The effect of embedded academic literacy activities on student writing in a distance learning module

Shrestha, Prithvi and Parry, John (2019). The effect of embedded academic literacy activities on student writing in a distance learning module. In: BALEAP Conference: Innovation, Exploration and Transformation, 12-14 Apr 2019, University of Leeds, BALEAP.


Academic literacy (AL) is widely considered as central to academic knowledge building and success (Coffin & Donohue, 2014; Snow, 2010; Woodward-Kron, 2002). Evidence also indicates that AL may pose challenges to many students at risk of underachievement (Cummins, 2014). Given the disciplinary variation and associated AL practices (Haneda, 2014), early childhood studies is distinct from other disciplines. However, it is recognised that not all students come to higher education equipped with it and often students are blamed for this (Wingate, 2018). Importantly, there is limited evidence of how embedding AL in a discipline such as early childhood studies supports first year students (cf. Veitch, Johnson, & Mansfield, 2016). This paper, which relates to the conference theme of Curriculum Development, reports on an exploratory study examining Early Childhood degree students’ perspectives on the effect of embedded AL activities (e.g., constructing an academic argument, designing an essay introduction) on their academic writing.

The study context was a collaboration between an AL specialist and a team of early childhood studies academics to innovate an early childhood course. The research involved a mixed methods approach with the aim of supporting the corroboration of findings. Data gathering was sequential (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie 2009) with the main focus on generating qualitative data initially and quantitative information at the final stage. The data was drawn from student interviews (15 transcripts), an online survey (35 responses) and written assignments (30 scripts). The five student interviews were conducted by an independent researcher after they completed the second, fourth and final assignment. The written assignments were collected from the interviewees soon after each interview. The survey was administered at the end of the course. The student interviews were thematically analysed using an approach informed by grounded theory (Corbin, Strauss, & Strauss, 2008) while the written assignments were examined through a genre analysis approach drawing on Martin and Rose (2008).

The findings reveal that students were engaged in AL activities which had positive impacts on their self-confidence in writing assignments and in their professional communication, and their knowledge about AL. The analysis of the student assignments indicated students’ growing understanding of the core AL skills and knowledge introduced in the module as evidenced in their assessed writing. This study has implications for designing a subject curriculum which aims to develop both disciplinary knowledge and AL to understand and communicate such knowledge. Equally, it provides further insights into disciplinary writing pedagogy.

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