Student writing in social work education

Rai, Lucy (2008). Student writing in social work education. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the experiences of a group of social work students undertaking assessed academic writing as part of their professional training through distance learning in the UK in 2001. Drawing upon the concept of 'academic literacies' and informed by a psychosocial approach, this thesis explores the nature of students' writing within the context of the experiences of students and tutors.

Writing in social work requires students to include reflections on personal experience and values. Due to this personal aspect of writing in social work, I have taken a particular interest in the relationship between identity and writing. In doing so I draw upon current research based upon sociological perspectives on writer identity but also critically examine the potential contribution of concepts from what I will generally be referring to as a 'psychosocial' approach, which incorporates elements of psychology and psychoanalysis alongside a sociological world view. In particular I explore the ways in which a psychosocial approach to writer identity can inform our understanding of writing practices surrounding the creation of student texts in higher education.

My central argument is that academic writing in social work poses a particular challenge to student writers and their tutors due to its lack of transparency and the degree of self-disclosure required of authors. This thesis shows that, in common with higher education more generally writing conventions in social work are frequently implicit and contradictory. Additionally, the integration of personal experiences and values with theoretical discussion poses significant difficulties for students and tutors. Such 'self-disclosure' has implications which become evident when applying a psychosocial perspective to writer identity. I draw together these implications in relation to three features of writing practices, namely emotion, circularity, and human interaction. Emotion in this context refers to the emotion both experienced by students whilst writing texts and responding to feedback on them. This involves a circular process based upon not only the students� actions but also their interaction with others, primarily the tutor. I conclude by offering some pedagogical implications and suggesting some future research arising from this thesis.

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