TESOL Certificate courses (TCCs) were developed as entry-level qualifications for L1 English speaking trainees (Anderson, 2020, p. 2; Ferguson & Donno 2003, p. 29) but recent years have seen a rise in the number of experienced L2 English speaking teachers (L2ESTs) taking these courses (Anderson, 2018, p. 2; Anderson, 2020, p. 2; Aydin et al., 2016, pp. 160, 262, 268-269; Kiely & Askham, 2012, p. 499). This has led to some mismatch between the course content and the needs of L2EST trainees (Anderson, 2016, p. 270). In my own experience as a teacher trainer based in China, one of biggest challenges for these trainees is the completion of the written assignments. Currently, nothing exists in the literature on this particular challenge or attempts to assist trainees to overcome it. This study represents an account and evaluation of such an attempt. Specifically, it assessed the effect that an adjunct academic writing course (e.g., Snow and Brinton, 1988) had on these trainees’ ability to complete the assignments.
The goal of the course under investigation was that learners would be able to use the content learned in the written assignments on the TCC. Therefore, as with EAP teaching more generally (James, 2014, p. 1), central to this study is the extent to which learning transfer (LT) occurred and the factors that encouraged and hindered this transfer. Adjunct courses have been shown to have an effect on language use in students’ disciplinary study (Abebe, 2013; Snow & Brinton, 1988). However, possibly due to the practical difficulty of running such courses (de Chazal, 2012, pp. 141-142), there is a lack of detailed accounts of LT and the factors which led to it on adjunct courses in the literature. In the present study, the homogenous group of learners and the author’s position as a subject tutor on the TCC and writing tutor on the adjunct course meant there was an opportunity for a detailed investigation into LT. It is hoped that, through this investigation, findings can be reached which can be used to encourage LT in EAP teaching more generally.
This section will first address the issue of L2ESTs on TCCs before exploring some background issues regarding LT. It will then outline the place of LT in EAP teaching and, finally, examine suggestions in the literature regarding how this transfer can be encouraged.
TESOL Certificate courses and L2 English speaking teachers
The Cambridge Assessment CELTA and Trinity College London CertTESOL are two widely recognized certificates seen as entry-level ELT qualifications. They were developed based on the needs of L1 English speaking trainee teachers teaching multilingual classes in anglophone countries (Anderson 2020, p. 2; Ferguson & Donno 2003, p. 29). However, in the last decade, there has been a rise in the number of experienced L2ESTs taking them (Anderson, 2018, p. 2; Anderson, 2020, p. 2; Aydin et al., 2016, pp. 160, 262, 268-269; Kiely & Askham, 2012, p. 499).
Anderson (2016, p. 270) notes the difficulty caused by the mismatch between the backgrounds of these teachers and the assumed knowledge on TCCs developed in anglophone countries. There is a link here with ‘academic culture shock’ - when the schemata developed in a students’ own academic culture does not match the expectations of the culture in which they are studying (Gilbert, 2000, pp. 14-15). According to my own experience, the most noticeable way in which this shock manifests itself with the Chinese-speaking teachers I have trained on CertTESOL courses is in difficulties with the written assignments.
Teachers on TCCs are generally proficient users of English. However, many have little experience of anglophone academic culture. Despite the increasing number of L2ESTs taking such courses there is currently nothing in the literature regarding the assistance of such teachers with the written assignments. One aim of the present study is to evaluate an attempt at such assistance and, therefore, contribute to understanding of how TCCs can better suit the needs of L2ESTs and add to the nascent body of literature on this subject.
According to Perkins and Salomon (1992, p. 3), LT occurs when ‘learning in one context or with one set of materials impacts on performance in another context or with another set of materials’. They note the difficulty in differentiating it from ordinary learning in that, for learning to be said to have taken place, students need to use the learnt knowledge in some way. For them, the key point is how different the context where learning takes place (termed here learning context) and the one where the knowledge is used (target context) are. They give the example that a student learning grammar rules and using them to pass a test would be ordinary learning, while using those rules in conversation would be LT.
