A phenomenological ethnographic study of Chinese college English teachers' transition from teaching English for general purposes to teaching English for academic purposes

Yulong LI

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


The first policy concerning the introduction of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) at Chinese tertiary institutes was published in 2013 by the Shanghai Education Bureau in China (Shanghai Education Bureau, 2013). Almost all the tertiary institutions in Shanghai were asked to overhaul the original English for General Purposes (EGP) pedagogy for non-English major students into an EAP pedagogy. However, this reform is of such a large scale that it incurred fierce debates. One of these debates was over a concern about the quality of college English teachers, e.g., some scholars believed that university instructors were not properly prepared to carry out the reforms (Borg & Liu, 2013; Cheng, 2016). EAP research articles published in China (ibid.) have mainly focused on debating the feasibility of reforms, yet there are few empirical studies investigating the experience of teachers of EAP. Likewise, few such empirical studies have emerged internationally (Ding & Campion, 2016; Bruce, 2017; Ding, 2017). The existing handful of studies exploring EAP teachers development (e.g., Post, 2010; Alexander, 2012, 2013; Campion, 2012, 2016; Martin, 2014) are subject to a number of significant limitations: they have obtained data mainly from interviews or questionnaires; they have marginalised the researcher(s), who played the role of an outsider, and they have neglected the impact of the identity of the researcher(s) on the research outcomes; they were mainly conducted in the UK only (Ding & Campion, 2016). As the universities in the world are more or less influenced by neo-liberalism emphasizing improving the students’ job hunting rate (Hadley, 2015), many EAP teachers have been treated as “subacademics” (Ding, 2017) or “student-processing-units” (Hadley, 2015). EAP teachers’ voices were almost unheard and their professional development were less known (Bruce, 2017; Ding, 2017; Ding & Bruce, 2017); thus, it is the responsibility of the EAP researchers to speak for such “forgotten” community (ibid.). EAP theories should also include contributions from more diversified contexts in order to further evolve and guide more practitioners in different cultures (Bruce, 2017). This study therefore aims to address these gaps, both in China and worldwide. Thus, the present study aims not only to obtain a thorough understanding of the transition of EAP teachers (from EGP pedagogy to EAP pedagogy), but also to reinterpret such a transition in an anthropological way, adopting a phenomenological ethnography to investigate the EAP teachers’ pedagogical transition. The current research has revealed that the investigated teachers’ knowledge of EAP is eclectic in nature; however, their eclectic knowledge of EAP to some extent overlapped with the concepts of EAP described by current mainstream EAP theorists (e.g., Li & Wang, 2016). Moreover, the Chinese EAP teachers had a distinct understanding of the key differences between EGP and EAP. The transition from EGP to EAP was perceived to fulfil the teachers’ educational ideals, helping them to overcome their career crises. Moreover, the participant teachers’ transition from EGP pedagogy to EAP pedagogy was a process of self-growth; EAP stimulated the teachers to become researchers developing visions for research at home and abroad. The teachers under investigation clearly identified the potential problems and challenges they encountered when implementing the Shanghai EAP reform policy in relation to a range of factors, including student motivation, teacher training, resources, policy of pedagogical transition from EGP to EAP issued by Shanghai Education Bureau, and the philosophy underpinning the EAP course. Current study enriches the limited international literature in researching EAP teacher community, particularly the EAP teachers from outside the UK, providing the readers an etic and emic picture of the participant teachers’ experiences, returning the readers reflexivity, realism, histories, and contexts, in which these teachers are embded. Such anthropological manner of the research is closer to the everyday life of the EAP teachers; therefore, the innovation of research methodology (combining ethnography and phenomenology) is a successful trial in the research of EAP teachers. The proactive, critical, innovative, and resilient characters established by the four EAP teachers defied the suspicion posed by the local and international scholars. They set up examples for other EAP teachers in the world facing similar crisis in the tide of neoliberalism. The participant teachers’ perception and knowledge of EAP contribute and extend the scope of EAP theories from a Chinese perspective. The teachers’ responses to the Shanghai EAP policy also revelt some potential problems in the policy which could be constructive for the policymakers. At the end of this study, a set of suggestions for updating EAP theories emerge, with the potential to prepare their EAP students, optimise EAP pedagogy, and refine EAP policy, as well as coordinate resources for EAP. These suggestions are not only useful for the stakeholders of the Shanghai EAP reform but they may also be informative for all EAP practitioners. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • WANG, Lixun 王立勛, Supervisor
  • STAPLETON, Paul, Supervisor
  • CHIN, Chi On, Andy 錢志安, Supervisor
Award date06 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • EAP
  • College English teachers
  • Pedagogic transition
  • Teacher professionalism
  • English language -- Study and teaching -- Foreign speakers.
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ph.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2017.


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