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Variation in disciplinary culture: university tutors’ views on assessed writing tasks

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  1. Variation in disciplinary culture: university tutors’ views on assessed writing tasks Hilary Nesi, Sheena Gardner BAAL Bristol 17/05

  2. Paper Outline • 1. The Larger Research Project • 2. Findings from our interview data • 3. Applications to BAWE BAAL Bristol 17/05

  3. Some existing corpora • The TOEFL 2000 Spoken and Written Academic Language Corpus “the full range of spoken and written registers used at US universities” (Biber et al. 2002). • The Lucy Corpus, used to track children’s progress from spoken fluency to written literacy. • The Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays (exam scripts and general essays by British and American university and A level students). • The Cambridge Syndicate Examination corpus (A-level General Studiesscripts). BAAL Bristol 17/05

  4. The diversity of assessed genres • Ganobcsik-Williams’ survey of student writing in three disciplines (2001) : 64 varieties, including business plans, websites, scientific posters and written material to support visual work. BAAL Bristol 17/05

  5. Our Project An investigation of genres of assessed student writing in higher education. • Comparisons across disciplines • Comparisons across years BAAL Bristol 17/05

  6. The BAWE Grid BAAL Bristol 17/05

  7. The departmental grid

  8. The sampling grid (= 3072):

  9. Three strands • 1. The Discourse Community Genres • 2. Register Analysis: Biber’s multidimensional analysis • 3. SFL Genre Analysis BAAL Bristol 17/05

  10. From the discourse community a. Department documentation b. Tutor interviews & surveys c. Student submission forms BAAL Bristol 17/05

  11. Current interview data

  12. Interview questions • What role does assignment writing play in your department? • What different types of written assignment do you set your students? • What are the main differences between these types? • In what ways does student writing progress? • What do you value / dislike in student writing? BAAL Bristol 17/05

  13. The variety of genres: an example from Engineering • Essays • Site investigation reports (both factual and interpretative) • Laboratory reports • Project reports • Reflective journals • Posters • Summaries of analysis + recommendations • Funding proposals • Business plans BAAL Bristol 17/05

  14. Some other genres • Appeals (Law) • Book / play reviews (History, Sociology, Theatre Studies) • Case notes (Law) • Crime fiction (Sociology) • Critical evaluations of own work (English, Computing) • Literature reviews (History) • Field studies (Sociology) • Marketing plans (Cultural Policy Studies) • Blogs (Theatre Studies) • Patient case reports (Medicine) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  15. The essay • Used by all departments in sample • Perceived as ‘standard’ and ‘traditional’ – too much so for some ‘The fact that essays are still used as the only mode by the majority of English literature assessors seems to me very limiting’ (English Studies) ‘It has been the convention to use essays. I would like to break away from that’ (Psychology) ‘We are a traditional department and we still use mainly essays and we’re very conscious that we would like to, and perhaps need to, do something about that’ (Sociology) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  16. Essays have a very basic structure • Introduction, body, conclusion (Biological Sciences) • Introduction, logical sequence of argument, conclusion (Medicine) • Argument, counter-argument, conclusion (Hospitality & Tourism) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  17. Essays have few structural constraints • The structure of essays is less prescribed (Theatre Studies) • Essays have more flexibility than practical reports, and may address only a subset of the classic RA (Psychology) • More open-ended, less structured investigation (Hospitality) • Greater scope than other assignment types in terms of what they’re writing about (Engineering) • An essay is generally more ‘rangy’, with a freer structure (Law) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  18. Essays involve critical thinking • ‘An essay has got to be an argument of some sort ... not simply reportage or narrative’ (Theatre Studies) • ‘A chance to show .. that you can think deeply about a subject’ (Anthropology) • Give more scope for originality (Psychology) • ‘The traditional Law essay would probably take the form of a critical discussion’ BAAL Bristol 17/05

  19. Progression is marked by an increasingly original and critical response Aim to transform A level students who write ‘mini-encyclopaedia articles’. Good students ‘develop a genuine personal voice’ (Theatre Studies) Students become ‘more critical in the final stages’ (Hospitality & Tourism) Masters level students are expected to write ‘a good critical document’ (Warwick Manufacturing) First year writing should be accurate, concise, explicit, but by the third year ‘originality should be added to the mixture’ (Psychology) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  20. Reflective writing is encouraged • Students are asked to produce original work and then evaluate it (Computing, English Studies, Theatre Studies) • Students are asked to write reflectively about their experiences during group work (Engineering, Hospitality & Tourism) • Students are asked to write reflectively about the educational value of a practical task (Anthropology) • Students are asked to reflect on past personal experiences (Medicine) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  21. Disciplinary variation • Preparing the professional for the workplace • Preparing the ‘professional academic’ • Rejecting ‘grim vocationalism’ BAAL Bristol 17/05

  22. Assignments modelled on professional non-academic writing tasks: Some interviewees referred to students’ future needs, eg: • Engineering reports (the legal implications of making recommendations) • Demonstration and analysis of computer coding (‘preparing students for real life’) • Case notes and appeals (‘common forms of legal writing’) • Business plans, marketing plans, funding proposals (but applied subjects such as Hospitality & Tourism also use writing tasks as a means ‘to get students focused on theory’) BAAL Bristol 17/05

  23. Assignments modelled on professional academic writing tasks: Psychology aims to cultivate the writing style of the research article published in a respected learned journal. ‘the great bulk of written work is in the form of essays modelled on the classic psychology RA’ BAAL Bristol 17/05

  24. Assignments aimed at educating the individual: ‘education is a value in itself, and it’s part of a person’s development of selfhood …… it depresses me when students view it as a kind of grim vocationalism’ Theatre Studies BAAL Bristol 17/05

  25. What do tutors value in student writing? • Coherent structure 11 / 21 • Originality / Creativity 11 / 21 • Succinct expression 7 / 21 • Adherence to academic conventions 5 / 21 • Engagement / Enthusiasm 5 / 21 • Application / Relevance 5 / 21 • Understanding / Insight 5 / 21 BAAL Bristol 17/05