Strengthening the alignment between an academic literacy course and the literacy needs of Education students
Le Grange, Johannes Christiaan
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Due to the increased enrolment of students in the HE environment since 2015, the need for academic literacy intervention has increased. A contributing factor to this is the failure of the South African schooling system to provide students with sufficient linguistic knowledge. Therefore, entering students struggle to cope with general academic literacy demands in the HE environment and furthermore often require academic support to meet the specific demands of their academic fields of study. At the University of the Free State, the academic literacy programme is structured in such a way that the students of the Faculty of Education are enrolled in the same academic literacy course as the students of the Faculty of Humanities and are, thus, exposed to the same academic literacy interventions. This study aimed to determine the extent to which the current academic literacy faculty-specific course for the Faculty of Humanities, EALH1508, aligns with the literacy needs of the Faculty of Education students in terms of addressing their academic needs to successfully negotiate their academic content and assessment requirements, and whether it is necessary to develop a separate academic literacy course for the Faculty of Education students. In an effort to address the aim of this study in a satisfactory manner, document analyses were conducted on the EALH1508 textbook as well as on the study material of several selected Faculty of Education first-year modules. These two analyses were compared in terms of academic literacy abilities taught in the literacy course and the abilities needed to successfully engage with the study material in the Faculty of Education. Furthermore, three sets of semi-structured questionnaires were conducted with the relevant stakeholders, accompanied by follow-up focus group discussions with these parties. Lastly, data received from a pre- and post-diagnostic test, the ALDI-test, were also considered during the analysis process. The data collection instruments were informed by a constructed academic literacy framework (cf. Table 3.1), which in turn was informed by a thorough literature review of relevant academic literacy abilities needed to meet the academic demands of HE. The data analyses revealed that there exists a significant gap in terms of the academic literacy abilities required to effectively negotiate the course material from the Faculty of Education’ selected first-year modules and those being taught in the academic literacy course that the Education students are enrolled in. These discrepancies are in particular relevant to academic research abilities, academic reading and writing abilities, and analytical and logical reasoning skills. Based on the findings of the data analyses, it was concluded that it is of importance to replace the current academic literacy course offered to the Education students, as the current academic literacy course does not cater to their specific and unique literacy needs. A further recommendation was made to adjust the assessment plan of the literacy course to align better with the assessment programme of the Faculty of Education. This study firstly contributes to the field of academic literacy studies in terms of identifying the specific academic literacy needs of students in different HE academic faculties, as well as the necessity to develop faculty-specific academic literacy courses. I argue that a generic approach to teaching academic literacy in the South African HE environment, although not entirely inadequate, would not be as beneficial as a faculty-specific approach. This is especially true in terms of the development of students’ academic discourse that is relevant to their particular discourse community. Secondly, the study outlined and illustrated a programme evaluation process to identify the relevant academic literacy abilities needed within a specific field of study. This programme evaluation process is transferable to other academic literacy contexts. Thirdly, based on the findings I argue the need to amend current institutional policies relating to academic literacy development to ensure that academic literacy courses follow a faculty-specific approach in order to sufficiently support students to achieve academic success in their chosen field of study.