The effect of an academic literacy course on first-year student writing : a case study
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Worldwide and in South Africa it seems that various perceptions exist regarding first-year university students who are not academically literate and struggle to produce acceptable forms of academic writing. Standardized testing in higher education appears to support these perceptions that students’ academic literacy is not on par. Countless sources in the realm of academic literature also support the perceptions that students, and specifically first-year students, have difficulties in writing due to a number of variables. Many universities therefore have begun to realise their responsibilities in supporting students with academic literacy courses to address their general academic literacy and writing needs. The purpose and nature of these courses often vary due to the different requirements and expectations of the students, subject groups, faculties and universities. This study investigated the effect that the compulsory academic literacy course (AGLA 121) at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University (NWU) offered to all first-year students had on first-year nursing students’ academic writing. A mixed-methods evaluation case study with nursing students and lecturers as research participants formed the basis of the empirical investigation. In order to provide a broad description of the case, the research was conducted from multiple perspectives in various phases, with various participants at various times and from a range of relevant documents and literature. From the empirical research conducted, it became clear that AGLA 121 indeed did have a positive effect on the nursing students’ academic writing. Both nursing students (first-years and third-years) and lecturers also realised the need for and value of AGLA 121. The document analysis also confirmed that what is covered in AGLA 121 mostly correlates with what nursing students need in order to write effectively at university. Some gaps have been identified in the evaluation that could be addressed in course redesign through the recommendations provided. The original contribution to knowledge is that an overview of the academic writing needs and requirements of nursing students at the NWU’s Potchefstroom Campus. The information that was gathered could potentially be used for course redesign. A blueprint checklist was designed so that the effect of the academic literacy course on first-year students’ general academic literacy and more importantly academic writing can be evaluated across all disciplines, subject groups, schools and faculties. Continuous evaluations are necessary in order to provide in the needs of all the stakeholders and especially in the most important stakeholders’ needs: the students. Being academically literate and demonstrating it through good academic writing is necessary for students’ academic and professional success. The proposed synthesised generic and subject-specific academic literacy course should lay the foundation for nursing and other students to move out of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and to have self-efficacy attributes and to become self-directed and self-regulated students. First-year students should also be exposed to a variety of academic writing genres so that they are able to produce, manage and control all the writing required from them in order for them to eventually become part of their own discourse communities.
- Humanities