Near and far transfer
The level of difference between the learning and target contexts is also linked with the idea of near and far transfer. Near transfer is when transfer occurs between contexts which are relatively similar and far transfer between ones which are quite different (Barnett and Ceci, 2002, p. 615; Perkins and Salomon, 1992, p. 4). The clear implication is that far transfer presents more of a challenge to learners than near.
Barnett and Ceci’s (2002) taxonomy breaks down near and far transfer according to context and the content being transferred. In terms of context, of relevance to this study are knowledge domain: whether the subject matter is the same or different; temporal context: the time elapsed between input and use of the knowledge or skill and social context: e.g., whether the knowledge learnt is used alone or with others. Regarding content, the level of specificity of a skill (p. 612) is of particular importance to this study. An example of a specific skill would be changing a bicycle tyre, while a more general one would be the use of negotiation strategies. This echoes Perkins and Salomon’s (1992, p. 6) distinction between local and general knowledge. They note some disagreement in the literature about whether it is more important to be trained for a specific task or to learn general principles and examine their application in different contexts.
Learning transfer in EAP
LT can be seen as a ‘fundamental goal’ (James, 2014, p. 1) of EAP instruction. Despite its importance, there are mixed findings regarding the success of transfer from EAP courses to students’ disciplinary study. James (2006a), for example, found the extent to which it occurred was influenced by factors in the learning and target contexts and those related to the learners themselves.
One type of course which does seem to lead to LT is the adjunct model (e.g., Snow and Brinton, 1988). In this model, language and content courses run simultaneously. In the language course, disciplinary content from the subject course and linguistic skills are combined. In the terminology of Barnett and Ceci (2002), the knowledge domain, temporal context, and social context in the two courses are similar. Snow and Brinton (1988) found that this type of course led to students perceiving an improvement in their reading and writing skills and seemed to close the gap between L1 and L2 speakers’ language use. Abebe (2013) found that an adjunct CLIL course had more effect on students’ knowledge of genre norms and led to more improvement in their writing than a traditional EGAP (English for General Academic Purposes) course.
However, such courses are not always possible. de Chazal (2012, pp. 141-142) notes the difficulty of creating homogenous groups of students from the same major and of EAP teachers gaining sufficient subject knowledge to be able to teach disciplinary-focused classes effectively. Perhaps due to these difficulties, there is little in the literature regarding LT on adjunct courses and especially on the aspects of such courses which lead to transfer. The present study offers an opportunity for an examination of these aspects, hopefully leading to understanding of methods of encouraging LT which may be applicable in other contexts.
Even when possible, there is an argument that adjunct courses’ narrow scope means they are not desirable. Based on Widdowson’s (1983, p. 17) distinction between education and training, James (2006a, p. 82) concedes that adjunct courses may lead to LT to one particular course but argues they are unlikely to lead to application of content outside the target context. The implication is that courses narrowly focused on academic language in one particular context might not lead to the deeper learning necessary to use that language more flexibly. This study will, therefore, also address whether students were able to transfer any of the knowledge learnt to contexts outside of the target context.
Support for transfer in the learning and target contexts
James (2006b, pp. 151-152) argues that it cannot be assumed that skills other than the most basic ones will transfer automatically from one situation to another. Therefore, he contends that classroom instruction should be partly dedicated to LT.
Perkins and Salomon’s (1992, pp. 8-10) suggestions for the encouragement of LT in the learning context include a focus on abstract principles and opportunities for students to reflect on how these principles can be applied alongside practice of application in various contexts. Related to the point about education and training, a focus on general academic principles and planning for and practice of application might lead to students being able to use those principles in their disciplines.
Another suggestion (ibid) is the use of hugging - matching activities in the learning context to those which students will face in the target context. However, Green (2015) investigated teachers’ use of this technique and found that its use seemed to have no significant effect on students’ writing (p. 9).
Support in the target context can also encourage LT. James (2006a, pp. 794-797) found that factors including the need or opportunity for application of EAP course content and the existence of challenges or personal weaknesses that were supported by that content were more significant in encouraging transfer than factors from the learning context. This shows the importance of action opportunities (Greeno, Smith, and Moore, 1993). These refer to the existence and recognition by learners of chances to use previous knowledge or skills in a new situation.
