Malaysian Tertiary Students' Perceptions of Constructive Alignment in Learning in EAP Classrooms: A Qualitative Study
English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is offered as a course in many Malaysian institutions of higher learning. In contrast with English taught at secondary schools, at the tertiary level EAP courses primarily cater to learners’ language needs that arise from learning in a range of disciplines, in the workplace, and eventually in the wider society. This study explores 12 Malaysian tertiary students’ perceptions of how learning takes place in EAP classrooms during reading activities. Biggs’ Constructive Alignment framework and the 3P model (Presage, Process and Product) provide a theoretical framework. The research investigates how students’ factors in learning and the tasks given in the classrooms align with the students’ views of outcomes in learning and by considering the constructive alignment of the student factors, the task and the outcomes (the presage, process and product stages), it is possible to see the potential for deep approaches to learning and to consider whether that potential is realised in particular tasks. This study uses a single embedded explanatory case, consisting of 12 Malaysian tertiary students from three EAP classrooms in a public university in Malaysia. The data collection methods used for this study were semi-structured interviews, stimulated recall interviews and students’ written samples of EAP tasks undertaken in the three classrooms. The tasks were adapted from an EAP workbook used at the university. The data were analysed using Braun and Clarke’s thematic analysis. An analytic tool was created using Biggs’ and Collis’ SOLO Taxonomy to ascertain the potential of the tasks to allow a deep approach to learning. The findings of this study showed the complexity of the learning process among these learners in the academic English classroom. The findings showed that the learners did not see the alignment between the presage, process and product stages. In the presage and process stages, the findings showed that there were multiple factors such as background, motives for learning, anxiety in learning, topic and content interests, and prior knowledge that influenced the learners’ engagement with the tasks. Motives for learning were particularly important since the other factors either influenced or were influenced by them. Further, these factors also influenced students’ perceived outcomes of learning in the EAP classroom. In the process and product stages, the students reported that they found the content taught in class did not align with their motives for learning. They also said that they had difficulties seeing the transfer of learning from the content taught in the EAP classroom to their other subjects at the university. Although the students showed some interest and engagement with the reading tasks in the classroom, the lack of alignment could contribute to a surface motive for learning in the EAP classroom. This study also found that a process of internal compromise took place within the learners to adapt themselves to the learning situations in the EAP classroom which was clearly evident in their responses to the reading tasks in the classroom as well as in their opinions about learning in academic English as a whole. Biggs’ concept that learning takes place within a system is particularly important in EAP courses where the learning should be designed to transfer to students’ achievements in other subjects, in the workplace and beyond. An understanding of constructive alignment in EAP courses will enable EAP course designers, material writers and EAP instructors to use this powerful tool to support the achievement of the aims of EAP courses. It also has implications for EAP educators when they consider the design of tasks in their courses and the issues that affect the potential for deep or surface approaches to learning.