Subject specific English, academic, and professional skills for NUIST students in Chemistry

Professor Elizabeth Page, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy; Aaron Woodcock, International Study and Language Institute
e.m.page@reading.ac.uk, a.e.w.woodcock@reading.ac.uk

Overview

16399Two complementary modules within the Department of Chemistry, English Language for Chemists (CH3ENG) and Health and Safety and Professional Skills (CH3NUI), were created to support students recruited from the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST) on the BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme.

Objectives

  • Create bespoke modules that would build upon and refine BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme students’ skills for the practice of Applied Chemistry in a UK academic context and future employment.
  • Improve students’ subject-specific English skills.
  • Ensure strong collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI).

Context

While students from NUIST undertake the Pre-sessional English Programme and have access to in-sessional tuition through the Academic English Programme (AEP) within ISLI, these programmes provide an understanding of general academic English, but are unable to provide students with subject specific English skills. For the study of Applied Chemistry students recruited from NUIST require an understanding of a highly specialised lexis and communicative skills suitable for the context of working in a laboratory and writing reports.

Implementation

A strong collaborative approach between the Department of Chemistry and ISLI was taken in order to set up the modules and ensure that the modules were constructed in such a way that best supports students from NUIST. The core design of the modules was undertaken by the Programme Director of the BSc Applied Chemistry programme, the AEP Programme Director, and the Programme Director of the Visiting Student Programme.

Initially a single 20-credit module incorporating health and safety training, professional skills and academic English for chemists was conceived. As this module was developed, however, it was decided that as English language proficiency is a central element of all these components, it would be optimal to divide the module into two complementary 10-credit modules, with tutors from ISLI leading on instruction in English language for academic Chemistry and tutors from the Department of Chemistry leading on health and safety training and professional skills.

Within CH3ENG students were provided with training in Chemistry-specific English language. As CH3ENG was specifically designed in conjunction with CH3NUI, it was able to be mapped onto the module, supporting its delivery and ensuring that students were provided with the language skills necessary to achieve CH3NUI’s learning outcomes. The module sought to improve students’ written and oral communication, as well as their lexis. In terms of summative assessments, students completed a written project, an oral presentation and a class test. In addition to these, students were provided with multiple feedback opportunities from formative assessments across the duration of the module.

CH3NUI provided students with training for working in a UK chemical laboratory and carrying out independent research in a practical-based investigation.  Assessment was conducted through a test on health and safety and risk assessment, the creation of a summary of an article, group work activity culminating in the production of a video and accompanying report, and the writing of a letter of application. In addition, students were invited to receive summative feedback on drafts of their assessments.

Impact

The collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and ISLI produced two successful modules which have eased the transition of international students to studying Applied Chemistry. Student feedback on the modules has demonstrated that students have noticed an improvement in their language, academic, and professional skills.

Reflections

The delivery of successful modules was only possible as a result of the close collaboration that occurred between the Department of Chemistry and ISLI, allowing two strongly complementary modules to be designed. While coordinating across two departments can be difficult to achieve, the efforts of staff members from both ensured that synergy was able to be achieved. Anyone seeking to establish a similar set of modules to aid the transition of international students should be aware that it is necessary to engage in the collaborative process fully with partners across the University.

By collaborating it was possible to ensure that the modules developed in ways that were of most benefit to its students: tutors on CH3NUI were able to regularly feedback to tutors on CH3ENG students’ needs regarding academic English skills, allowing needs to be responded to as they emerged.

CH3NUI prepared students for the expectations of the UK academic and professional contexts, providing skills that will assist students in not only their academic study, but also their careers after graduation.

The use of these modules to develop the skills of students on the BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme has been beneficial across the programme, allowing students to perform confidently and precisely in other modules, and to work well with students enrolled on programmes other than the BSc Applied Chemistry 3+1 programme.

Follow up

Since the first running of these modules there have been some small adjustments made, with some of the learning outcomes originally within CH3ENG being assigned for coverage by CH3NUI, allowing CH3ENG to focus primarily on developing students’ communication skills. Assessment on CH3ENG has also been refined, with the written project being replaced by three written tasks, allowing students access to increased opportunity for feedback.

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