Moving Out of Our Comfort Zones to Make a Difference - Do We Really Want To?

Strauss, P
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Conference Contribution
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Higher Education Close Up (HECU)

In this paper I would like to focus on postgraduate teaching and supervision. I ask whether some of the issues raised by our keynote speakers could not be meaningfully addressed by academics if they were willing to think more openly and less traditionally about these concerns. I would like to outline my presentation firstly by referring to aspects of three of the think pieces and then contextualise these aspects within my own local research, at postgraduate level. There have been a number of important changes in higher education over the past twenty years but the most significant appears to be the massification of institutions. This massification means that western universities have experienced dramatic shifts in the composition of student cohorts which now include large numbers of second language speakers of English and others drawn from non-traditional backgrounds. Research indicates that this change in the student body presents university educators at all levels with challenging and complex issues. One of most difficult is students’ apparent inability to write in a way that is acceptable to the academy. This inability to write ‘acceptable’ English impacts on students’ self-esteem and sense of agency, and is often an aggravating factor in supervisory tensions. I argue that this issue needs universities to consider whether traditional ways of thinking about academic English should not be reconsidered. The complexity of academic communication needs to be acknowledged. Nowadays those who teach academic writing are not poorly qualified language teachers but academics with great insight into the sociocultural and linguistic issues of our students. Yet traditionally these academic advisors are not held in high regard and their considerable expertise and insights are often brushed aside. We need to acknowledge the contribution they make already, and how much more they could make if allowed, and their potential to positively influence teaching and learning in our institutions. . I also query whether what we view as an acceptable standard of academic English enjoys sufficient attention. If English is a global language then who decides the standards to be met? I contend that this is a debate that needs to be held and must involve those most qualified to speak.

Postgraduate students; Academic writing; Academic advisors
Higher Education Close Up 7, International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014.
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