However, conditions conducive to transfer do not always exist in students’ disciplines. A transfer climate (James, 2010, pp. 134-135) refers to conditions in the target context that encourage the application of knowledge and skills gained in the learning context. These include positive attitudes towards the content learnt, encouragement and expectations to use that content, and positive feedback and outcomes when it is used. James investigated, through interviews, the existence of a transfer climate with regards to EAP course content in students’ disciplines. Findings included students’ perception of a negative attitude to EAP courses from subject tutors and peers, a mismatch between the expectations of subject tutors and the content of the EAP course and a lack of connection between language use and grades (op. cit.).
Green (2015, p. 9) points out disciplinary tutors’ role in encouraging the use of EAP course content. He suggests that they should be aware of the content and make students aware of opportunities to use it in their disciplinary study. However, there is an argument to be made that it is, actually, the responsibility of EAP teachers and course designers to base course content on students’ disciplinary assignments and expectations of disciplinary tutors. The present study offers an opportunity to investigate the effect of this type of course design on transfer.
The objectives of the present study
Based on the preceding literature review, two areas have been identified for further investigation. These are the effectiveness of an adjunct course in encouraging near and far transfer and the factors in the learning and target contexts affecting transfer positively and negatively. Specifically, two research questions have been formulated:
To what extent did participants perceive themselves as able to apply the content of the writing course to the written assignments on the CertTESOL and to other contexts?
What factors from the learning and target contexts did participants perceive as helping and hindering their ability to apply content from the writing course to the assignments?
It is hoped that the results of this study can lead to the improvement of future iterations of the course under investigation and also to understandings regarding LT which will be beneficial to EAP writing courses more generally.
This section will first discuss the overall methodological approach before outlining the research context and the participants; it will then detail the methods of data collection and analysis.
A qualitative approach is appropriate for the twin goals of this study. Qualitative research tends to be focused on detailed understanding of participants’ perspectives rather than making generalizations (Burton & Bartlett 2004, p. 25). Auerbach and Silverstein (2003, pp. 127-128) argue that such understandings can lead to insights which might be applied in other contexts without overgeneralizing. Therefore, by understanding the experience of this particular group of learners, conclusions about LT can be drawn which are more widely applicable.
The present study relates to two part-time, in-service CertTESOL courses which took place in a large city in China. Teachers took the CertTESOL as a part of their professional development programme at a large training institution. Within a total cohort of fifty-seven trainees across both courses, 75% were Chinese teachers of English. The writing course which ran alongside Course 1 started in January 2020, four weeks before the start of the CertTESOL, and the one running alongside Course 2 started in July 2020 at the same time as the CertTESOL.
The ten participants in this study were all local Chinese teachers of English. They were selected via stratified sampling to represent the average range of grades in the written assignments across the whole cohort. A small number of the trainee teachers on these courses had previously completed some of their tertiary study in anglophone countries and this was accounted for in the sampling with two such participants selected. Other participants had varying amounts of experience of writing in English during their tertiary study at Chinese universities. All the participants were given pseudonyms based on their actual gender. As per Trinity College London (2016, p. 14) guidelines, all of the participants were judged to have been at a C1 or above level of English during the application process for the course.
|Name||Year of birth||Grade Profile||Course||Prior English academic writing experience|
|Charlotte||1993||High||2||Postgraduate study in an anglophone country|
|Henry||1989||Mid||1||Some undergraduate assignments written in English|
|Lily||1994||Low||2||Undergraduate dissertation written in English|
|Rachel||1993||Mid||2||Undergraduate dissertation written in English|
|Roberta||1991||High||1||Undergraduate dissertation written in English|
|Sandy||1993||High||1||Postgraduate study in an anglophone country|
|Vivian||1996||Mid||2||Undergraduate dissertation written in English|
The course under investigation followed Snow and Brinton’s (1988) description of an adjunct EAP course. It ran simultaneously with the content course (the CertTESOL) and combined content from the CertTESOL - such as analysis of learners’ errors and the benefits and disadvantages of different teaching approaches - with the target language and skills.
