On exploring the role of an academic literacy module in developing postgraduate students' academic writing practices in a school of education : a qualitative case study.
This thesis examines the impact of the Understanding Academic Literacy (UAL) module in the development of students’ academic writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The pedagogical approach of this module and its impact are also investigated. The research project responds to three research questions: How is writing taught in the Understanding Academic Literacy module? Why is writing taught in the way it is taught in the UAL module? What impact does the way writing is taught in Understanding Academic Literacy have on students’ written work within the module? Using a qualitative case study approach, data was gathered through interviews, classroom observation and document analysis. Interviews were conducted with five students from different writing backgrounds in terms of linguistic and cultural capital. The lecturer of the module was also interviewed. In addition, three different periods of classroom observation were transcribed and analysed, along with documentary evidence, including the UAL course outlines, and students’ written tasks. All these were synthesised to describe and explain how students were initiated through scaffolding into the written discourse of postgraduates. Although perceived as a mystifying language by newcomers, academic writing remains an indispensable tool in postgraduate study. The provision of a module to inform, initiate and socialise students into this specific writing mode is therefore a matter of importance. This is the motive informing the UAL module. However, that most students continued to find academic writing difficult (Harris, Graham, and Mason, 2013) despite the existence of such modules provides the rationale for this study. The study assesses how the UAL has socialised students into academic writing, considers the reasons for the choice of this form of socialisation and its impact. The aim is to investigate whether the purpose of the UAL in respect of students’ academic writing at postgraduate level is being achieved. This study maintains that the ideological model of NLS defines an appropriate way for theorising the introduction of students to academic writing in the 21st century (Street, 2001, 2008, and Lea and Street, 2008), with emphasis on Gee’s (2007) distinctions between primary/secondary discourses and d/Discourses. But the data obtained from the various research instruments revealed that students were still initiated technically. As a result, students only develop a study-skills approach to writing. Although some aspects of the module showed elements of the ideological approach, most of the pedagogical evidence indicated that the module limited students to the intellect and product (autonomous) approach to writing. It is proposed that participation and interaction with experts and peers within the disciplinary community will enhance appropriate socialisation into academic writing, viz. secondary discourse (and Discourse). To achieve this, the academic writing tuition should be distributed across all disciplines and include tutorial sections, which will contribute to an atmosphere in which students’ academic identity can be developed appropriately.