International Journal of English for Academic Purposes: Research and Practice

Collaboration between EAP teachers and content teachers: Insights from the literature for the Chinese context

International Journal of English for Academic Purposes: Research and Practice 2021, 37–55.

Abstract

Partnership with content teachers is sought after by EAP practitioners working in many contexts. However, such a partnership has not been a common phenomenon in EAP practice. In the Chinese context, the traditional institutional structure which maintained compartmentalization of disciplines did not encourage language-content dialogue. A review of the relevant (English-medium) literature would be timely as insights can be derived to inform the praxis in the Chinese context. For this purpose, in this review article, I aim to illuminate some literature-derived themes that seem particularly relevant for the Chinese context. The article will conclude with a consideration of the implications of these insights for the Chinese context.

Collaboration between EAP teachers and content teachers: Insights from the literature for the Chinese context

Abstract

Partnership with content teachers is sought after by EAP practitioners working in many contexts. However, such a partnership has not been a common phenomenon in EAP practice. In the Chinese context, the traditional institutional structure which maintained compartmentalization of disciplines did not encourage language-content dialogue. A review of the relevant (English-medium) literature would be timely as insights can be derived to inform the praxis in the Chinese context. For this purpose, in this review article, I aim to illuminate some literature-derived themes that seem particularly relevant for the Chinese context. The article will conclude with a consideration of the implications of these insights for the Chinese context.

Introduction

One of the key roles of an EAP teacher is being a ‘collaborator’ in dialogue with content teachers, as has long been recommended in ESP/EAP literature (Dudley-Evans, 1998). From EAP practitioners’ perspectives, collaboration with content specialists, in the varied forms that it may take, can be a hallmark of a successful pedagogical programme dedicated to developing participants’ discipline-specific communication skills (Chanock, 2017). Nevertheless, it is at the same time recognized that such partnerships have not become commonplace and that EAP specialists typically have a hard time persuading discipline experts to develop a sustainable interest in collaboration, as is reflected in reports from different contexts (e.g., Simpson, Caplan, et al., 2016) including the Chinese context (Li & Cargill, 2019a, 2019b). At Chinese universities, it seems the traditional institutional structure which led to disciplinary compartmentalization did not encourage language-content dialogue (Cargill et al., 2012). Yet the continued development of EAP in China has created some sense of urgency for these partnerships to happen to benefit student learning and to foster the professional development of both EAP teachers and content specialists. The existing literature in the Chinese context contains sporadic reports of collaboration between EAP teachers and content teachers (Li & Ma, 2018). At the same time, while there were expressions of frustration among Chinese EAP teachers over the difficulties in seeking collaboration with content teachers, they are aware of the value of such collaboration and regard it as an integral part of their commitment in their pursuance of professional development (Li & Cargill, 2019a; Li & Ma, 2020). Against this backdrop, a review of the relevant (English-medium) literature would be timely as insights can be derived to inform praxis in the Chinese context.

The purpose of the present paper, therefore, is to present a review of a selection of English literature, focusing on several strands of issues that seem to be particularly relevant for the Chinese context. The present review complements an earlier review that I conducted on the same topic (Li, 2020). The two reviews are the outcome of the same literature search, selection, and analysis process (see Li, 2020 for details) but the present review draws upon a broader literature base. The selection of the themes in the earlier review was driven more by an initial interest in enquiring into the literature while for the present one it was prompted by the goal of illuminating some themes that seem particularly relevant for the Chinese context as noted above. These themes will be elaborated upon in the following five sections. The paper will end with a consideration of the implications of the insights derived from the literature for the Chinese context.

Language-content partnership benefiting both language teachers and content specialists

Collaboration between language teachers and content specialists is justified, as both sides grapple with scholarship of teaching and learning for the purpose of enhancing students’ effective study in their disciplines (Chanock, 2007). Language-content collaboration also brings together the complementary expertise sets of discipline experts (with content knowledge) and language experts (with linguistic and genre knowledge) (Cargill & O’Connor, 2006a, 2006b, 2010, 2012; Leydens & Olds, 2007; Saunders et al., 2014).

It has been extensively acknowledged that content teachers can benefit from collaborating with language teachers. It is often pointed out that content teachers typically only have a tacit knowledge of the genres and discourse of their disciplines but through working with language teachers, they can develop linguistic meta-knowledge to enable them to unpack the implicit knowledge and articulate their expectations for the students (Chanock, 2017; Emerson, et al., 2006; Jaidev & Chan, 2018; Starfield, 2016; Zappa-Hollman, 2018). Collaboration can also enable content teachers to see the relevance of issues of language and academic skills to content study (Harris & Ashton, 2011; Lasagabaster, 2018), increase their awareness for students’ linguistic needs and difficulties (Chanock, 2013; Chanock et al., 2012), and equip them with strategies to support the students with enhanced confidence (Chanock et al., 2012; Purser et al., 2008).

