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Student writing skills: Maintaining standards in the face of diversity

Loraine Abernethie
Murdoch University
The general problem to be explored is a perceived decline in student writing skills, not only in first year students' work, but at all levels of undergraduate study. This may be connected to many reasons such as a the elimination of CAEs, lowering of entrance requirements, the diversity of the student cohort when coupled with inadequate resources to service their needs, student expectations or the reluctance to fail students at first year level. However, the particular issue to be addressed here is the implications that declining standards has for a tutor who is trying to encourage a diverse cohort of students to enter into and participate in particular knowledge communities while, at the same time, trying to maintain the quality and currency of the university degree.

This situation creates certain dilemmas for a tutor and raises questions as to the role of a tutor in the teaching and learning process, in general, and in providing feedback on written work, in particular. I find myself more and more in my feedback on assignments addressing issues concerned with the technical aspects of essay writing and sentence construction, rather than the course content or argument development. This raises a second and related issue of the enormous amount of the tutor's time, energy and resources required to complete this task in any sort of an effective manner and with any degree of integrity. Finally, it feeds into the dilemmas faced over the allocation of a pass or fail grade for a student. There seems to be a fear, reluctance or unwillingness to fail students. However, to pass work that is not of a certain standard not only devalues a tertiary qualification, it sets students up for future, and possibly more devastating, failure.

In this session, excerpts of students' work will be presented to exemplify the problems encountered and to demonstrate the work necessary to help such students. I would then like to open the discussion to explore possibilities that would allow some of these issues and tensions to be resolved.

Author: Loraine Abernethie, Lecturer, Social Inquiry, Murdoch University
labernet@central.murdoch.edu.au

Presentation format: Dilemmas in teaching or teaching/learning research

Please cite as: Abernethie, L. (2002). Student writing skills: Maintaining standards in the face of diversity. In Focusing on the Student. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 5-6 February 2002. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2002/abstracts/abernethie-abs.html


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