Our history

ALL in Australia has a history going back at least to the 1970s.

While we now collectively refer to the field as Academic Language and Learning (ALL), this is a relatively recent terminology.

Behind the adoption of the ALL acronym – which occurred officially in 2005 with the formation of the Association – lies a rich history of development.

Alex Barthel, Annie Bartlett, Kate Chanock and Tim Moore, 2021
Origins of ALL field 1970s

note: this is a summary of the ALL history. A more detailed and comprehensive version can be found here.

The origins of our field and profession lie in that period of expansion in Australian higher education in the early 1970s, when students from non-traditional backgrounds first gained access to university study on a significant scale. These students included mature age students (often female), ‘first in family’ students, and some students from second language and migrant backgrounds. In such changes were the beginnings of a shift from a more elite university system – and one where it was left largely to students to find their own way through the challenges of tertiary education – to a more inclusive system, with institutions recognising a greater responsibility for the students they enrolled.

Organisationally, early ALL units and individuals constituted a diverse and disparate group, located in counselling centres, language centres, faculties, or (rarely) academic staff development units, and coming from backgrounds in a range of disciplines. Only a small number of these initial personnel were appointed as ALL staff per se, who went on to establish some of the early dedicated ALL centres within institutions.

Developmental approach 1980s

Their early work, asserting in Literacy by degrees (1988) that students’ learning of academic literacies was developmental, rather than remedial as their institutions supposed, did much to shape the nature of ALL work over the ensuing decades. Key figures included Brigid Ballard and John Clanchy at the Australian National University, Hanne Bock at La Trobe University, Lorraine Marshall at Murdoch University, Gordon Taylor at Monash University and Carolyn Webb at the University of Sydney.

Expansion of field late 1980s and 1990s

The period of the late 1980s and 1990s saw a significant expansion of our field. Suddenly, universities needed to get organised to properly support new cohorts of full fee-paying overseas students, with expanded resourcing of ALL provision (though never sufficient), and the entry of a new generation of professionals into the field. At some universities, where provision had previously been limited to a few practitioners, new dedicated centres were now created, enabling a more coordinated provision of services across faculties and departments.

Conceptualising the field 1990s

The concept of embedding ALL into the curriculum received its first widespread public consideration at a national conference organised by Kate Chanock and held at La Trobe University in 1994, the first of a series that became the biennial ALL conference. The theorising of the field that had occurred in the previous years, moving from ‘skills’ to ‘discourse’, was strongly evident in the event’s title: Integrating the teaching of academic discourse into courses in the disciplines.

Getting organised 1990s

The beginnings of networked communication among the group came with the creation of the national LAS Newsletter, inaugurated in 1994. This was replaced by the services of the Unilearn discussion list network, developed by John Grierson. It proved to be a fundamental plank in the development of a professional community. From 1998, Alex Barthel compiled and distributed an annual table of ALL centres at Australian universities, reporting on ALL staff numbers, their academic/general staff status and ALL staff to student ratios.

Professionalising the field 1990s

In 1995, a key ALL milestone statement emerged from the Bendigo Working Conference which defined the role of academic language and learning advisers. The Position of Academic Language and Learning Skills Advisers/Lecturers in Australian Universities 1995-1999, by Erst Carmichael, Margaret Hicks, Ursula McGowan and Anita van der Wahl, outlined the perspectives of advisers from nineteen Australian institutions. It was clearly articulated therein that the work of ALL educators (LAS advisers as they were then called) was developmental rather than remedial, and that the role of ALL educators was integral to improving the quality of teaching and learning in tertiary institutions. The occasion also saw the launch of a key publication, Academic skills advising: towards a discipline a collection of papers edited by Kate Chanock, Rosemary Clerehan and Mark Garner that laid out some of the theoretical and disciplinary underpinnings of the field.

Establishing AALL 2005 onwards

Ten years later the 2005 ALL Conference at ANU proved a watershed moment in the development of the ALL profession, as the foundations were laid for creating a professional association. Alex Barthel initiated and led the establishment of the Association for Academic Language and Learning (AALL), to provide an organisational body for the growing community of professionals around Australia who work with academics, and university students to enhance their learning and academic English.

A number of dedicated ALL professionals contributed to the forming of the Association and were pivotal in ensuring its success. These include AALL Life Members, Siri Barrett-Lennard, Annie Bartlett, Kate Chanock, Tim Moore and David Rowland.

Publishing JALL 2007

In 2007, the inaugural volume of the Journal of Academic Language and Learning (JALL) was published, providing a peer-reviewed scholarly journal promoting research in the field of academic language and literacy and related areas of interest.

Finalising ELSHE and AALL Position Statement 2010

In 2010, the English Language Standards for Higher Education (ELSHE) were submitted to the Commonwealth Government. The same year, Annie Bartlett finalised the current AALL Position Statement.

Establishing ICALLD 2009-2014

Bronwyn James and Rowena Harper drove the expansion of international networks, leading to the co-founding of the International Consortium of Academic Language and Learning Developers (2009-2014), ICALLD. The original Memorandum of Agreement can be accessed through this link.

Developing AALL into the future

Further developments have included a dedicated website, a social media presence, bi-annual competitive grants, regular scholarly and networking events. Through these, AALL continues to promote quality, diversity, internationalisation and flexibility in language and learning development, locally and globally.

The complete article:

Barthel, A., Bartlett, A., Chanock, K. and Moore, T. (2021). Changing identities: a history of Academic Language and Learning in Australia. Association for Academic Language and Learning

can be found here.