Syllabus design took into account learners’ common challenges and the perspectives of course tutors in order to help nurture a transfer climate (James, 2006a, pp. 794-797; James, 2010, pp. 134-135). Content was selected based on the issues identified by the author and other CertTESOL tutors and the literature on the common issues faced by Chinese learners (e.g., Hu and Lei, 2012; Zhang, 2011) when writing in English.
The course followed Perkins and Salomon’s (1992, pp. 8-10) recommendations of hugging to encourage near transfer and a focus on abstract concepts followed by specific application to encourage far transfer. The focus on the more general concepts was also an attempt to overcome concerns about the narrow focus of adjunct courses (James, 2006a, p. 82; Zarei and Rahimi, 2014, p. 10). Learners first watched an input video and then completed two tasks which they posted to a virtual learning environment (VLE) (easyclass). They then gave and received peer feedback and finally tutor feedback was given by way of a summary.
Data collection and analysis
Semi-structured interviews (Kvale, 1996, p. 124) were conducted during April 2021 via Microsoft Teams and lasted between thirty and forty minutes. Green (2015, p. 9) argues that students themselves are best placed to decide whether or not transfer has taken place since subject tutors may not have a full knowledge of what is being taught on EAP courses. Furthermore, students would know how much of the content was new and what factors helped or hindered them in transferring knowledge. Therefore, interviewing learners was an appropriate data collection method for this study.
Quantitative interviews are closely linked to the aims of the researcher while qualitative ones focus on uncovering the perspectives of participants (Kvale 1996, pp. 129-130; Roulston, 2014, p. 297; Weiss, 1994, p. 1). In semi-structured interviews, the interviewer follows a set of prompts but explores ideas brought up by participants. These interviews, therefore, allowed for a balance between the research aims and the opportunity to explore the perspectives of participants.
The interview prompts related to both LT and more general pedagogical points such as participants perceptions of the length of the course. These latter points were deemed important as they will have affected learners’ understanding of the concepts and, therefore, their ability to use them.
Interviews were transcribed verbatim including pauses, false starts, emphatic and tentative stress and intonation using a modified version of the convention in Walsh (2006, p. 165). While somewhat affecting readability, the inclusion of these aspects was deemed important to account for the participants’ intended meaning.
The interview transcripts were analysed inductively through a process associated with grounded theory (Auerbach and Silverstein, 2003, pp. 31-73). Each transcript was read for repeating ideas which were grouped together with similar ideas from other transcripts. These ideas were then grouped into themes which were put together into ‘more abstract concepts’ (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003, p. 67) known as constructs. This process allowed the data to dictate the direction of the analysis (Thornberg & Charmaz, 2014, pp. 156-157) while allowing links to be made between the ideas expressed by participants and those in the literature in the final stage (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003, p. 67). This allowed for a balance between accurately representing participants’ perspectives and a focus on the research aims and relevant ideas in the literature.
All of the quotes in this study are presented as spoken by the participants, including the original grammar.
Seven constructs in total emerged from the data. One related to learners’ perception of their ability to apply content from the writing course to the CertTESOL assignments and other contexts and six related to factors which helped and hindered application. This section will outline these constructs and their constituent themes.
Results related to the occurrence of near and far transfer
One construct emerged comprised of three themes related to the first research question.
Construct 1: Occurrence of near and far transfer with some issues
Theme 1: Trainees able to use writing course content in the CertTESOL assignments
Theme 2: Trainees have difficulty with the application of some aspects of the course
Theme 7: Use of course content beyond the CertTESOL
All the participants were able to use the writing course content in the CertTESOL assignments. With regards to the writing course content in general, Caitlyn, for example, mentioned:
it supports me to finish the writing on the CertTESOL.
Participants also mentioned specific content they were able to use. The most commonly mentioned were the use of a formal register (seven participants), logical paragraph structure (six participants), and functional phrases from the assignments (six participants).
However, some experienced difficulties with application of certain content. Roberta, for example, identified one aspect she found difficult to apply:
the turn against and turn back I feel like it’s so difficult to write those two parts.
