Embedding English language support before the census date to ensure student success

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As a response to the Australian Universities Accord, the Supporting Students Policy (effective January 1, 2024!) will increase provider accountability to identify students at risk and assist all students to succeed. Universities therefore need to develop approaches that show how they will meet the legislation. This includes how they will identify students in need of targeted individual literacy support, and how that support will be delivered. So how can universities demonstrate that they are providing appropriate support for students in line with the new legislation? Here we show you one of the programs at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) that meets the requirement for literacy support.

The UTS Embedding English Language program (EEL) empowers students to succeed by providing them with the academic language and literacy skills they need to achieve in their studies, regardless of their first language. The program is comprehensive, flexible, and has demonstrable, positive impacts on students' learning, disciplinary language development and confidence. Consistent with the Supporting Student Policy the EEL program is designed to support all students to develop their disciplinary and professional language throughout their degree programs. The program implements the UTS English language policy, is centrally funded and aligns with UTS’s teaching and learning strategy and with its Student Experience Framework  

The EEL program embeds ongoing, measurable language development in all UTS courses to equip students to succeed.  Screening and assigning to language development tutorials happens before census dates and includes:

  • screening academic language of all incoming students, recognising that domestic and international students may need language support;
  • using OPELA (Online Post-Enrolment Language Assessment) to screen students’ language. This is a language screening task from the University of Melbourne (the AEST) that all commencing students complete at the beginning of their first semester – students with accessibility needs can complete an alternative task. The use of OPELA means that compulsory screening and tracking of students can be delivered at scale, and that screening results are immediately available to students allowing language support to begin early in the semester;
  • providing compulsory discipline-specific language development tutorials (LDTs) face-to-face and online. LDTs are linked to students’ core discipline subjects and draw on existing disciplinary materials and assignments, so students learn disciplinary discourses alongside how to approach assessments. In the first LDT, a second stage of screening occurs. Students complete a written diagnostic task relevant to their discipline area so that tutors can provide targeted feedback, and exempt students whose writing is at an adequate level for study;
  • embedding language development milestones through the curriculum using existing assessments. Milestone tasks give students feedback on their academic language, and are marked by disciplinary academics, using a three-level language framework that describes the linguistic clarity of texts.

If you want to read more about the design of the program, you can check out the following article

The EEL program has been a successful initiative and UTS is now recognised as a leader in the field of university-wide language support and development. It was designed in the spirit of the Supporting Students policy and we have received a UTS Learning and Teaching Award in 2021 and an Australian Award for University Teaching in 2022 for programs that enhance learning.

We constantly evaluate the program using student surveys and tracking data to monitor students’ progression and retention. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we evaluate the program, you can read this paper by the team.

The Supporting Students Policy is a call for universities to ensure that they have strategies and program in place that will support all students to successfully complete their studies. The EEL program is a way of ensuring that support is provided to students who need to develop their academic and professional language practices, in order to engage with subject content and complete assessment tasks. We know from our evaluations that the program helps improve students’ academic language, and increases their language confidence. Importantly, it also helps students to build social connections and to find out where to seek further help. The data gathered as part of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the program also enable the university to report back on how students have been supported.

The program is embedded in all courses, ensuring a whole-of-institution approach. The milestone language marking framework, tutor training and the process of referring students to further language development ensures that EEL is sustainable and scalable. In 2022 it was adapted and extended from all on-campus courses to all UTS online postgraduate courses. If you want to implement a program like EEL, you’ll need institutional support, funding, and a team of language and learning practitioners who can drive the program and bring disciplinary staff on board.

Photo: Caroline Havery (left) and Rosalie Goldsmith

Dr Caroline Havery is an Associate Professor and co-lead of the Academic Language and Learning team at the University of Technology Sydney.

Dr Rosalie Goldsmith is the co-lead of the Academic Language & Learning team at the University of Technology Sydney.

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