For language specialists, collaboration addresses the overall infeasibility of ‘dual-professionalism’ on their part, that is, for them to develop subject matter or content knowledge beyond their training in applied linguistics (Belcher, 2006), even if such a duality might be considered an ideal qualification for an ESP specialist (Belcher, 2006; Fraiberg & Adam, 2002). As an example of language teachers benefiting from discipline specialists’ input of content knowledge, there have been references to the value of enlisting subject informants’ contribution to ESP/EAP teachers’ analysis of discipline texts (Cargill & O’Connor, 2006a, 2006b). Language-content collaboration also prevents the risk of language teachers being sidelined, and more engaged forms of collaboration, such as integrated team-teaching, can raise the status of ESP/EAP educators (Stewart, 2001). As Jones et al. (2001) put it, ‘One powerful way to maintain our profile within our own institutions and within the broader context is to continue to enter into new collaborative partnerships with Faculty and with students for the purposes of practice and research’ (‘Concluding comments’ section).

Collaboration can bring some mutual benefits to language and content specialists. Professionally, interdisciplinary collaboration enables the teacher participants to develop respect for each other’s work and foster a stronger collegiality (Gustafsson et al., 2016). It facilitates critical reflection, enhances the ability to adjust one’s instructional practices to reflect students’ learning needs, and makes one more resourceful and insightful as one tries to meet the communicative demands of the collaboration (Stewart & Perry, 2005; Toth, 2005). Eventually, it may lead to a transformation of pedagogical values and practices (Chanock, 2013; Lasagabaster, 2018; Zappa-Hollman, 2018). Emotionally, interdisciplinary partnership reduces feeling of isolation and loneliness for the participants (Stewart & Perry, 2005). There are legitimate concerns over practical constraints, such as the challenge of finding like-minded people with mutual trust, and the need to set aside time for the planning and execution of collaboration (Cargill & O’Connor, 2010; Deane & O’Neill, 2011; Huang, 2017). Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that the effort may well be outweighed by the reward, and that a language-content partnership is a strategic and resource-efficient approach to providing the much-needed academic support for students (Deane & O’Neill, 2011; Lasagabaster, 2018). There were indeed reports of working with like-minded colleagues in interdisciplinary team-teaching being rewarding (Stewart & Perry, 2005), and of ‘well-matched collaborators’ discovering that a ‘process of working in collaboration’ to create a course was ‘amazingly easy’, despite ‘numerous issues and aspects of the course that we needed to discuss and debate’ (Toth, 2005, p. 85; in this case involving a librarian too).

Misconceptions of the role of language specialists potentially posing a challenge to interdisciplinary collaboration

Misconceptions of the role of language specialists, typically attributed to institutional managers and content specialists, and occasionally to students, potentially constitute barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration. It has been observed that institutional managers, as some content specialists, tend to assume that language teachers should be teaching a set of generic skills that can be applied across disciplines, and that language instructors’ work is remedial in nature and has little intellectual content (Chanock, 2013, 2017). These assumptions are responsible for a dominance of a ‘service model’ associated with the understanding of language specialists’ work (language teachers working ‘for’, rather than ‘with’ content specialists) as Harper and Vered (2016) pointed out by referring to the Australian context. Such a model hampered the teaching of academic writing and the sustainable development of interdisciplinary collaboration in Australia and elsewhere (Chanock, 2017; Harper & Vered, 2016; Sloan & Porter, 2009). It also helps to explain the relatively lower institutional status of language specialists compared with content specialists, again a widespread phenomenon, and an issue long discussed in the literature (Chanock, 2017; Dawson, 1996, as cited in Emerson et al., 2006; Emerson et al., 2006).

The lifeworlds of applied linguistics practitioners and discipline specialists have been traditionally separated. Talking of the Chinese context, Cargill et al. (2012) pointed out that the traditional compartmentalization between the English language department and content disciplines at Chinese universities has created barriers for initiating communication between language teachers and content teachers. Significantly, this separation seems to be a global phenomenon at universities in different parts of the world (e.g., Brammer et al., 2008; Chanock, 2007; Jacobs, 2005; Purser, 2011; Wilkinson, 2018). Even in the United States, where Writing across the Curriculum (WAC)/Writing in the Disciplines (WID) movements (Bazerman et al., 2005) have exerted extensive impacts, creating interdisciplinary dialogues does not seem to be a straightforward step because institutional constraints and obstacles for dialogues could still persist (Dawson, 1996, as cited in Emerson et al., 2006). Fraiberg and Adam (2002), for example, spoke of the overall separation between the language and engineering aspects of an ‘Engineering 100’ course which was co-taught by content and technical communication instructors in a WAC context. The course required students to carry out an engineering project, compose a range of written genres including a proposal and report, and give presentations. The engineering and communication instructors initially gave two separate grades to students without much discussion, with the engineering teachers assuming that the content of the student work could be separated from its communication and thus resisting a more discipline-integrated approach for communication instruction. To redress this separation, the two sides proposed dialogue, henceforth achieving an understanding of the need for the engineering specialists to be educated about communication, and for the communication teachers to learn about the engineering discipline.

