The following post is a reflection on Lemons, Catastrophic Climate Change, and e-Portfolios: Implementing sustainable course-wide assessments, presented by Glenn Anderson. You can watch the full presentation on our Play Again page.
Glenn’s presentation on supporting students’ literacy development brought up some interesting questions and dilemmas that we are also grappling with at NPI. I did a lot of research and reflecting on these issues when I wrote our NPI English Language Proficiency (ELP) Framework in 2015 and again more recently as part of a review of our support strategies for first-year students, so this presentation was very topical.
Engaging students in academic literacy development
One issue Glenn mentioned was that often students do not make use of the support opportunities available, and this is certainly reflected in the literature. Many institutions report that academic skills workshops, online resources and individual consultations with academic language and learning (ALL) advisors are usually rated highly by students who do make use of them. However, resource limitations, perceptions that these activities are ‘remedial’ and other pressures on students’ time mean that not all students who would benefit actually utilise these opportunities.
Students who are in most need of language and literacy support are often the least likely to seek it – a frustrating situation.
Strategic and sustainable approaches
Consequently, a consensus in the literature has emerged in favour of a more strategic and integrated approach to academic literacy development that is inclusive and relevant to all students. Glenn discussed how this links to the trend to share responsibility for developing academic literacies with discipline staff. Often, there is a lot of enthusiasm from discipline educators to include literacy development activities in the curriculum, and good relationships between ALL staff and educators are built. However, this is often dependent on one or two extremely committed discipline educators, and when they move on, all of the good work can ‘disappear’. Academic literacy development needs to be embedded in course design and assessment to ensure it is sustainable. Moreover, developing an approach needs to include a consultative process and consider factors such as whether a course or unit relies on sessional rather than on-going academic teaching staff.
Value-adding to enhance reputation
Glenn also raised the thorny question about the perceived value of putting time and effort into developing students’ literacy skills, with some commentators suggesting that a student’s ‘fate’ in terms of employability may already be decided by their institution’s reputation and prestige (or lack thereof). However, I believe that the reputation of an institution can be enhanced by having academic literacy development as a visible part of a course.
Literacy integration can be seen as adding value to the student learning experience and indicative of the institution’s commitment to supporting its students and producing well-rounded graduates who are better placed to succeed in the workplace.
Students who feel insecure about their English are likely to value a university or college that is able to demonstrate that it has in place measures for developing and assessing language and literacy skills.
Case in point: School of Social Work
I have seen this happen in the School of Social Work at ACAP. On two separate occasions, potential students interested in enrolling in the Bachelor of Social Work posted a question on the ACAP Facebook page asking for people’s opinion on the course. Both times, current students replied and stated that the integrated academic skills support in the first-term core unit was invaluable. Also, a high percentage of students in the Master of Social Work (qualifying) are from a non-English speaking background and have stated that they chose to do their degree at ACAP because of the integrated literacy support. The MSWQ coordinator, Associate Professor Sharon Moore, champions in-course literacy development and we have worked with her to provide targeted literacy workshops within units, a ‘Conversation Circle’ for speaking practice, and one-on-one support to students. It has paid off with increasing enrollments and high levels of satisfaction with the course.
These issues are certainly hot topics at many Navitas institutions, it seems, and it has been great to connect with Glenn and hear his perspective.