The impact of an academic literacy intervention on the academic literacy levels of first year students : the NWU (Vaal Triangle Campus) experience
Mhlongo, Goodfriday Johannes
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There has been growing concern in the higher education sector in South Africa about the high number of students with low academic literacy (AL) levels who are gaining entry into the sector. This influx necessitated the introduction of academic literacy interventions which are aimed at supporting these students in meeting the academic literacy requirements of university education. As a result, the tertiary sector has seen a growing number of AL interventions, each catering for a different context. However, the available literature reports very little substantial evidence on the impact/effectiveness of such interventions regarding the purpose for which they have been designed. The Vaal Triangle Campus (VTC) of the North-West University has also found that the majority of first year students who register at this Campus in order to attain a tertiary qualification, show inadequate levels of academic literacy in English. However, the academic literacy intervention that is currently used at this campus has never been formally assessed for its effectiveness in improving students’ academic literacy levels. The purpose of the current study was therefore to investigate the impact of the academic literacy intervention on students’ academic literacy levels. This intervention, which consists of two complementary semester modules, is offered over a one-year period to new first year students. As a first step, a comprehensive literature survey was conducted on important changes that took place in the tertiary education sector after 1994. The reason for this enquiry is based on the fact that many of these changes, such as the ‘massification’ of tertiary education, had far-reaching consequences for the tertiary sector in terms of more underprepared students who gained access to university education. Furthermore, available literature on the types of academic literacy interventions in South Africa, as well as specific sources on the reported impact of such interventions, were critiqued. The empirical part of the study made use of both a qualitative and quantitative research paradigm in order to investigate the impact of the AL intervention at the VTC. A highly reliable academic literacy test (the TALL – Test of Academic Literacy Levels) was used to determine whether students showed any significant improvement in their levels of academic literacy as a result of the intervention. This study reports positive findings in this regard. The investigation further gathered opinion-based data through the administration of three questionnaires aimed at determining student and lecturer perceptions of the impact of the intervention. The main findings of the two student questionnaires (one administered for each AL module) show that students generally see the value in attending the academic literacy modules because they feel that they derive benefit from them. The findings of the lecturer survey indicate that although mainstream lecturers are acutely aware of the low academic literacy levels of their students, they do not see the impact of the intervention on improving such levels. They are further not very knowledgeable about what the focus of the intervention entails. The main conclusion of this study is, in brief, that the academic literacy intervention has a definite effect on the improvement of students’ academic literacy levels. However, no conclusive data was found to support the idea that the improvement was due only to the influence of the intervention.
- Humanities 
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