Disciplinary silos are at least partly responsible for the misunderstandings on the part of content specialists about the role of academic communication support and the role of language specialists. Margaret Cargill, drawing upon her experience of working with content teachers at an Australian university as well as her international experience of offering publication skills training by invitation at research institutes and universities in China and other countries, has shared insights on this together with her long-term scientist collaborator (Patrick O’;Connor) (Cargill & O’Connor, 2006a, 2006b, 2010; Cargill et al., 2012). They pointed out that a barrier to broadening the scope of interdisciplinary collaboration ‘may be a general lack of awareness among scientists of the potential contribution to publication skills development that can be made by people with applied linguistics/academic literacies expertise’ (Cargill & O’Connor, 2006a, p. 219) and a misunderstanding ‘that applied linguistics expertise had no role to play in publication skills development beyond improving the linguistic accuracy of a final draft’ (Cargill & O’Connor, 2006b, p. 91). Similarly, Chanock (2007), speaking from an Australian context, also observed ‘a serious misunderstanding of the nature of ALL [Academic Language and Learning] advisers’ work’ (p. 273) on the part of discipline specialists. Like institutional managers (as noted earlier), content specialists tended to assume a ‘generalized approach’ (Johns, 1997, p. 34, as cited in Chanock, 2007) to literacy instruction; that is, students can be taught generic skills which is applicable to any discipline. Like Cargill and O’Connor (2006a, 2006b), Chanock (2007) reported students being referred to ALL advisers ‘for help with matters that lecturers seem to regard as mechanical and uninteresting’ (p. 273), reflecting discipline lecturers’ failure to understand that the ALL advisers are likewise concerned with questions ‘of writing in and for a discourse community’ (p. 274) which are questions that any reflective discipline specialist should be grappling with as well.

In line with their typical misunderstanding of the kinds of support that can be provided by language specialists, content specialists may have a ‘window-pane view of writing’, which sees writing as ‘a transparent medium that simply presents the writer’s thoughts rather than seeing writing as a way of thinking and making meaning’ (Starfield, 2016, p. 178). They further assume that students will figure out how to write in a target discipline by osmosis, without receiving explicit instruction (Thies, 2012). In the same vein, at the graduate level, those content specialists (academic supervisors) holding this view do not regard it as their responsibility to participate in training novices in writing for publication (Li & O’;Connor, 2019); while at the undergraduate level, writing may just be associated with assessment, and opportunities are thus not created for students to practice writing outside the pressure of assessment (Bell et al., 2011).

Other than the content teachers’ inaccurate conceptions, the literature cautions students’ initial mistrust or misunderstanding of language teachers; but it is seen that the problem tends to resolve itself in due time with the teachers’ efforts. Anthony (2007) noted the possibility that students may lack trust in an ESP teacher and emphasized the importance for ESP teachers to rigorously establish students’ needs through consulting content specialists as the starting point for designing an ESP course. Students’ initial misunderstandings are also reported sometimes. For example, at a technical university in the United States, a senior design course named ‘Aircraft Detail Design’ started with a conservative approach in team-teaching, where a communication teacher played a supplementary, under-defined role in a classroom to an engineering colleague who was the main instructor (Beck, 2006). As a result, the students only regarded the communication teacher as a copyeditor who could correct mistakes in their later drafts of writing, rather than as a class tutor who could provide formative feedback on their written work. This undesirable situation was changed later into a more integrated iteration of team-teaching. In another case at a New Zealand university, colleagues in the hospitality department supported co-operation with language specialists, but their postgraduate students were unconvinced of the value of receiving instruction on critical thinking and academic writing and complained of ‘being taught English’ by teachers from outside the content department (Strauss & Mooney, 2017, p. 289). The collaborative team’s commitment to discipline-embedded instruction in writing paid off eventually, as students realized its value when they were starting to be expected to write more extensively for various courses.

Content specialists’ varied attitudes towards collaboration with language specialists

Content teachers vary in their attitude, level of skills, and level of involvement when it comes to collaboration with language colleagues, unsurprisingly (Harris & Ashton, 2011). There is no shortage of reports of content teachers welcoming collaboration with language teachers. For example, in Chanock’s (2013) report, the subject co-ordinator of Year 1 sociology students responded enthusiastically to the language teacher’s proposal ‘to design and embed resources into her subject to scaffold students’ learning of subject literacies’ (p. A-109) by sharing course materials and giving the language teacher access to the online learning system of the course. In addition, content specialists may invite language teachers to offer language and communication skills training for their undergraduate students (Beck, 2006; Jaidev & Chan, 2018), or offer research writing instruction to their graduate students (Aranha, 2009; Swales & Luebs, 2002). It has been further observed that when supervisors expect their students to advance in both research and writing and involve them in the research writing process, and even encourage them to attend the writing instruction offered by language teachers, the students make the most progress and benefit the greatest from the writing instruction (Gassman et al., 2013; Leydens & Olds, 2007). In other words, content teachers’ awareness and support of language teachers’ writing instruction, even when their own direct involvement is absent, can be critical to the outcome of the instruction.

