Academic discourses and the twenty first century context
: empowering all students with comprehension and critical engagement

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Current economic, social, educational, and philosophical conditions of university learning in the 21st century are unique, resulting in a disjuncture between traditional academic discourse and the culture, literacy and the learning modes of current students. Driven by the knowledge economy and technology, governments have encouraged the massification and globalisation of university education and continue to promote access to university for non-traditional students. In regional, post-Dawkins universities of Australia, the student demographic is increasingly diverse, spanning age groups from 18-75, cultures, socio economic and educational backgrounds and English language proficiency.

    Evidence suggests that high levels of abstract and technical language exclude many students from academic discourse communities denying them an opportunity to succeed, affect performance and increase drop-out rates. In neglecting to provide specific strategies for ensuring all students have access to meanings in discourses, current theories for higher learning inadvertently fail to recognise that ‘knowledge’ is constructed through language. Further, university pedagogies continue to assume high levels of literacy previously associated with traditional university students.

    This thesis integrates learning theory and systemic functional language analysis to provide an understanding of, (1) how we use language to express abstract technical knowledge in the humanities, social science and science, and (2) what learning theory tells us about how we might best recruit students into academic discourse communities. To help establish the most effective ways of presenting discourse to first year students, it also compares three versions of discourse presenting the same knowledge and students’ views on how easy the discourse was to comprehend.

    Contemporary university language and learning theory, the linguistic features of academic discourses, and students’ responses to these are examined. This analysis informs a proposal for an inclusive pedagogy, effective in the apprenticing of students to become successful participants in academia, and the new knowledge world in general. These strategies build on the “Reading to Learn” scaffolding literacy approach of Rose (2007) by incorporating more explicitly, stages that acknowledge the importance of schema, concept mapping and experiential learning and our understanding of proclivities of the net generation.
    Date of AwardMay 2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPeter Wignell (Supervisor) & Paul Black (Supervisor)

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