21 September 2023

Unlocking the power of EMI: Leveraging English as a Medium of Instruction for Academic Success Webinar

AUN Writer Team

By Monsupa Songmuang, AUN Intern

The Unlocking the Power of EMI: Leveraging English as a Medium of Instruction for Academic Success webinar was held on 13 September 2023 with Dr. Pamela Humphreys, Director of Macquarie University College and Director and Chairperson of the Macquarie EMI Centre, as the keynote speaker. The webinar was organised into three main sections:

  • Internationalisation and the Role of English
  • The challenges in transitioning to EMI
  • Pathways to Successful Implementation of EMI

The first section “Internationalisation and the Role of English” aimed to provide relevant background knowledge while the third section provided the solutions to the challenges mentioned previously in the second section and how to successfully implement the EMI framework.

Beginning with Internalisation and the Role of English, Dr. Humphreys started off by contrasting the definitions of internationalisation from 1991 to 2015, which, in her own words, “showed that the idea of internationalisation has really moved on” from being just “the process of integrating an international dimension into the teaching/learning, research and service functions of a university (Knight, 1991, p.3)” to being “an intentional process of integrating an international and intercultural dimension into the teaching, research, and service functions of the institution to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society” (de Wit et al., 2015, p.281). The speaker then pointed out that EMI is usually the “policy response” to internationalisation which, in itself, could be a useful tool. 

Moving on to the meaning of EMI, Dr. Humphreys stated that “EMI is the use of the English language to teach academic subjects (other than English itself) in countries or jurisdictions where the first language (L1) of the majority of the population is not English.” (Macaro, 2018, p.19). She also clarified that there were several notable acronyms such as EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). The main difference between these is the aim of each method; whereas EAP’s primary aim is to utilise the content as a vehicle for language learning, EMI, in its purest form, should not explicitly focus on language learning, but on the content. Then, there is CLIL which focuses on both content and language simultaneously.

To further add to the significance of EMI, Dr. Humphreys pointed out that the growth of English-taught programmes outside of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, according to a survey done by the British Council in 2021, has grown exponentially for more than 77% from 2017 to 2021.

Diving into the challenges of transitioning to EMI, Dr. Humphreys started off with the expected benefits of adopting the EMI framework that is supposed to help drive internationalisation, attract international students and academics, increase ranking and revenue, improve English Language Proficiency (ELP) among citizens, and support employability, mobility or even nation building. However, if the EMI framework is implemented poorly, Dr. Humphreys contended, it could result in a double negative for both instructors and students. For examples;

  • Policies are drafted without engaging with realistic impacts on stakeholders.
  • Students’ performances are not recognised or tracked.
  • Educators are faced with limited resources for training and development.
  • Insufficient ELP leads to content being “dumped down”.

With the potential challenges in mind, Dr. Humphreys turned our attention to “Pathways to successful EMI implementation." First and foremost, the speaker presented the characteristics of a “successful” implementation of EMI in an ideal world which are the following;

  • EMI policies in different education institutions are supportive of key stakeholders.
  • Students’ performances are assessed effectively and with continuous monitoring.
  • Levels of ELP in both students and educators are considered with appropriate training available if needed.
  • The expected outcomes of the transition to EMI are set realistically with a thorough and organised plan of implementation.
  • “No ‘English-only’ policy; multilingualism and Translanguaging are embraced”.

Dr. Humphreys then discussed the key components of a “successful” implementation of EMI which are “Translanguaging and Multilingualism”. She emphasised the deliberate and planned utilisation of more than one language in a class environment. Then, Dr. Humphreys moved on to discuss the role of Translanguaging in EMI which highlights “the use of the speaker’s entire linguistic repertoire to maximise communication”. An example from the book "How to Have a guilt-free Life Using Cantonese in the English Class" by Kirkpatrick, Swain & Cummins (2011) was also brought up to emphasise how different languages do not occupy different areas of the brain but rather should be used simultaneously to communicate. This method of using more than one language in a sense is called Pedagogical translanguaging. The speaker then presented that this pedagogical approach recognises the uses of all languages available and that there are no “English-only” restrictions. In fact, the E in EMI does not refer exclusively to the English language and that EMI teachers are not merely English-language experts.