This more advanced paragraph structure was mentioned by five participants as an area of difficulty. The next most common was the use of formal register (three participants).
Seven participants were able to use some of the content in other contexts. Sandy, for example, used an argumentative paragraph structure taught on the course in her work emails.
Four participants mentioned using this structure outside the course. Four also mentioned applying a more formal register when writing and two the use of functional language such as discussing alternative teaching approaches.
Results related to factors which assisted and hindered transfer
Six constructs relating to factors which helped and hindered participants in applying content from the writing course emerged from the data. While some of the constructs comprise themes where participants did not explicitly link positive and negative aspects of the course to transfer, they were still deemed to be relevant to the research aims, especially as they were linked to ideas related to LT in the literature. These links are explored in the discussion section of this paper.
Construct 1: Three aspects which encouraged transfer
Theme 3: Aspects of the writing course which helped with application
Theme 4: Aspects of the CertTESOL which helped with application
Theme 5: Personal aspects which helped with application
Theme 14: Difficulties with application
Participants described how aspects of the writing course, CertTESOL, and those related to them personally encouraged transfer.
With regards to the writing course, task similarity (seven participants) helping to ‘build a bridge’ (Charlotte) between the two contexts and temporal proximity (six participants) were perceived as particularly useful, for example:
you just learn it and you can apply it to Cert assignments. (Sandy)
On the CertTESOL, participants were able to notice opportunities to use the writing course content, with five mentioning this. Sandy - referring to the content in general - was particularly explicit:
it can also be directly used in the assignment in Cert assignment so … I think um … if there is any percentage of matching for that’s 100%.
Four received positive feedback or outcomes when they used this content. Roberta, for example, linked using functional language with her grades for the assignments:
I … used the … um sentence structures when I did the assignment and I got a very good … score.
When participants had a self-perceived need or difficulty which the writing course supported, they also linked this to application of the content. Six mentioned this, as illustrated by the quote below from Henry:
before this is uh I wrote things like I just write out whatever comes to my mind first and now with the logic and paragraph structures and the registers I will think what uh what should I say first then what should I say next.
Three participants experienced issues when some of the content came too late in the course to enable them to apply it to certain assignments. Rachel, for example, noted the problems caused by content on citations coming later in the course:
I also quoted a sentence from a website that I that time I didn’t realize that I didn’t write the cite the citations you know from where from … from where from whom and then didn’t write it so and then one the tutor pointed that is against the pla … giarism.
The two participants who had previously studied in anglophone countries found the content on citations less useful as this was not new to them.
Construct 2: Advantages and disadvantages of an online, asynchronous course
Theme 9: Online learning leads to more processing time
Theme 10: Advantages of an online, asynchronous course
Theme 11: Disadvantages of an online, asynchronous course
Five participants found the ability to work at their own pace with the input useful to their understanding of the course content in general. Catherine, for example, noted:
if I … I didn’t understand anything and I could pause and take notes.
Eight were also positive about the flexibility associated with an online asynchronous course. On the other hand, three participants expressed the desire for more synchronous interaction with peers and immediate teacher feedback to better understand certain concepts.
Construct 3: Useful elements of the course
Theme 8: Useful elements of the course
Participants mentioned aspects of the course which they found useful. This differs from Construct 1 in that participants did not explicitly link the usefulness with application of the writing course content in the CertTESOL assignments. Seven participants mentioned the process of input-tasks-peer feedback as useful, as illustrated by the following quote from Caitlyn:
first check … my understanding and then help me to apply what I’ve learned into your writing assignment and the third one usually … how to say it’s kind of extensive oh so encourage us to think more.
There were no other clear patterns of aspects perceived as useful. However, others mentioned included guided analysis of sample texts (two participants), the online videos (three participants) and other reference materials provided during the course (two participants).
Construct 4: Desire for more depth
Theme 6: Desire for more depth
When discussing content they had been unable to apply to the CertTESOL assignments, many participants expressed the desire for more input (five participants) or practice (six participants), for example:
the logic part is mm is more difficult for me to grasp that content uh … and definitely needs more practice and more input. (Molly)
There was also a desire for more examples (five participants). Henry linked this strongly to application of more advanced paragraph structures:
the examples were not enough for me to understand exactly how to use it.
