The need to integrate both content and language instruction in the contexts of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is widely advocated for. Even though such courses, referred to as Content Based Instruction (CBI), place heavy demands on instructors, they seem to benefit learners in a number of ways. In addition, they have the underlying assumption that the needs of the target audience are considered in all aspects of course development. This would do away with what Hutchinson and Waters (1987, 2009) term ad hoc course development designs. Furthermore, it is generally agreed that reading is a fundamental means of acquiring new information and that there is a strong correlation between reading and academic performance (Grabe and Stoller, 2013). This, as well as the researcher’s expertise and interest in academic reading, prompted the development of an English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) reading course, based on principles of CBI instruction, to respond to criticisms against ad hoc course development at the Language Centre (LC) at the University of Namibia (UNAM) in a practical way and not just simply implement theoretical ideologies (Arendale, 2002) or follow the default solution to use remedies that had worked elsewhere, without considering local contexts (Weideman, 2013).
As the LC provides Academic Literacy (AL) support to the entire UNAM student population, a sample of first-year students from the School of Medicine became the target audience for the development of an adjunct reading course. A thorough needs analysis identified the target course as Biochemistry 1 and the target topic as Stereochemistry.
One of the core objectives of this study was to develop a mixed-methods, action research methodological model for the design of academic reading courses for specific subject fields. In doing so, the principles of CBI adjunct course development as suggested by Brinton et al. (1989), as well as suggestions for the development of adjunct courses (Andrade & Makaafi, 2001; Arendale, 2002; Brinton et al., 1989; Evans Commander & Smith, 1995) were considered. In addition, three main prototypes, Hutchinson and Waters (1987; 2009)’s framework for establishing learning needs, Grabe and Stoller’s (2011) generic reading framework for conducting action research with the focus on academic reading and
Onwuegbuzie and Dickinson’s (2007) 10 step PMARS Process for mixed methods action research were surveyed. By combining relevant elements from these models, but also by addressing certain perceived lacks in the above mentioned prototypes, a generic 17-step model to design academic reading courses for specific fields using mixed methods action research was designed. The model is named Mixed Methods Academic Action Reading Research (MMAARR). Subsequently, a very specific EAP adjunct reading course, comprising of an intensive as well as an extensive component to assist the target audience to cope with the academic reading demands of the target topic, Stereochemistry, was developed, implemented and evaluated. The insights offered here can also be applied to other aspects of academic literacy.
Ten research questions (and sub questions) and one hypothesis were developed to conduct the current research reported on in six phases, namely exploration, needs analysis, setting criteria for developing the new reading course, developing the reading programme, evaluating the reading programme and reflection. By employing pragmatism as a worldview, a more complete understanding of the research problem was aimed for.
Furthermore, the study has contributed to the on-going discussion about the challenges encountered by EAP practitioners that are not content experts. Very little research has been carried out in this regard (Alexander, 2008). To this effect, this study emphasises the need for EAP instructor training, in particular LC instructor in-service training, in order to conduct action research, to design, implement and evaluate EAP courses, in particular academic reading courses. It also underscores the reality that EAP lecturers cannot conduct ESAP courses in isolation and require good collaboration with content lecturers. In addition, no previous study on establishing the reading needs for stereochemistry anywhere in the world could be traced, another reason for the significance of this study. In this process, this study has addressed the mistaken view that science instruction is monolithic.
This research only presents an initial step in finding solutions to LC course development at UNAM, and has been subjected to various limitations. However, the study concludes with several suggestions for further studies, especially in context of the current study.