Developing academic literacies in higher education contexts – Challenges and opportunities for students with different backgrounds
The increased number of students in higher education and the larger heterogeneity in student groups has led to major changes in university teachers’ work during the last decades (Hyland 2006; Lea and Street 1998; Lillis 2001). Other influencing factors are the comprehensive development of information technology, globalization, and more far-reaching social responsibilities of universities in democratic societies (Kreber 2009). One of the most challenging responsibilities is to support students in gaining access to academic literacies: the ways of understanding, interpreting, and organizing knowledge that is practiced in the disciplines of the academy (Ivanič 1997; Lea and Street 1998; Wingate 2006; Hyland 2006; Duff 2010).
The aim of the project is to gain a more profound understanding of the literacy challenges students with different language, ethnicity and class backgrounds face in various higher education context; and how university teachers can address those challenges to enhance students language and knowledge development (Bergman, 2014; Bergan, 2016; Hyland, 2004). The primary focus is on student’s writing since students’ written texts are still a predominant form of assessment and as such, it is a crucial activity in university education. However, we will not ignore other literacy activities since literacy activities are closely related and dependent on each other. They can be considered as practices surrounding the production of texts.
I ask the following questions:
- What challenges do students with different backgrounds experience in working with texts and assignments in different content areas and in different phases of their education?
- What is the significance of identity and identity work in and for their writing? To what extent and in which specific ways do prevailing conventions and practices enable or constrain students meaning making?
- How can an explicit focus on academic literacies become an integral part of disciplinary learning?
The research project is divided into two main phases. In the first phase, we will conduct exploratory interviews with student from two different academic disciplines (teacher education and social work education) during the first two years of their education. The interviews are set up to gain insight into the frame of reference of student’s experiences and personal interpretations (ideas, opinions, expectations, wishes etc.), and the opportunities and challenges students face in the academic culture.
Furthermore, the data will consist of student’s portfolio of written assignments, student’s writing diaries, and support structure. The text material forms the basis for continual text analyses of how the students develop academic literacy in progression; and is also used as a basis for further interviews. The second phase constitutes an emancipatory action research study (Kincheloe, 2008) related to how students literacy development may become an integral part of disciplinary learning.
We will arrange workshops in which the two disciplines engage in collaboration built on the results from the first phase. Furthermore, the teachers will plan, conduct, and evaluate teaching actions and investigate how to support student’s development.