Construct 5: Mostly useful feedback
Theme 12: Differing experiences with peer feedback
Theme 13: Useful tutor feedback but with the desire for more personalized feedback
Peer and tutor feedback were mostly perceived as useful with some caveats. Giving peer feedback was mentioned as useful by eight participants, although four mentioned struggling with this initially. All of these participants mentioned exposure to others’ ideas and/or use of content as a benefit of giving feedback, for example:
Like how they … wrote the uh paraphrases uh paraGRAPHS and it also gave me some suggestions. (Roberta)
Six participants mentioned receiving peer feedback as useful. However, two participants were dissatisfied with the focus of the feedback. Sandy mentioned:
some of them are … helpful but some of … them some of them isn’t quite really focused on the topic.
Tutor feedback by way of a summary was seen as useful by three participants as it helped confirm their ideas about their peers’ work. Molly noted:
I wasn’t sure am I right but from your summary I could see that oh … uh who which point of view is good and oh why another point is not.
Sandy also mentioned using the tutor summary to identify good examples of her peers’ writing:
you will uh mention some people’s good like good writing part and I will learn from that.
However, three participants expressed the desire for more personalized tutor feedback.
Construct 6: Disadvantages of temporal proximity
Theme 15: General preference for the writing course to start before the CertTESOL
Theme 16: Time and other issues with the two courses running simultaneously
There was general satisfaction from the participants from Course 1 with the writing course starting before the CertTESOL (five participants) and a desire from the participants from Course 2 for the course to start earlier (two participants). Of these participants, five linked this to time management concerns.
Similarly, six participants raised time-related concerns related to the two courses running simultaneously.
Below, the relevance of the results to the course under investigation, L2ESTs taking TCCs and EAP writing instruction more generally, is discussed. Each of the constructs is discussed in turn.
Occurrence of near and far transfer with some issues
This study found that an adjunct academic writing course led to LT to the target context. This is shown by the consistency with which participants mentioned the use of content from the writing course in their CertTESOL assignments. This finding is in line with Snow and Brinton (1988) and Abebe (2013), with both studies noting the effect of adjunct courses on language use in students’ disciplinary study.
Seven of the participants spoke about using the content of the writing course outside of the CertTESOL. This shows transfer outside of the target context by a majority of the participants, running contrary to the assertion of James (2006a, p. 82). One potential reason for this is the focus on more abstract principles - such as which elements are necessary to build a logical argument - followed by repeated practice in line with Perkins and Salomon (1992, pp. 6-9). The since-then-because argument structure (Mitchell & Riddle, 2000) mentioned by Sandy was applied in different ways throughout the course, for example in writing an explanation for learners’ errors and justifying why one teaching approach was more appropriate than another. This structure was noted by six participants as something they had used in the target context and by four participants in other contexts. A possible reason for this is the way in which its use was repeated. In contrast, the more advanced paragraph structure mentioned by Roberta was taught towards the end of the course and not recycled in the same way. Participants struggled to use this concept on the CertTESOL and it was not used in other contexts. This further points to the importance of this repetition of content.
Two of the three participants who had not used any of the content outside of the course were the two participants with a low grade profile. This suggests that there is some correlation between a learner’s performance and their ability to transfer content. The implication for teaching is that lower performing learners may need more support identifying where and how they can apply content than their higher performing peers.
There is a suggestion, then, that adjunct courses can overcome concerns that their focus is too narrow by teaching general principles (such as the function of hedging language) and their specific application in the target context (for example making findings from a science experiment more tentative). This aligns with Perkins and Salomon’s (1992, p. 6) point about how general and local knowledge work together to enable application.
Three aspects which encouraged transfer
The occurrence of LT noted above seems to have been encouraged by factors in the learning context, target context, and those related to learners themselves.
