Tutor perspectives on the use of visuals in undergraduate assignments

Leedham, Maria (2013). Tutor perspectives on the use of visuals in undergraduate assignments. In: 46th Annual Meeting of BAAL: Opening New Lines of Communication in Applied Linguistics, 5-7 Sep 2013, Edinburgh.


The traditional focus within the teaching of academic writing in HE is on language produced as linear prose within genres such as the essay, report or case study. While attention is increasingly paid to disciplinary variation and, to a lesser extent, the different range of genres required, little research has been conducted on the extent to which additional semiotic modes are used and how these are perceived by discipline tutors. The aim of this study is to explore the use and perceptions of resources such as graphs, diagrams, and images (henceforth ‘visuals’), in assessed writing from two student groups: L1 Chinese and L1 English undergraduates in the same disciplines (Biological Sciences, Economics and Engineering).

The paper first explores a dataset of assignments drawn from the 6.5 million word British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus using corpus linguistic procedures combined with textual analysis. This reveals that the L1 Chinese students make significantly greater use of visuals than L1 English students in the same disciplines. Since all BAWE texts are regarded as ‘proficient’ writing, having scored 60% or higher, this suggests that the different use of visuals is acceptable to discipline tutors.

The presentation then reports on a dataset of interviews with tutors in Biological Sciences, Economics and Engineering (n=18) and on a survey of EAP tutors (n=200). It is suggested that both discipline tutors and academic writing tutors could provide more guidance to students as to the range of acceptable ways of meaning making within assessed undergraduate writing.

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