Moreover, there are various benefits to Pedagogical translanguaging including increased student engagement with both the content and instructors, improved “rapport” and interpersonal interactions, and more effective assessments.

Moving forward to the section that Dr. Humphreys considered it to be the most essential—when to use Pedagogical translanguaging. She suggested that there are different stages of instruction in which various pedagogical approaches can be implemented which are listed below;

  • Content inputs (lectures, presentations, teaching terminology)
  • Processing (student group projects, workshops, discussions)
  • Output (student presentations, mid-term reports, project updates, written plan)
  • Assessment (formative or summative)

Dr. Humphreys also commented that the input stage is perhaps where translanguaging is most useful to employ to further help students engage with the content. Then, instructors could work towards the following steps.

For the input stage, the speaker suggested using the flipped classroom method which required instructors to provide recorded lectures for students to watch before class and to use class time for practical tasks and in-depth discussion. This could help address the lack of interaction in classes and workshops which were carried out mostly in English and also allow students to comprehend subject-specific terminology in English prior to the class.

The process stage of instruction could be enhanced using an active inquiry method which required students to conduct collaborative research projects in both. English and other languages and then share the multilingual results online. This could eliminate students’ hesitation to ask questions and reduce one-way transmission-style lectures which used to dominate the classroom.

Moving on to the output stage, Dr. Humphreys highlighted that the equilibrium between the emphasis on language and content needs to be maintained by having students work on maths/physics problems together in the language that they are most comfortable with and explain their solutions in English, or conduct research on a topic of their choice in their native language and then write an online summary in English. These activities can help to prevent any disproportionate emphasis on language or content alone which would have negatively impacted the results of the students’ work and comprehension.

Last but not least, the assessment stage calls for the availability of assessments in both the student’s own language and English whether in the form of an assignment plan in the student’s language of choice and the final product in English or students are given the choice to complete open-ended questions in their own language. This could minimise the excessive focus on the English language overshadowing the student’s demonstration of their comprehension of the subject content, and lessen the student’s anxiety which would have led to lowered final scores.

Progressing towards Transitioning to EMI: A Reflective Framework, Dr. Humphreys showcased the Macquarie EMI Reflective Framework developed by Macquarie EMI Centre which aims to “Promotes and supports quality teaching practices and professional knowledge for teachers across diverse teaching contexts: primary, secondary, tertiary education.” and “Promote continuing professional development”. The framework consists of six learning and teaching domains addressed by Macquarie University EMI Centre’s teacher development programs including;

  • Literature, Theory, and Standards
  • Lesson Planning
  • Classroom Management
  • Supporting Learners
  • Monitoring Learning
  • Reflecting on Practice

Furthermore, the three stages that encompass the development of teaching practices and professional knowledge are Establishing, Advancing, and Mastering.

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The Macquarie EMI Reflective Framework was developed using various sources mainly Macquarie University College Teaching Excellence Framework, Cambridge English Teaching Framework Competency Statement, and English Australia CPD Framework which laid the foundation for The Macquarie EMI Reflective Framework.

In the last part of the webinar, Dr. Humphreys introduced the Macquarie English Medium Instruction (EMI) Centre. Deemed globally as the first of its kind, the Macquarie EMI Centre opened its doors in October of 2021 and was endorsed by NEAS (National ELT Accreditation Scheme) as an EMI provider in 2023, the same year that the centre also won a national award for innovation. Macquarie EMI Centre offers professional development for EMI teachers in Australia or in-country. It also provides an array of online professional learning modules alongside an annual global EMI symposium.

This year’s annual EMI symposium Adapting to Multilingual Learners in EMI and CLIL classrooms will be held on 27 September 2023, registration is open and available here.