With regards to the learning context, the link between transfer and task similarity, in contrast to Green (2015, p. 9), is an indication of the effectiveness of hugging (Perkins & Salomon, 1992, p. 10). In line with Barnett and Ceci (2002, p. 623), participants found the ability to apply content to the target context immediately through temporal proximity useful. Participants did not touch on the use of content from the CertTESOL on the writing course as a factor encouraging transfer. Nevertheless, task similarity would have been impossible without the content also being aligned. This can, therefore, also be seen as a factor encouraging transfer. Further investigation is needed, however, to ascertain the direct influence of this factor on transfer.
In the target context, participants’ awareness of how content from the writing course could be used in the CertTESOL assignments suggests the existence of action opportunities (Greeno et al., 1993) in the target context and their recognition by learners. This recognition is described as ‘crucial’ by Larsen-Freeman (2013, p. 117) and it is quite possible that it was aided by the use of hugging. The positive feedback and outcomes mentioned by participants when using the writing course content also suggest the existence of a transfer climate (James, 2010, pp. 134-135) in the target context.
In the courses described by Abebe (2013) and Snow and Brinton (1988) subject tutors had a role in deciding the EAP course content. In the present study, the author took the roles of writing and course tutor and sought input from other course tutors on the content. This is likely to have led to action opportunities and the use of the course content by learners being well received by course tutors contributing to a transfer climate in the target context. Green’s (2015, p. 9) argument that subject tutors have a role in creating an environment conducive to the use of EAP content seems to give them the responsibility to create a transfer climate and assist learners to recognize action opportunities. It could also be argued that EAP course designers and teachers have a responsibility to understand the expectations of disciplinary tutors so that they can increase the likelihood that the opportunities to use EAP content exist and its use will be well received in students’ disciplines. The successful transfer that occurred when this understanding of expectations informed course design in the present study adds weight to this argument.
When learners perceived the content of the writing course as meeting their needs or helping them to overcome difficulties or weaknesses this also encouraged transfer. This is consistent with similar findings in James (2006a, pp. 796-797). This point is further emphasized by the problems caused when learners had a need which was not met. The common difficulties faced by similar groups of learners in the written assignments on previous CertTESOL courses were considered in the design of the syllabus. The relative success in meeting learners’ needs was likely because of this consideration. LT from EAP courses to students’ disciplines more generally, therefore, may be encouraged by syllabus design taking account of the specific difficulties they face in their disciplinary study.
The way in which the course content met the needs of participants overall shows that the addition of an adjunct writing course seems to have been useful for the L2ESTs who participated in this study. This addition, therefore, represents one way in which TCCs can be altered to better suit their needs. The finding regarding the less useful nature of the content on citations to the participants who had previously studied in anglophone countries, though, emphasizes how the content of such courses must be based on the specific needs of specific groups of trainees.
Advantages and disadvantages of an online, asynchronous course
Based on the points above, it is important to note that a full understanding of concepts is necessary for their application. This can be challenging when learners are encountering ideas quite different from those in their home academic cultures. For example, paragraph structure (Zhang, 2011, p. 46) and ideas around citation (Hu & Lei, 2012, p. 818) are quite different in Chinese and anglophone academic culture. In this regard, the delivery of the input through online videos seems to have worked well. Participants’ general positivity about this online input and the way in which it allowed them to work at their own pace is consistent with previous research (e.g., Butt, 2014; Nouri, 2016). However, this method of processing concepts is very much individual. Korthagen (1999) differentiates internally and externally oriented people. The former prefer to process ideas by themselves while the latter prefer to do so through interaction. It is possible that the participants who expressed a desire for more interaction fall into the latter category. A flipped classroom approach (Nouri, 2016, p. 2; Walker, 2014, p. 320), where students work on the understanding of concepts independently online before interaction and practice in a face-to-face class, would allow for both independent and interactive processing of ideas, hopefully leading to a deeper understanding of challenging concepts.
Useful elements of the course
Participants’ perception of the usefulness of the process by which they received input on and checked their understanding of concepts and then applied them is a further indication that general understanding followed by specific application (Perkins & Salomon, 1992, pp. 8-10) is beneficial to transfer.
