Situating Academic Writing within the Contemporary Curriculum Brid Delahunt, Moira Maguire, Ann Everitt-Reynolds & Frances Sheridan Academic writing & the curriculum – 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 (n=263) • 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 skills – 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 plagiarism • 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 & assessment. ‘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 plagiarism – 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, P5) Discussion • 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 important • 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 overemphasised. – 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?