Recycling writing: learning from a corpus of student

Recycling writing: learning from a corpus of
student-generated texts
Megan Bruce
Durham University Foundation Centre
January 2013
Supported by Durham University and HEA UKCISA grants
•Aims of the Foundation Centre
•Type of student
•What students study
•Students’ language needs
•Aims of the FOCUS project
•How it was created
•What texts it includes
•What functionality it has
•Next steps for the FOCUS project
Foundation Centre Profile
Widening participation and access to Higher Education.
Individuals who would traditionally not have considered studying at
University and lack the required formal qualifications.
Over 200 students based at Queen’s and Durham City progressing
on to all Durham University departments.
Student language needs
International students: IELTS 6.0 with no element below 5.5
Home students: no formal qualifications required
∂ are taught to write according to
All students in the Foundation Centre
the norms of the Community of Practice of their progressing
“Grammar is a piano I play by
ear” (Joan Didion)
International students have 2 advantages over home students:
• They expect to encounter language difficulties and work to solve them;
• They have a vocabulary to talk about language in order to receive
Home students in contrast do not expect to encounter linguistic difficulty:
• They are surprised that non-academic words such as “heat”, “process”,
“energy”, etc also have specific academic meanings;
• They don’t have any meta-language and often have significant
confidence issues where grammar and language are concerned.
Aims of the FOCUS project
To create a corpus of student-generated texts (UG/PG) to help
Foundation students explore “good” writing in their subject discipline.
To make the corpus accessible to all Foundation Centre students (and
other departments who want to use
∂ it).
To create some activities alongside the corpus that students can use
for self-access to work on their language skills independently.
Question from a Chemistry
“What kind of chemical is
a paradox?”
How the corpus was created
• HEA grant to explore existing online concordancing programmes.
Durham “Enhancing the Student Learning Experience award” to fund
the creation of a bespoke concordancing programme.
HEA grant for development of concordancing activities based on these
corpora to allow students to discover more about target vocabulary in
context and improve their own writing.
Which texts are included?
Criteria for inclusion:
• Written by a Durham student (UG or PG)
• Assessed at 60% or above (2:1 or First)
Students whose assignments fit this profile are contacted by the corpusdevelopment team and asked to submit a∂copy of their assignment for inclusion.
Departments are approached one at a time. So far we have texts from Chemistry
and Earth Science students.
Students are incentivised by being entered for a prize draw for a £100 Amazon
FOCUS functionality
A keyword search can be refined by:
• Level (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, PhD)
• Text type (essay, dissertation, lab report, figure, etc)
• Department (Chemistry, Earth Science, soon there will be more)
Possible to arrange the words before/after a keyword search alphabetically to
uncover common collocations
Keyword search only shows a text fragment so no dangers of plagiarism
Word cloud shows collocates to allow further exploration
Wildcard search (%) allows exploration of affixes, etc.
Screenshot of “molecule”
Next steps for FOCUS
Development of self-access facilities (for pre-arrival and in-year)
• Affixes in science (hydro%, -%icity)
• Developing scientific explanations and describing reactions
• Words with multiple meanings – pressure / saturated
∂ / radicle
• Homynyms – bases / basis, radical
• Discourse markers
Involvement of more departments
Procedure for sharing tool with other institutions
This project has been supported by the following funding:
HEA/UKCISA grant (March 2012)
Enhancing the Student Learning Experience
award (Durham University April
HEA grant (Sept 2012)

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