Desire for more depth
The importance of effective input is further emphasized by the desire that participants expressed for more when they did not fully understand a concept and, thus, were not able to apply it. Similarly, the desire for more practice with content they felt unable to apply emphasizes its importance. Another benefit of a flipped classroom approach is that class time can be spent on the practice in diverse situations recommended by Perkins and Salomon (1992, p. 6).
The desire for more examples is evidence of the usefulness of learners seeing how concepts have been applied by others in order to use them in their own writing.
Mostly useful feedback
Participants found giving peer feedback particularly useful. This is in line with Rouhi and Azizian (2013, p. 1353) who found that students felt giving peer feedback was more useful than receiving it. Giving feedback allowed students to see and analyze more examples of the application of course content. This likely to led to a greater understanding of the content and, as noted above, this is necessary for its application. There is also an indication that, consistent with Zhao (2014, pp. 157-158), tutor mediation of peer feedback helped to make it more useful and alleviate some of the issues associated with it.
Another benefit of the online nature of these courses was the availability of multiple examples of peers’ writing on the VLE. However, only one participant explicitly mentioned making use of this. Given the benefit of seeing more examples of application of concepts noted above, this is something that could be utilized more on future iterations of the course. In a more general EAP context, this could be extremely beneficial. If students come from different disciplines, access to each other’s work would mean being able to see how concepts are used in a variety of different contexts, possibly leading to recognition of opportunities to use the content in further contexts.
It must be acknowledged that, as practicing teachers, participants already had experience in giving feedback. It is likely that, in a more general EAP context, issues with both giving and receiving peer feedback would be more pronounced and students would require more training to give useful feedback.
Disadvantages of temporal proximity
While the benefit of temporal proximity for transfer has been outlined above, the participants’ time-related concerns raise an important point. It may be true that rich input, practice, and analysis of examples will be beneficial to transfer, but, in order for this to be effective, the amount of work must be reasonable for students to complete in the time available. This is especially true on an adjunct course running alongside students’ subject classes.
This study found that learners were able to apply content from an adjunct writing course to and beyond the assignments on a TCC. It has suggested that temporal proximity, task similarity, and a syllabus design based on the linguistic requirements of the assignments, the needs of the learners, and the expectations of course tutors contributed to near transfer, while a focus on general principles and extensive practice may have led to far transfer to other contexts. The positive results of this study also suggest that similar writing courses would be a useful addition to TCCs in which the majority of trainees are L2 English speakers.
Implications for EAP writing instruction include the desirability of a focus on the understanding of general principles and practice of specific application. This focus would be useful in adjunct and other ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes) courses which wish to encourage transfer outside the target context and EGAP courses where the transfer distance to students’ disciplinary study is further. To this end, a flipped classroom approach would allow for full understanding to be reached and class time to be spent on extensive practice. A possible area for further investigation is how such a course would work in practice. Where possible, temporal proximity, task similarity, and syllabus design which accounts for the linguistic needs and difficulties of students in their disciplines and the expectations of subject tutors would also likely encourage transfer.
Some limitations must be acknowledged. The small sample size means the findings must be treated with some care. The backgrounds, personalities, education, and experiences of this group will have affected the findings. Related to this point, it must be noted that the sample was fairly homogenous in terms of age, gender, and nationality. Furthermore, the context of the courses under investigation was quite different from the average EAP course. Further investigation is, therefore, required to see if a similar adjunct course would lead to near and far transfer in the same way in other contexts. In terms of the appropriateness of running an adjunct writing course alongside TCCs, the courses ran alongside part-time TCCs. Running a similar course alongside a four-week, full-time intensive course would prove extremely problematic. One possible solution would be to run a preparatory writing course ahead of the certificate course. It would be interesting to see the effect of this given the difference in temporal proximity. Also, L2ESTs made up the majority of trainee teachers in this context and they all had the same first language. Further investigation would be needed to see the effect of a similar course if it ran alongside a TCC in which L2ESTs were a minority or one which was made up of speakers of different first languages.
Despite these limitations, the present study has made some significant findings regarding how both near and far transfer can be encouraged on EAP writing courses as well as adding to the understanding of how TCCs can be adapted to suit the needs of L2ESTs. These findings can inform teaching practice and their applicability in other contexts can form the basis for further research.