The literature does however, also refer to a lack of support from content teachers. In terms of providing graduate writing support, Simpson, Ruecker, et al. (2016) mentioned discipline colleagues lacking a sustained interest in participating in collaboration with language specialists, with their motivation waning when a grant for the purpose ended. In the field of teaching English for Research Publication Purposes (ERPP) (Cargill & Burgess, 2008) more specifically, language specialists have sometimes pointed to the lack of evidence of supervisors providing writing support or publication skills training to their supervisees (Cargill & Smernik, 2016). There have also been comments that discipline lecturers or supervisors often lack understanding of their students’ linguistic needs and challenges faced in academic communication (Chanock, 2007; Li & O’Connor, 2019; Stewart & Perry, 2005). They may also be without pedagogical strategies for teaching discipline-specific language effectively (Anthony, 2007; Burgess & Pallant, 2013; Stewart, 2001). Where the discipline specialists are English as an Additional Language (EAL) users themselves, which is common in EMI (English-medium instruction) contexts in non-English-speaking countries, they may be less sensitive to students’ competence gaps in writing (Lappalainen, 2016). Finally, it has further been observed that there is reluctance among discipline specialists to teach language skills and writing to their students for a number of reasons: Time constraints, insufficient confidence and expertise in such teaching, and not regarding it as their duty or not having the motivation to do so (Brammer et al., 2008; Chanock, 2013; Wingate, 2011).

Language specialists have also reported some challenges they encountered in trying to engage content specialists in team-teaching. Huang (2017) shared her less-than-successful experience of co-teaching a research writing course to engineering doctoral students with several supervisors at a Taiwanese university, noting that the communication for the pre-course planning tended to be one-way and during the instruction, the subject specialists tended to define themselves as ‘guest speakers’ (p. 227) who were not prepared to make substantial contributions. Describing an experience in China of involving content experts in teaching ERPP to science research students, Cargill et al. (2018) mentioned that ‘scientists talked only about their own specific discipline issues, which were not relevant to all students [in a mixed-disciplines class]’ (p. 17). The literature has further revealed that in a collaboration scenario, there is a risk that ‘the field specialist may monopolize decisions, despite their limited knowledge of ESP in general’, especially when the language teacher readily follows their lead (Anthony, 2007, p. 2). Similarly, in an EMI context where instruction is supposed to be dually focused on content and language, content experts may also assume a dominant role, leaving little room for input for the language teacher (Wilkinson, 2018).

An insight worth noting in the literature is the recommendation that when it is not feasible for language teachers to win content teachers’ support, they can seek to collaborate with students instead. Anthony (1997) insightfully advised: ‘The ESP Practitioner must first work closely with field specialists’; but when this is not feasible, ‘The ESP Practitioner must collaborate more closely with the learners, who will generally be more familiar with the specialized content of materials than the teacher him or herself’ (p. 3). Anthony’s advice was echoed by some Chinese EAP teacher trainees on an EAP professional development programme, who proposed that if they could not encourage supervisors to collaborate with them, they could still collaborate with students, with one teacher mentioning that a student in her class indeed offered to ‘do something together’ with her (Li & Cargill, 2019a, p. 154). Chanock (2013), with reference to working with undergraduate students, pointed out that language teachers’ one-to-one work with students has helped to ‘[reveal] what is difficult in particular subjects and at particular stages in their development of academic literacies’ (p. A-111). Within a Taiwanese context of teaching research writing to engineering graduate students where discipline specialists were somewhat non-engaged, as mentioned earlier, Huang (2017) reported that in the planning stage, two PhD students helped with the analyses of rhetorical moves and the use of high-frequency words. This approach of making science students collaborators in linguistic analysis capitalizes on their analytical skills within their own disciplines (Flowerdew, 2015; Li et al., 2018; Swales & Linderman, 2002). At the same time, for language teachers to work as ‘co-learners’ in partnership with students (with a degree of humility on the teachers’ part) also provides opportunities for students to contribute content knowledge to the teaching process, and creates a safe space for them to explain their work to people from outside their disciplines (Douglas, 2015).

Language specialists and content specialists providing training support to each other

Language specialists inviting discipline colleagues or faculty advisers to sit in on an EAP class or a writing workshop offered to students, as sometimes mentioned in the literature (Gassman et al., 2013; Kam & Meinema, 2005; Li et al., 2018; Tribble & Wingate, 2013), seems a cost-effective approach to providing ‘training’ to the content specialists. Those colleagues who attend and teach the subject can answer students’ discipline-specific questions and clarify written assignments (Kam & Meinema, 2005; Tribble & Wingate, 2013), or more substantially contribute to the instruction and thus complement the teaching of the language specialists in a form of team-teaching (Lazar & Ellis, 2011; Li et al., 2019). Nevertheless, there are occasional reports of academic supervisors being unwilling to attend an ERPP class for research students when urged to do so, with them citing reasons such as being busy (Li & Cargill, 2019b). In this scenario, it can perhaps be suggested that a lack of interest in participating in the process of training, and inadequate understanding of the role of applied linguistics expertise brought by language teachers, may be the primary reasons for the supervisors’ reluctance (Cargill & O’Connor, 2012; Cargill et al., 2012).

