UG not immune to writing shortcomings – Lecturer
…but measures are available to address difficulties
Writing challenges are not unique to the University of Guyana, they are also evident elsewhere, even at other higher institutions of learning.
This assertion was made by Lecturer attached to the University, Ms Pamela Rose, as she made her contribution to the University’s Research Day recently. Her presentation entitled ‘Confronting the challenges of teaching and learning academic writing at the University of Guyana’ sought to outline some of the many writing challenges that have surfaced among students.
Rose drew reference to a number of notable challenges adding that “we can identify with many of them such as plagiarising materials to meet academic course requirements, poorly written assignments, late submission of written assignments and confessions from students of not knowing how to transform thoughts and knowledge into written discourse.”
The lecturer however pointed out that although these challenges persist in higher education, efforts are constantly made to examine and find strategies to address students’ difficulties in relation to academic writing.
According to her, one of the many strategies that have been employed is the move to embrace Academic Literacy. Academic Literacy, she pointed out, is designed to consider epistemological and ideological issues that are embedded in students’ writing and the practices surrounding things that they write.
“We are talking here about things like ‘students are told to write using the third person and not the first person, so we have issues with ownership of the writing and so forth…it is also sensitive to practices that students have to adopt; new ways of knowing, understanding and interpreting information,” Rose explained.
She added too that “we can talk here about those students who come from secondary school and they are accustomed to copying information off the internet and then they are coming here (university) now and they are required to understand, interpret and use information in different ways.”
Academic literacy, Rose noted, does not look at writing as merely good or bad and in need of fixing, but accommodates more than such judgements. Firstly, it recognises that the university as a community of practice is not homogenous, thus variation exists in the types of writings required in various disciplines as well as the interpretation of these variations. “It also recognises that there are variations in meaning-making strategies and once we have those variations we’ll have conflicts between students’ personal identities and those implicit of the setting.”
Further, Rose asserted that the importance of Academic Literacy is that it recognises and accommodates the variety of contested areas that are barriers to students producing successful academic texts. Additionally, it exposes gaps that need to be bridged in the teaching and learning of academic writing.
“Here we are talking about gaps between students and staff expectations and students’ interpretation of these gaps….and academic literacy has also shown that in many cases even the staff would have different interpretations of what counts as successful academic writing.”
In essence, Academic Literacy provides richer insights into students’ writing difficulties, “areas that we need to take account of if we are going to scaffold students through the complex multi-layered processes that characterise academic writing,” Rose asserted.