance of the concept of identity in writing.  I left the session with some thought provoking questions in my mind: Do teachers consider the identity of learners when expecting them to write like an expert? Although teachers do it for good reasons, is it really possible and logical to expect students to write as accurately as expert writers. Also will the student benefit from this learning throughout their life? 

Following this, I attended a session titled “Three AWE Applications: Grammatical and Mechanical Error Detection, Abstract Writing and Cause-and-Effect Writing” by Dr. Aysel Sarıcaoğlu on behalf of her colleagues Evgeny Chukharev-Hudilainen, Hui-Hsien Feng.  The presentation introduced three automated writing evaluation systems and evaluated their performances following design-based research principles. Dr. Sarıcaoğlu stated Automated writing evaluation (AWE) systems, such as Criterion, MyAccess!, Grammarly, are designed to cater for the needs of instructors to provide feedback on writing and gave a brief overview of how they explored CyWrite’s capacity in detecting grammatical and mechanical errors, lexical bundles and verb categories in rhetorical moves in engineering journal article abstract writing, and written cause-and-effect relationships and expressions. It was an interesting study to listen to. 

Another session titled “Big C or small c: Does it really matter?” by Sibel Özdemir Çağatay from METU was about the study conducted on whether “Language Leader” - a commonly-used course book at Turkish university preparatory programs- present cultural elements: the big C and small c; the former referring to more global aspects of culture and the latter symbolising daily ones. In the study 147 EFL students and 30 instructors at METU were involved, and the frequency and the descriptive statistics reveal that Language Leader incorporates big C and small c elements of the target culture at a moderate level. Big C themes including movies, literature and festivals seem to outweigh the other big C topics like politics. Regarding small c, daily life issues seem to be represented more than topics like housing, cleaning and religion. In brief, it was suggested that program developers should consider the coverage of cultural elements in a book when designing their syllabi.