In addition to inviting content teachers/supervisors to attend the instruction targeting students, there have also been calls to provide training specifically targeting content teachers/supervisors (e.g., in WAC, EMI, and graduate writing support contexts) (Burgess & Pallant, 2013; Leydens & Olds, 2007; Wilkinson, 2018). Such training has already been taking place, if on a limited scale. Dysthe (2001) mentions courses for supervisors on how to teach writing and give feedback on students’ writing in Norwegian contexts; and Nomdo (2013) describes a workshop for subject tutors on essay writing and assessment practices in a South African university. Despite some developments, it has been suggested that more research is needed to shed light on the kinds of linguistic and pedagogical training that content teachers need in specific contexts (Simpson, 2016; Wilkinson, 2018). An example where the trainers seemed confident about the kinds of training needed by content teachers is illustrated in a Chinese context by Margaret Cargill, an external ERPP specialist with her Australian scientist colleague, Patrick O’;Connor. They ran training sessions targeting supervisors at research institutes of Chinese Academy of Sciences for the purpose of providing a method (as detailed in their textbook on writing scientific research articles) (Cargill & O’Connor, 2013) for the supervisors to train their students. Nevertheless, they noted that supervisors’ inadequacy in English proficiency was a problem sometimes, hampering their attempt to conduct follow-up communications with the supervisors to strengthen the possibility of a local uptake of their approach (Cargill & O’Connor, 2012).

Compared with discussions of language teachers providing training to content teachers from a language-based perspective, there seems to be less discussion in the literature regarding content teachers providing relevant training to language teachers from a discipline-oriented perspective. It has long been proposed that EAP teachers should aim to develop ‘specialized knowledge’ (as opposed to specialist or content knowledge) of a target discipline, that is, to understand its disciplinary culture, epistemological and methodological characteristics, genres and discourse through an ethnographic approach (Ferguson 1997; Swales, 1990). Apart from conducting relevant ethnographic observations, there are additional approaches for language specialists to develop a specialized knowledge in a target discipline. An EAP tutor being welcomed into relevant meetings in a target discipline faculty (Sloan & Porter, 2009) would help; using genre analysis as a tool to read disciplinary texts closely and even taking courses in a subject area to gain some general knowledge are also useful (Cheng, 2015). In an interview, Margaret Cargill, a veteran ERPP specialist, drew upon her own experience and suggested two main pathways for English teachers to deal effectively with a target discipline (see Li and Cargill in the present issue). Firstly, ‘;patiently reading and analysing the target disciplines’ papers’, including ‘say[ing] to a student sitting next to you in an individual consultation context: ‘I don’t understand; can you explain this to me?”. Secondly, ‘to learn to understand scientific method, the way that evidence is used to support claims in a particular discipline’, by ‘watch[ing] the students do experiments [in their lab] and ask[ing] them to talk about what they are doing’, and even inviting content specialists ‘to run some basic lab sessions for groups of English teachers to show them some of the basic techniques relevant to the field of science they want to support’. Overall, content specialists’ support and facilitation in the process of language specialists seeking to develop a specialized knowledge in a target discipline can be immensely helpful.

Institution-level actions for facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration

There have been calls in the literature for institution-level actions to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration. It has been suggested that the ‘service model’ needs to be dismantled (Harper & Vered, 2016) and that institutional leaders should change their mindset and set out to embed academic literacy support into discipline content instruction to replace the traditional decontextualized, generic, and remedial provisions, coupled with new allocations in staffing and resources (Wingate, 2011). Chanock (2007) called for ‘regular institutional means of bringing us [academic language and learning advisers and lecturers in disciplines] into the same conversations, to share what we know on a basis of mutual respect’ (p. 274). This call was also voiced by some Chinese EAP teacher participants on a professional development programme, who saw both the need for them to be proactive in seeking collaboration with content teachers, and aspired for institutional support, commenting, for example, ‘I wonder if there should be some top-level design’ (Li & Cargill, 2019a, p. 154).

Institutional sponsorship and institutional initiatives to facilitate language-content conversation do not mean a top-down imposition. Institutional mandates can be ineffective and may cause resistance; instead, a bottom-up approach may work better (Chanock, 2017; Chanock et al., 2012; Harris & Ashton, 2011). In a bottom-up approach which is low cost or free, language teachers invest time and effort to develop familiarity with the discourse in a target discipline and the students’ communication needs (such as in a specialist course), language and content teachers respect and listen to each other, and content teachers share materials and invite language teachers into their meetings and classes. Together they adopt an ‘incremental and voluntary approach to change’ (Evans et al., 2009, p. 600), as illustrated in the literature (e.g., Chanock, 2017; Chanock et al., 2012; Evans et al., 2009; Sloan & Porter 2009).

