English and business organization teacher collaboration in one Italian University context: the Mediterranean food-and-wine sciences and health degree

Written by: Eugenio Cianflone, Raffaella Coppolino, Giacomo Dugo,
University of Messina, Italy

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Introduction

State of the art in EFL teaching reckons the role of English as the international medium of communication and the need to account for specialised discourses and communicative practices to be spent once in the profession (Hyland, 2006, 2009; Solly, 2008). In university programmes, Content Based Instruction (CBI), that is blending foreign language and academic contents, can offer a suitable approach to meet such requests.

The aim of this note is to discuss how a project of EFL and Business Organization teachers’ collaboration  was put into practice within one specific university context:  the Mediterranean food-and-wine Sciences and Health Degree at the University of Messina, Italy.

To contextualize this ongoing experience, the present discussion will start with a description of the programme. It will, then, consider the project and sketch the educational impact  on students.

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Course Description

The Mediterranean food-and-wine Sciences and Health Degree is an undergraduate course set up in the academic year 2006/2007 among seven different faculties (Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, Biological Sciences, Pharmacy, Economics, Law, Political Sciences)[1], under the reform of HE promoted by the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research.

 [1] From the present academic year with the concourse of the Faculty of Agricultural Science (University of Reggio Calabria) 

The programme, pivoted on the study of food and food-related majors (e. g. human nutrition, food production and distribution, Mediterranean food-and-wine traditions, regional and niche products), consists of  foundation disciplines (e. g. general/organic/inorganic chemistry, biology), distinctive disciplines (e. g. microbiology, anatomy, lab analysis), cognate disciplines (e. g. business organization, food inspection, catering), optional disciplines (e. g. social history of food, mineral water specification) as well as economics, marketing, Italian and European regulations. It wants to train practitioners in food production and distribution, quality evaluation and control, hazard analysis and food inspection. It also intends to instruct experts interested in starting a career in catering, gourmet journalism, niche-food agents or spokesmen working for national and international agencies (University Website).

To give learners the right balance between theory and workplace practice, the syllabus, apart from lectures,  is developed around problem-based activities, case studies, seminars and a compulsory placement experience.

English classes (52 contact hours in the second semester of the freshman year,  targeted at the B1/B2 level of the Common European Framework) are scheduled in a context where mainstream lectures are given in Italian. The learning group consists of students reading the same majors, with mixed EFL proficiency levels, and still with secondary school study habits (Cianflone, 2010).

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The Project

The highly vocational learning context outlined above, asked the language teacher to regard English for academic and workplace purposes a priority. The former had to consider genres likely to be met for study purposes (e.g. the research article and the report), the latter had to account for specific genres to be used once in the profession (e. g. labeling  and food specifications – the identity card of quality foodstuff- and oral presentations).

To meet these educational needs, the first learning goal was to let students realize that English was not a subject to be read to pass an exam, but a medium of communication. Interdisciplinary collaboration, in the form of CBI classes, was deemed a suitable approach (Cianflone and Coppolino, 2009).

Implementation steps

The project was organized into two steps. The first phase was devoted to finding a common topic to be used by both educators. The chosen theme was the life cycle of organizations, otherwise known as Greiner’s model (1972). Greiner highlights that entrepreneurial activities undergo five stages from start-up to growth and to contingent decay/re-organization (see Appendix).

Both lecturers agreed on this common topic because either the English language syllabus and the Business Organization one contain hints on the growth of organisms; the former considers it a link with other majors, like Plant Biology, the latter, a useful metaphor to analyze organizational development.  Once the common topic was fixed on, a text in English was elaborated following three reference works: Daft (2007), Greiner (1972) and Sundarasaradula and Hasan (2005). This activity was of paramount importance to the project because texts have to be sound by a disciplinary point of view, and must bring educational benefits to ensure growth in foreign language proficiency (Perez Cañado and Almagro Esteban, 2005). The second step regarded lectures’ design.  Team members decided to deliver contents first in Italian (ca. 4 hrs), then in English (ca. 4  hrs) and, lastly, in two co-joined lectures (ca. 3 hrs each).

In the specific, the Business Organization teacher lectured in Italian on the chosen topic by paying attention to content and technical vocabulary. Some days later, the language teacher used the same topic by using the English text elaborated before. The EFL lecture was pivoted on the text’s overall comprehension, and on specific vocabulary and lexis. Once independent teaching modules were over, co-joined lectures started. Here  attention was paid to widen  students’ communication skills by encouraging revision of the topic in both languages, and by improving code-switching activities with general and specific questions on the different stages described by Greiner’s model (Fig. 1) and on examples taken from well known Italian and foreign companies.

The educational impact on students

Students’ responses to co-joined teaching were very peculiar. In the first lecture, they were curious but on their own, because of the novel situation. Then, ice began to melt and in the second and last meeting, students enjoyed co-joined teaching.

This way of lecturing caught students’ attention; they considered the materials very motivating and meaningful because of the link with their area of study.

By a linguistic point of view, the Business Organization topic was beneficial to EFL learning because students were given the opportunity of accessing specialized discourse and of developing communication skills.

EFL had a positive impact on Business Organization learning too. Learners had a deeper understanding of English nouns present in Italian as loans (e. g. management, leadership, reengineering) and how to use them in English communicative activities.

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Conclusion

Although this project is still in its piloting phase, results show that CBI is beneficial in many ways. It is in line with the educational aims put forward by the interfaculty programme. It is useful to students because purposeful activities improve language learning by exposure to relevant lexis, sentence structures and EFL language models. It is important to teachers because collaboration leads to personal and professional improvement.

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References

  • Cianflone E. (2010). What degree of specificity  for ESP Courses in EFL Contexts? Scripta Manent 5(1-2): 3-8.
  • Cianflone & Coppolino (2009). English for specific Purposes and Content Teacher collaboration: Report on a pilot Project. ESP World 8 (3): 1-8.
  • Daft R. L. (2007). Organization Theory and Design. Mason, Ohio: Thomson South-Western.
  • Greiner L. E. (1972). Evolution and Revolution as Organizations grows. Harvard Business Review 50: 37-46.
  • Hyland K. (2006). English for academic Purposes, an advanced resource Book. London: Routledge.
  • Hyland K. (2009). Academic Discourse. London: Continuum.
  • Mediterranean food-and-wine Sciences and Health (2007). Available at http://ww2.unime.it/sems
  • Perez Cañado M.L. & Almagro Esteban A. (2005). Authenticity in the teaching of ESP: An Evaluation Proposal. Scripta Manent 1(1): 35-43.
  • Solly  M. (2008). Implementing the Bologna Process in Italy: A distinctive Approach to Language Learning in domain-specific Contexts, in Fortanet-Gomez and Raisänen (Eds), ESP in European Higher Education: Integrating Language and Content. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Sundarasaradula and Hasan (2005). A unified open Systems Model for explaining organisational Change, in Hart D. and Gregor S. (Eds), Information System Foundations: Constructing and Criticising. ANU E Press. Available online at http://epress.anu.edu.au

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Acknowledgement

Authors want to thank the Course Coordinator, prof G. Di Bella, for having made the experimental co-joined lectures possible.

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