Underpinning Research for the Academic Skills Toolkit

Constructive Alignment

Students were found to be more receptive when they could observe a clear link between the teaching concepts and their assessment criteria (Biggs and Tang, 2007; Kinesh and Knight, 2013; Biggs and Tang, 2015). The fundamental principles within Biggs and Tang's (2007) concept of constructive alignment are meaning-making and learner constructed knowledge with learning that is linked closely to the programme outcomes and assessment criteria (Kinash and Knight, 2013).

Critical Thinking

Students entering into higher education often lack rudimentary analytical skills (Chao et al., 2005). Critical thinking is a term which is popularly used within HE, however, students are often confused with its meaning. Part of this lies in the students becoming confused with the sense of direction they should be undertaking when drawing analysis. This often results in an unclear division between expressing opinion and remaining objective (Guba and Lincoln, 1994).

Methodological questioning (Guba and Lincoln, 1994) encourages reviewing your personal perspective and questioning theory and concepts to restrict biased opinions. As students progress on their course, the level of rigour becomes more considerable. Providing students with the appropriate skills in incremental staging will allow them to build sequential skills (Vygotsky, 1978). This requires building skills in stages, so students are able to see a direct link between the skills and knowledge they have and how it is being developed. To support student development of critical analysis, the use of critical appraisal tool can be effective (Whiffin and Hasselder, 2013). Depending on the level of analysis required in the assessment criteria, the critical appraisal tool should assist students to develop their analysis so it matches.

Rasi's et al. (2017) study found that both education and employment agencies require a vast range of skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, yet these are areas that are not taught explicitly within programmes at university. This proposes students are not being holistically taught vital skills that are necessary for them to complete their programmes or enter the workforce adequately meaning students are at a disadvantage in some respects.

Expectations and Using Exemplars

It is crucial that any instructions and guidelines regarding the expectations of standards for an assessment are coherent to the student (Hendry et al., 2016). Providing a rubric without discussion and modelling is ineffective as a means of supporting student development (Orsmond et al., 2002; Hendry et al., 2012).

If these standards are given to students without the inclusion of an exemplar, this can prove challenging for the student to understand (Hendry et al., 2012).

Moreover, students value exemplars as a teaching tool (Carter et al. 2018). When providing students with models there should be a level of variation to prevent being prescriptive. It is also beneficial for students to see models of different types of sources.

Learning Concepts

There are a number of challenges for students, for instance they have difficulty in building analysis, and this often results in opinionated or descriptive writing (Guba and Lincoln, 1994; Hendry, 2012; Hendry, 2016). In addition, fundamental features such as linguistic inclusivity are often overlooked by educators (Kaur et al., 2017) meaning it can create a barrier to students' learning.

Wingate (2006) presents a dichotomy: the first, generic skills, which are referred to as the ‘bolt-on’. The second is embedded practice, known as a ‘built-in’ approach (favoured by Wingate), which is content focused. The built-in model develops learning within the subject and discipline, and employs a long-term holistic approach (Boud and Falchikov, 2006; Wingate, 2006).

Costley & Flowerdew (2017) suggest learning concepts should be context-oriented for socially situated purposes to optimise learning. This echoes Wingate's (2006; 2007) concept of a built-in approach and is coherent to Lea and Street's (2006) ideology of academic literacy and academic socialisation.

Elements of these concepts are explicit within Costley and Flowerdew's (2017) categorisation of subject-specific teaching, namely; register, genre and ideology. Register is important when familiarising students with the assessment rubric as it will guide students to build on their awareness of academic literacy (Street, 2009) and acquaint them better with the assessment criteria (Biggs and Tang, 2007; Hendry et al., 2012; Hendry et al., 2016; Biggs and Tang, 2015).

Academic socialisation should encompass discipline specific discourse to support students to enculturate within their context in line with institution principles (Lea and Street, 2006; Street, 2009).

Widening participation

Most higher education institutions have seen an increasing number of non-traditional students over the past two decades, yet scholars have suggested traditional teaching and assessment methods continue to be implemented in ways that do not take into account these changes in the student body (Wingate, 2006; Wingate, 2007; Bailey, 2010; Leese, 2010; Kaur et al., 2017).

Widening participation students are often viewed as ‘lacking’ and HE institutions employ a deficit model (Wilkins and Burkes, 2015). Consequently, academic writing is often viewed by core teaching staff as something that should be taught separate to the programme itself (Bailey, 2010). This view is problematic as it detaches content from the writing and is not conducive to inclusive learning.


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