Exploring the ecosystem from within: An ecological approach to EAP curriculum design

Neil Adam Tibbetts


This paper links theory from Ecolinguistics (van Lier) and Academic literacy (Wingate) in the context of course design in EAP pathway programmes. It presents a case study where having learners explore their own learning ecosystem was enshrined as the explicit course aim and overarching theme. This was enacted in the context of an Academic English module on a pre-Masters programme for international students at the University of Southampton. Content, assessment and pedagogy were all tailored to establish ecological exploration as the fundamental, overarching principle in the course design. This paper reflects on the benefits of this approach as observed over four iterations of the module between 2015-19, contrasting the reception and practice of the revised conceptual model with the prior skills-based curriculum. It goes on to consider the potential of EAP informed by ecological thinking to empower learners in their transitions to be confident, active and interactive members of their specific community of practice. A key aim of pathway course then lies in developing learners’ awareness of their role and positioning as international pathway students in universities at a personal level, macro level (e.g. the global context, internationalisation of the academy) as well as at institutional level, encouraging our students to become confident, active and visible participants within the university itself.