Interdisciplinary collaboration provides opportunities for professional development for the participants (Lasagabaster, 2018; Li & Ma, 2020; Stewart & Perry, 2005). From this perspective, it has been suggested that institutions can create career development opportunities for their faculty by funding interdisciplinary projects, and support and reward those dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration (Purser, 2011; Watts & Burnett, 2012). One form of such institutional support would be acknowledging the collaboration in staff’s workload distribution. In one example at an Australian university, Learning Development (LD) staff’s workload consisted of ‘50% teaching (mainly within disciplines), 25% governance and 25% research (on its core teaching practices)’ (Purser et al., 2008, p. 3).

Overall, institution-level initiatives of creating discipline-embedded academic literacy support programmes seem to be growing, as universities worldwide respond to the demands of finding more cost-effective ways to prepare their students for the new communicative demands in the academic and professional worlds (Gustafsson et al., 2016; Jacobs, 2005). An institutional change often means moving away from the traditional more decontextualized and generic academic support provisions, and moving towards developing an institution-wide project that ‘focus[es] on the intersection of language and content and an attempt to transgress the narrow disciplinary boundaries that separate AL [academic literacy] teaching from the various disciplines of study’ (Jacobs, 2005, p. 476). Concerted and sustained efforts at different levels of managers and administrators would be needed for this to happen.

Implications for the Chinese context

Opportunities are growing at Chinese universities for developing collaborative relationships between content and emerging EAP teachers. Two opportunities are particularly prominent. The first is the growing emphasis at Chinese universities on English Academic Writing (EAW) instruction at the graduate level (see Li & Ma, 2018 for a review). The second opportunity is offered by the growth of bilingual courses, where content teachers aim to incorporate EMI into teaching in addition to using the first language. Indeed, existing encouraging reports of language-content partnerships at Chinese universities typically involve these two contexts - EAW instruction (e.g., Shao, 2015; Yang, 2012) and bilingual teaching (e.g., Liu & Fan, 2015; Lu, 2014); although sometimes the context of teaching zhuanye yingyu or specialized English is featured (e.g., Yang & Zhang, 2016). It can be seen from existing reports that it is the English teachers who tend to express interest and take initiatives in seeking collaboration, much like how their overseas counterparts did. It seems content teachers and supervisors in disciplines need to be educated to understand the value of the applied linguistics expertise brought by language teachers (Cargill & O’Connor, 2006a, 2010, 2012; Li & Cargill, the present issue; Li & O’Connor, 2019); they also need to develop understanding of students’ learning needs and to realize that ‘scientific writing for impact is a learned skill - it can be enhanced with training’ (Li & O’ Connor, 2019).

Noticeably, a topic of interest, as reflected in its discussion in a body of Chinese literature, concerns the idea of ‘dual-professionalism’, or for English teachers to achieve dual certificate-based qualifications in both English language and a content subject (Ding, 2013; Sun & Xu, 2017). As noted earlier in the present paper, the English-medium literature acknowledges its common infeasibility (Belcher, 2006). It can be argued that in the Chinese context, as is perhaps the case elsewhere, for English teachers to aim to develop specialized knowledge through various channels including interdisciplinary collaboration, rather than seeking to achieve a level of specialist or content knowledge sufficient for a certificate-based qualification (as called for in some Chinese literature), would be more feasible, confidence-building, and morale-boosting for language teachers. In terms of qualifications, of which the general English teachers at Chinese universities urgently need are qualifications in ESP/EAP. Degree or accreditation programs in EAP need to be established, beyond the traditional degree programmes on second language acquisition, linguistics, translation, and literature for English majors, in order to systematically train EAP teachers. Such programme-based preparation for EAP teachers extends beyond self-training or ad hoc participation in short-term professional development programmes as currently adopted by many teachers when transitioning from teaching English for General Purposes (EGP) to EAP at Chinese universities (Li & Ma, 2020).

At the institutional level, it has been insightfully pointed out in the Chinese literature that language-content partnerships are a cost-effective way to address the general shortage of qualified staff in bilingual teaching (Liu & Fan, 2015), and institutions should facilitate such partnerships through building mechanisms and platforms for interdisciplinary dialogue (Lu, 2014; Liu & Fan, 2015). In addition, it can be suggested that there is also a need to dismantle the ‘service model’ (Harper & Vered, 2016) at the institutional level, particularly in relation to those English teachers teaching non-English majors across disciplines (the main force of the current EAP teachers), who ‘are often perceived as instructors rather than academics’ (Cheng, 2016, p. 98). In the Chinese context, a ‘service model’ has potentially been strengthened by a common phenomenon of English teachers being asked to correct English papers written by content specialists or their students (Li & Ma, 2020), so much so that successful experience of having helped large numbers of manuscripts to get published in SCI (Science Citation Index) journals has become a credential recorded by some English teachers in their CV. Institutions should make use of such existing informal connections between language and content teachers and create policies that foster more formal, curriculum-based partnerships.

