09 SES 04 C, Assessment in Higher Education (III)
Parallel Paper Session
For a number of reasons traditional assumptions about the language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) resources of commencing higher education (HE) students may no longer apply. Increasing numbers of students from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, government initiatives to widen access to HE for non-traditional students, new educational pathways into HE, and changes to literacy and numeracy practices within the general community are just some factors. Particularly in institutions where a number of these factors coincide, measures to improve student learning need increasingly to take account of the LLN capabilities of students. This may be a necessary starting point to the longer term objective of student acquisition of the academic literacies required within their chosen fields of study and future professions. With this in mind, both governments and universities themselves are seeking more systematic processes to measure the LLN capabilities of commencing students.
Traditionally academic literacies have been assumed to be acquired by students through the course of their studies, with learning support provided to students appearing to struggle with this process. Particularly for international and CALD students, difficulties in the acquisition of academic literacies have often been attributed by academic teaching staff to language proficiency issues, related primarily to surface language features such as grammar, punctuation and spelling (Lea & Street, 1998). Typically referral to language and learning units, and/or language and numeracy specialists, has been seen as an appropriate response.
In exploring issues around student writing Lea and Street (2006,1998) are critical of the study skills approach, and advocate an academic literacies framework. They argue that unlike approaches based on the student learning of discrete ‘study skills’, this framework takes account of the conflicting and contested nature of academic knowledge and writing practices. In addition, it accommodates the inconsistencies and variety of conceptions and understandings of academic literacy inherent both within and between disciplines at HE level.
Within this broad context, Victoria University, a dual sector Australian university servicing a highly diverse student body, has commenced a university-wide initiative to address LLN issues. Important components of this initiative are measures to establish the LLN resources of commencing students using the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), and professional development for academic teaching staff to support developmental rather than ‘deficit’ conceptions of the language and literacy needs of students.
This paper outlines the on-going process of developing protocols for LLN assessment of new students, and for the associated professional development for teaching staff. It details some of the challenges presented in adopting a university wide approach, including issues around administrative procedures, staff engagement and the applicability of the assessment framework across sectors.
Initial data on commencing student language and literacy levels is presented, and the implications for teaching and learning considered. It explores the dilemma that although developmental approaches based on an academic literacies framework are preferred at Victoria University, the reality is that some students may lack the foundations in language proficiency and general literacy which would appear a necessary starting point for this.
Lea, MR & Street, BV (2006) The "academic literacies" model: Theory and applications, Theory into Practice, 45:4, 368-77 Lea, MR & Street, BV (1998) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach, Studies in Higher Education, 23:2, 157-72 Murray, N (2010) Considerations in the post-enrolment assessment of English language proficiency: Reflections from the Australian context, Language Assessment Quarterly, 7:4, 343-58
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