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Developing Academic Literacy

Edited By George M. Blue

Academic literacy has always been a key underlying theme in English for academic purposes and practitioners and researchers in the field have always had one eye on its development in students. In recent years it has moved into the foreground and become a central field of study in its own right and the focus of a considerable amount of programme development and research. This was reflected in the fact that a conference focusing on Developing Academic Literacy was held by BALEAP (British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes) in Southampton in the spring of 2003. This volume consists of papers selected from the themes of that conference. The papers reflect areas of interest in issues in academic literacy, criticality and evaluative language, academic literacy in the disciplines and the use of technology in developing academic literacy.

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Part 4 The Use of Technology in Developing Academic Literacy 169

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Part 4 The Use of Technology in Developing Academic Literacy Karen Nicholls The ‘Essay Literacy’ Gap, an Online Resource and a Usability Test Introduction There is an inherent contradiction between the goal of widening participa- tion in higher education (in which I include the widening participation of overseas fee paying second language students) and the dominant mode of academic practice and assessment: the academic essay (Lillis 2001: 167). An online resource, an intranet site, was pro duced to help address the perceived gap between departmental expectations and the extent of students’ training in academic literacy conventions. This chapter will outline the background, approach and development of this resource, focussing on the results of a usability test, and the subsequent improvements to the resource. Broad context Whereas second language (L2) students who join British academic culture are often encouraged to participate in pre-sessional courses in order to improve their overall language proficiency and to ‘accul turate’ themselves into their new learning environment, there are relatively few institutions with equivalent cultural training for those first language (L1) and bilingual students who have euphemistically been described as ‘non-traditional’, namely, ‘students from social groups historically excluded’ (Lillis 2001: 16). In his article about the ‘widely accepted’ perception of ‘grade inflation’, Furedi (professor of sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury) 172 Karen Nicholls claims that ‘The scornful dismissal of the traditional essay expresses a phil- istine contempt for the idea that it is the student’s knowledge that ought to constitute the object of...

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