Overall, the ongoing paradigm shift from EGP to EAP at Chinese universities (Cai, 2019a, 2019b) provides unprecedented opportunities for language-content partnerships. Institutional managers, English teachers, and content teachers should capitalize on the opportunities available to them in local contexts to initiate and upgrade interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Cargill, M., & Smernik, R. (2016). Embedding publication skills in science research training: A writing group programme based on applied linguistics frameworks and facilitated by a scientist. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(2), 229-241. Google Scholar

Chanock, K. (2007). What academic language and learning advisers bring to the scholarship of teaching and learning: Problems and possibilities for dialogue with the disciplines. Higher Education Research & Development, 26(3), 269-280. Google Scholar

Chanock, K. (2013). Teaching subject literacies through blended learning: Reflections on a collaboration between academic learning staff and teachers in the disciplines. Journal of Academic Language Learning, 7(2), A106-A119. Google Scholar

Chanock, K. (2017). Learning specialists working with faculty to embed development of academic literacies in disciplinary subjects. In S. Plane, C. Bazerman, F. Rondelli, C. Donahue, A. N. Applebee, C. Boré, P. Carlino, M. M. Larruy, P. Rogers, & D. Russell (Eds.), Research on writing: Multiple perspectives (pp. 243-262). The WAC Clearinghouse and Centre de Recherche sur les Médiations (CREM). Google Scholar

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Cheng, A. (2016). EAP at the tertiary level in China: Challenges and possibilities. In K. Hyland & P. Shaw (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of English for academic purposes (pp. 97-108). Routledge. Google Scholar

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Dudley-Evans, T. (1998). An overview of ESP in the 1990s. In T. Orr (Ed.), Proceedings 1997: The Japan Conference on English for Specific Purposes (pp. 5-11). University of Aizu, Japan. Google Scholar

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Cargill, M., & O’Connor, P. (2010). Structuring interdisciplinary collaboration to develop research students’ skills for publishing research internationally: Lessons from implementation. In M. Davies, M. Devlin, & M. Tight (Eds.), Interdisciplinary higher education: Perspectives and practicalities (pp. 279-292). Emerald Group. Google Scholar

Cargill, M., & O’Connor, P. (2012). Identifying and addressing challenges to international publication success for EFL science researchers: Implementing an integrated training package in China. In R. Tang (Ed.), Academic writing in a second or foreign language: Issues and challenges facing ESL/EFL academic writers in higher education contexts (pp. 21-44). Continuum. Google Scholar

Cargill, M., & O’Connor, P. (2013).Writing scientific research articles: Strategy and steps (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. Google Scholar

Cargill, M., O’Connor, P., & Li, Y. (2012). Educating Chinese scientists to write for international journals: Addressing the divide between science and technology education and English Language Teaching. English for Specific Purposes, 31(1), 60-69. Google Scholar

Cargill, M., & Smernik, R. (2016). Embedding publication skills in science research training: A writing group programme based on applied linguistics frameworks and facilitated by a scientist. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(2), 229-241. Google Scholar

Chanock, K. (2007). What academic language and learning advisers bring to the scholarship of teaching and learning: Problems and possibilities for dialogue with the disciplines. Higher Education Research & Development, 26(3), 269-280. Google Scholar

Chanock, K. (2013). Teaching subject literacies through blended learning: Reflections on a collaboration between academic learning staff and teachers in the disciplines. Journal of Academic Language Learning, 7(2), A106-A119. Google Scholar

Chanock, K. (2017). Learning specialists working with faculty to embed development of academic literacies in disciplinary subjects. In S. Plane, C. Bazerman, F. Rondelli, C. Donahue, A. N. Applebee, C. Boré, P. Carlino, M. M. Larruy, P. Rogers, & D. Russell (Eds.), Research on writing: Multiple perspectives (pp. 243-262). The WAC Clearinghouse and Centre de Recherche sur les Médiations (CREM). Google Scholar

Chanock, K., Horton, C., Reedman, M., & Stephenson, B. (2012). Collaborating to embed academic literacies and personal support in first year discipline subjects. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 9(3). http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol9/iss3/3 Google Scholar

Cheng, A. (2015). Rethinking the paths toward developing ESP practitioners’ specialized knowledge through the lens of genre analysis. English as a Global Language Education Journal, 1(1), 23-45. Google Scholar

Cheng, A. (2016). EAP at the tertiary level in China: Challenges and possibilities. In K. Hyland & P. Shaw (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of English for academic purposes (pp. 97-108). Routledge. Google Scholar

