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Steve Rutherford BIOSI An “electronic resource” to support students’ academic writing skills ?

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Presentation on theme: "Steve Rutherford BIOSI An “electronic resource” to support students’ academic writing skills ?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Steve Rutherford BIOSI An “electronic resource” to support students’ academic writing skills ?

2 ACADEMIC WRITING Academic writing is central to many degrees “Learning in higher education involves adapting to new ways of knowing: new ways of understanding, interpreting and organising knowledge. Academic literacy practices—reading and writing within disciplines-- constitute central processes through which students learn new subjects and develop their knowledge about new areas of study.” Lea and Street (1998). Studies in Higher Education, 23: “Both coursework and examination essays appear to be more likely to promote deep approaches to learning when compared with fact-oriented multiple choice tests.” McCune (2004). Higher Education 47: 257–282

3 IS THERE A PROBLEM? Students are unprepared for academic writing in HE Lack skills Lack understanding of academic expectations “... interviews with staff suggest that academic staff have their own fairly well-defined views regarding what constitutes... a good piece of student writing... These tend to refer to form in a more generic sense, including attention to syntax, punctuation and layout, and to such apparently evident components of rational essay writing as 'structure', 'argument' and 'clarity'. “ “...interviews with students revealed a number of different interpretations and understandings of what students thought that they were meant to be doing in their writing.” Lea and Street (1998). Studies in Higher Education, 23:

4 IS THERE A PROBLEM? Students are unprepared for academic writing in HE Lack skills Lack understanding of academic expectations "Students can have no idea of the concept of making an argument so their essays are entirely descriptive. You know, 'and then this happens, and such- and- such an academic says this about it, and then this happens, and so-and- so says that'.“ Helena Attlee, Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund; Worcester University; "Students can have an idea that it's a linear thing – you do your reading, then you get a cup of tea and sit down to write. We try to get across that it's a much more cyclical process; do some research, draft a bit, read some more, think, consider what you've written, redraft... “ Kate Brooks (UWE) Guardian 26/4/11

5 CHALLENGE Gap between students’ views of capability and staff opinions Limited exposure to academic writing prior to University How to: Educate students in techniques and approaches Not induce feelings of worthlessness Get students to follow directions!

6 Initial Aim Design a web-based or CD-ROM based interactive resource to support ESSAY WRITING in HE Sciences Examplar essays with annotations Links to questions and exercises Problems and exercises covering Referencing, Constructing an Argument, Structure, etc. Examples of common mistakes & how to avoid them Adaptable to different subjects

7 Revised Aims GAP Analysis What is there in the market/community? How effective are these likely to be? How interactive are the available resources? What do students want?

8 Revised Aims GAP Analysis What is there in the market/community? How effective are these likely to be? How interactive are the available resources? What do students want?

9 WHAT SUPPORT IS THERE? Majority of support methods are Text Books Webpages Written Guides

10 WHAT SUPPORT IS THERE? Majority of support methods are Text Books

11 WHAT SUPPORT IS THERE? Majority of support methods are Websites

12 WHAT SUPPORT IS THERE? Majority of support methods are Written Guides

13 HOW INTERACTIVE/ ENGAGING ARE THESE LIKELY TO BE? Not interactive at all No active learning by the student No direct link between the advice/text and a real example ENGAGEMENT LEVELS LIKELY TO BE LOW

14 What is the best alternative?

15 Surveyed Year 1 BIOSI students (within first 6 weeks of academic year) WHAT DO STUDENTS THINK? Experience of writing essays before university Confidence levels for literacy skills Which support methods they would value

16 In which of your A-Levels were you required to write essays or extended written work (1000 words+) PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE

17 On a scale of 0 – 5 how confident do you feel about Spelling English Grammar Essay-writing CONFIDENCE AT LITERACY SKILLS Generally high confidence at spelling and grammar Less confidence at essay-writing Does confidence correlate with prior experience? 2010/112011/12Total

18 Students were asked to rate the utility of the following means of teaching essay-writing skills (on a scale of 1 [low] – 6 [high] ) LEARNING SUPPORT Lecture session(s) Examples of good and bad practice posted on L.C. Textbook Structured workbook with guidance and exercises Interactive CD-ROM with guidance and exercises Interactive Online resource with guidance & exercises Links to websites with resources and guidance Guidance document posted on Learning Central Podcasts or Videocasts Small-group tutorials

19 “I want everything please!” Most favoured: Lecture, Examples, Tutorials Also favoured: Workbook, Electronic Resource 2010/11 cohort

20 2011/12 cohort Students asked to RANK the methods of teaching essay- writing skills (on a scale of 1 [least useful] – 10 [most useful] ) Slightly ambiguous wording led to a mixed response.... Oops!

21 2011/12 cohort Students rated the utility of the following means of teaching essay-writing skills (on a scale of 1 [least useful] – 10 [most useful] ) Most favoured: Examples, Online Guidance, Tutorials Also favoured: Workbook, Electronic Resource Not keen: Textbooks, Video/Podcasts

22 2011/12 cohort Students ranked the methods of teaching essay-writing skills (on a scale of 1 [least useful] – 10 [most useful] ) Most favoured: Lecture, Examples, Tutorials Also favoured: Workbook, Electronic Resource Not keen: Textbooks, Video/Podcasts

23 2011/12 cohort Students ranked the methods of teaching essay-writing skills (on a scale of 1 [least useful] – 10 [most useful] ) Most favoured: Lecture, Examples, Tutorials Also favoured: Workbook, Electronic Resource Not keen: Textbooks, Video/Podcasts

24 According to the study Students would prefer small-group tutorials WOULD AN INTERACTIVE RESOURCE BE USEFUL? Would this be the best or most effective way of teaching? Workload Consistency Academic tutorials with Personal Tutor?

25 According to the study Students would value materials on L.C. WOULD AN INTERACTIVE RESOURCE BE USEFUL? Would students access these resources? Experience suggests that guidance notes on L.C. are generally ignored Would this advice be heeded?

26 WORKBOOK viewed positively Can this be interactive and engaging? Is this appropriate for University? Transition exercises? WOULD AN INTERACTIVE RESOURCE BE USEFUL? Would students engage with an online resource? Offer an option: Hardcopy workbook containing exercises Same exercises online but with interactivity

27 CONCLUSIONS? “…development of students’ essay writing is idiosyncratic and may depend on a wide range of interacting factors, some of which stem from their learning experiences prior to higher education. For those students who described more profound development, particular critical incidents seemed to be important.” So is any formalised approach appropriate? Should support be individual and catered to students’ needs on an ad hoc basis? TUTORIALS…. McCune (2004). Higher Education 47: 257–282

28 Design support materials that have some degree of interactivity Provide parallel hardcopy and online resources – CHECK ENGAGEMENT Identify improvements (if any) ANY FINAL APPROACH SHOULD BE LINKED TO SMALL-GROUP OR 1-to-1 TEACHING FUTURE DIRECTIONS

29 Clare Kell Cathie Jackson School of BIOSI Thanks to


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