Situating Academic Writing within the Contemporary Curriculum

Situating Academic
Writing within the
Brid Delahunt, Moira Maguire, Ann Everitt-Reynolds & Frances Sheridan
Academic writing & the
– Current levels of concern about academic writing
standards suggest that our curricula may be failing to
effectively promote & develop these skills (Harwood and
Hardley 2004).
– Agreeing key skills does not guarantee appropriate
consideration within curricula.
Our work
• Our aims:
– To explore students’ perspectives on
academic writing
– to examine ways in which our own
curricula may help or hinder the
development of academic writing
– open up discussion on ways in which we
might address this
Our evidence
• 1. Focus-group study of student perspectives on
academic feedback (n=40);
• 2. Cross-sectional survey of student perspectives
on aspects of academic writing and plagiarism
• 3. Phenomeonographic follow-up to the survey.
Explored student experiences and understandings
of academic writing (n=8)
• The curriculum (formal, informal and hidden)
used as a lens to interpret findings
The Formal Curriculum –
when is academic writing covered?
• High degree of consistency in responses across the
3 years
– 3rd years were not more confident or
knowledgeable overall than 1st and 2nd years
• May suggest that if students don’t ‘get it’ early on
then they continue to struggle with academic
writing through the programme of study.
– But much of the emphasis on academic writing
happens early on in our programmes
– Some students may be better placed to engage
and benefit from this than others
How is academic writing
addressed within the curriculum?
• Students find useful:
discussions & reflections in
class on examples of good
& unacceptable writing.
– But often ad-hoc
• Feedback - most effective
way of improving writing
– But the curriculum
structure is a barrier to
accessing it
• When it came to what is
‘covered’ students tended
to emphasise referencing,
using sources and
• Again highlights the
technical models of writing
that students appear to
have internalised.
‘....plagiarism was a big thing at
the start….going through
everything... nearly every
lecture….‘(Study 3, P3).
The informal curriculum: the
academic context
• Relationships with & perception of
lecturers emerged as an important
& often positive influence
• Students see themselves as
relatively powerless & tended to
position themselves passively in
relation to academic writing &
‘Do we have an opinion? That is an
interesting point, like do we have a
place to go to if you disagree with
the feedback? (Study 1, Focus
group 3)
‘I kind of just think of well if the
lecturer’s telling me that that’s the
wrong way to it, that’s the wrong
way to do it’. (Study 1, Focusgroup 2)
The Hidden Curriculum: what are
students internalising about
academic writing?
• Seem to be getting
the message that
academic writing is
essentially about
referencing &
avoiding plagiarism
• Preoccupation with the
more technical
aspects of writing has consequences
– contribute to
excessive concern
about unintentional
– Confusion around
academic opinion
• 78.4% (n=206) agreed that
they were worried about
plagiarising unintentionally
• 60.1% (n=158) agreed that
they were reluctant to make
their own points if they can’t
reference them.
‘It’s the referencing…, and
plagiarism, you’re worried about
plagiarism’ (Study 3, P1)
‘I couldn’t write my own ideas
because I felt right well I’m not
referencing it, I’m not backing it up
with common.... information that’s
already in books you know what I
mean or in articles if I couldn’t find
anything on them I’d say right well
I can’t put that in because I can’t
back it up with anything’. (Study 3,
• Our findings suggest that issues within and beyond
the formal curriculum can have a profound influence
on students’ academic writing
– Preoccupation with the more technical aspects of writing
– Confusion around expectations
– Issues of ownership & power
• Consistent with the Academic Literacies perspective
and highlight that if academic writing is to be
effectively promoted within curriculum then the
entire programme needs careful consideration
• When, where and how academic writing is addressed
needs to become explicit
Making ‘space’
• Within existing curricula
paying more attention to
formative assessment and
feedback is perhaps the
most effective way
– Without dedicated space
for feedback within the
formal curriculum – a
message is being sent to
students that it is not
• Informal assessment &
feedback offer considerable
opportunities (Juwah et al.
2004: Nicol and MacFarlaneDick 2004)
• To make ‘space’ - essential
to open up dialogue with
students about their
expectations and ours
• Basic technical skills
necessary for academic
writing but may be
– Activities that focus on the
‘why’ of writing rather
than the ‘how’ of academic
writing (MacGowan 2005)
are more likely to promote
meaningful engagement.
Where to next…?
• We have introduced a series of academic
writing workshops for all 1st years that
focus on the ‘why’ of academic writing
– Positively evaluated
• Follow-up research
– Longitudinal study tracking authorial
identity, learning style and motivations
and reading and writing self-efficacy
across the 1st year
Thank you for listening
• Any questions?

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