Deane, M., & O’Neill, P. (2011). Conclusion: Ways forward for WiD. In M. Deane & P. O’Neill (Eds.), Writing in the disciplines: Universities into the 21st century (pp. 265-272). Palgrave Macmillan. Google Scholar

Ding, Q. (2013). Shuangyu jiaoxue zhong daxue yingyu jiaoshi de chongxin dingwei [College English teachers’ re-orientation in bilingual teaching]. Kaifeng Jiaoyu Xueyuan Xuebao [Journal of Kaifeng Institute of Education], 33(7), 139-140. Google Scholar

Douglas, J. (2015). Developing an English for Academic Purposes course for L2 graduate students in the sciences. Across the Disciplines, 12, http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/graduate_wac/douglas2015.cfm Google Scholar

Dudley-Evans, T. (1998). An overview of ESP in the 1990s. In T. Orr (Ed.), Proceedings 1997: The Japan Conference on English for Specific Purposes (pp. 5-11). University of Aizu, Japan. Google Scholar

Dysthe, O. (2001, 18 June). The mutual challenge of writing research and the teaching of writing.[Keynote speech]. The European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW) Conference, the University of Groeningen, Groeningen, The Netherlands. https://w2.uib.no/filearchive/keynote-eataw18-1-.pdf. Google Scholar

Emerson, L., MacKay, B. R., MacKay, M. B., & Funnell, K. A. (2006). A team of equals: Teaching writing in the sciences. Educational Action Research, 14(01), 65-81. Google Scholar

Evans, E., Tindale, J., Cable, D., & Mead, S. H. (2009). Collaborative teaching in a linguistically and culturally diverse higher education setting: A case study of a postgraduate accounting program. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(6), 597-613. Google Scholar

Ferguson, G. (1997). Teacher education and LSP: The role of specialised knowledge. In R. Howard & G. Brown (Eds.), Teacher education for languages for specific purposes (pp. 80-89). Multilingual Matters. Google Scholar

Flowerdew, L. (2015). Using corpus-based research and online academic corpora to inform writing of the discussion section of a thesis. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 20, 58-68. Google Scholar

Fraiberg, S., & Adam, M. (2002). Designing a Writing Across the Curriculum program at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. In Proceedings of the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (pp. 530-537).IEEE. Google Scholar

Gassman, S. L., Maher, M. A., & Timmerman, B. E. (2013). Supporting students’ disciplinary writing in engineering education. International Journal of Engineering Education, 29(5), 1270-1280. Google Scholar

Gustafsson, M., Eriksson, A., & Karlsson, A. (2016). Facilitating writing in the tension between the quasi-generic and the multidisciplinary: Chalmers University of Technology. In S. Simpson, N. A. Caplan, M. Cox, & T. Phillips (Eds.), Supporting graduate student writers: Research, curriculum, and program design (pp. 255-271). University of Michigan Press. Google Scholar

Harper, R., & Vered, K. O. (2016). Developing communication as a graduate outcome: Using “Writing Across the Curriculum” as a whole-of-institution approach to curriculum and pedagogy. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(4), 688-701. Google Scholar

Harris, A. J., & Ashton, J. (2011). Embedding and integrating language and academic skills: An innovative approach. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 5(2), A73-A87. Google Scholar

Huang, J. C. (2017). Teaching writing for publication in English to engineering students: Implications from a collaborative course in Taiwan. In M. J. Curry & T. Lillis (Eds.), Global academic publishing: Policies, perspectives and pedagogies (pp. 217-232). Multilingual Matters. Google Scholar

Jacobs, C. (2005). On being an insider on the outside: New spaces for integrating academic literacies. Teaching in Higher Education, 10(4), 475-487. Google Scholar

Jaidev, R., & Chan, P. (2018). Embedding communication in the disciplines: A tale of two faculties. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 12(3), 199-211. Google Scholar

Jones, J., Bonanno, H., & Scouller, K. (2001). Staff and student roles in central and faculty-based learning support: Changing partnerships. https://learning.uow.edu.au/LAS2001/selected/jones_1.pdf Google Scholar

Kam, A., & Meinema, Y. (2005). Teaching academic writing to international students in an interdisciplinary writing context: A pedagogical rough guide. Across the Disciplines, 2, https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/atd/lds/kam_meinema.pdf Google Scholar

Lappalainen, P. H. (2016). Pedagogical design promoting writing productivity on the doctoral level: A case study from Finland. Journal of Academic Writing, 6(1), 108-121. Google Scholar

Lasagabaster, D. (2018). Fostering team teaching: Mapping out a research agenda for English-medium instruction at university level. Language Teaching, 51(3), 400-416. Google Scholar

Lazar, G., & Ellis, E. (2011). Genre as implicit methodology in a collaborative writing initiative. International Journal of English Studies, 11(1), 155-168. Google Scholar

Leydens, J. A., & Olds, B. M. (2007). Publishing in scientific and engineering contexts: A course for graduate students’ tutorial. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 50(1), 45-56. Google Scholar

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Li, Yongyan