Off the starting block: Academic skills development for international taught postgraduates


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Due to unfamiliar approaches, differing expectations and perplexing uses of language, international students often struggle to negotiate the transition to the requirements of academic discourse at Masters level and may also lack familiarity with critical approaches to study.

As the proportion of international students taking Masters at Leeds increases (44% in 2010), the challenge for staff is to help students gain an understanding of the conventions of academic discourse, threshold concepts which students must to possess to enter the arena where the exchange and creation of knowledge takes place.

This session introduces a suite of workshops developed by Academic Skills Advisers, Faculty Team Librarians and Academics working within the curriculum to embed a critical approach to postgraduate research, reading and writing skills with cohorts of mainly (but not exclusively) international students. Scaffolded tasks apply a model of critical thinking to subject specific materials, thus enabling international students to gain the academic skills required to reach their full potential.

Student Education Conference
University of Leeds
Session 34
6 January 2012

Published in: Education, Technology
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  • Source:New Oxford American Dictionary
  • Off the starting block: Academic skills development for international taught postgraduates

    1. 1. Off the starting block: academic skillsdevelopment for international taughtpostgraduatesAnna Seabourne, Skills@LibraryDan Pullinger, Faculty Team Librarian(Science & Engineering)Student Education ConferenceUniversity of LeedsSession 346 January 2012
    2. 2. journal |ˈjərnl| Yes, the writingnoun system for academics1 a newspaper or magazine that deals with a particular subject or professional is very difference activity : medical journals | [in names ] (sic). Like, we did our the Wall Street Journal. assignments and2 a daily record of news and events of a personal nature; a diary. reports by just editing • Nautical a logbook. some information in • ( the Journals) a record of the daily the existing articles, proceedings in the British Houses of Parliament. informative sources. • (in bookkeeping) a daily record of But, here we are business transactions with a required to write statement of the accounts to which each is to be debited and credited. essays using own3 Mechanics the part of a shaft or axle that words. (India) rests on bearings.
    3. 3. • Why did you choose to come to this session?• What key concepts about study skills do we need to ensure our Masters level students understand?
    4. 4. Is studying atMasters level different?
    5. 5. Completely, because in our Yes. Technical Yes, they are quit universities do not content was Because MSc writing ischeck for plagiarism or given more academic writing. (China)similarity in sentences they importance incheck if there is similarity previous studybetween whole project with rather thanothers (Overseas) Plagiarism was not followed getting a perfect by us and we never put structure references in our written without anyYes, it is. When I do BSc., work. (India) technicalI hardly wrote long essay content.(Oversein English. (Thailand) as)Little bit difference, in the method ofsearching for literature review where more Is it different?focus is on the articles and journals otherthan webpages. And also the writing words No difference. With nohave increased here. (Thailand) specific teaching we were expected to (and manage (sic) quite well) to achieve at More critical + requires you to least at ‘this level’ ie ‘Masters think more ‘outside of the box’. level’ from even 1st year i.e (UK student) aged 18 (UKstudent)
    6. 6. Food Science & Nutrition: a case studyMasters students:• Largely international• Hold good, relevant science degrees• IELTS 6.0• Academic skills vary, e.g. info searching, critical thinking, plagiarism, referencing• Some have been taught not to question academics and academic papers
    7. 7. Student background• 108 students• 24% of survey respondents have previously studied in UK• 23% have English as first language• Only 33% of respondents with English as second language said they had attended pre-session English course
    8. 8. Consultation and collaboration academics librarian skills adviser
    9. 9. All Faculty Team • Embedded in the curriculum, Librarians will be developmental not remedialable to deliver the full • Blended learning; transition to academics range of academic • Collaborate with academics skillsThe Skills Team will provide strategic • Online resourcesdirection and a high • Generic teaching resources level of support to librarians and • Liaise and work more closely with FTLs academic staff
    10. 10. CS OK NI TL EL NS T
    11. 11. A threshold concept can be considered as akin to aportal, opening up a new and previouslyinaccessible way of thinking about something. Itrepresents a transformed way of understanding, orinterpreting, or viewing something without which thelearner cannot progress. As a consequence ofcomprehending a threshold concept there may thusbe a transformed internal view of subject matter,subject landscape, or even world view.…troublesome knowledge – knowledge that is„alien‟, or counter-intuitive or even intellectuallyabsurd at face value. (Meyer & Land, 2003) 1 1
    12. 12. Information searching ManagingThreshold concepts information Critical thinking Academic integrity Reading (Best study practices) Writing Assessment
    13. 13. FOOD5405M: Professional Skills for Employment andResearch • Core module for all new MSc students • Module split into two strands Literature retrieval and Experimentation and data evaluation handling • Embedded into programme and linked to other modules • Blended learning approach • Online resources hosted in VLE • Face-to-face workshops • Assessed work to test their skills acquisition
    14. 14. Key concepts Information• Planning a search searching• Boolean logic• Truncation• Tracking citations Managing• Academic journals information• Peer reviewIssues• New resources Reading• Previous access to databases• Over-reliance on Google What I do differently: I try my best to pick only articles and journals rather than webpages. Writing (Thailand) Research extensively in order to make informed contribution towards the topic as well as update myself on issues pertaining to the topic (Ghana) Assessment
    15. 15. Key concepts Information• Academic integrity searching• Accountability• Bibliographic data• Record keeping Managing• Citing and referencing informationIssues• “Cut and paste” as the norm Reading• Plagiarism a new concept for many What I do differently: The way that I search for my references and the way that I put my references into my work. EndNote proved Writing to be very useful software. (Portugal) Assessment
    16. 16. Key concepts Information• Structure of an academic article searching• Purposes of reading• Criticality Authority Managing• Evidence informationIssues• Permission to challenge the „sage on the stage‟ Reading• Volume• Selection• Independence Writing What I do differently: Read it and analyse it well. Analyse it critically. (India) Assessment
    17. 17. Key concepts Information• Academic language searching• Certainty vs. probability (hedging)• Structure, signposting• Using other people‟s research Managing informationIssues• Language• Grammar• Conventions Reading I can now better plan how to go about with the writing. To read and really understand any questions I am suppose to answer. To structure my writing. (South Africa) Understanding what the question asked and give details Writing (Brunei) Of course, learning to write it the Uni’s way (India) Assessment
    18. 18. Information searching• Skills self-evaluation questionnaires and 250-word screening essay (10%) Managing information• Literature review (30%) Topic: “Salt reduction in foods: implications for the food industry and consumers.” Reading• Lab report (30%)• Dietary survey report (30%) Writing Assessment
    19. 19. Information searchingSystematic Managing reviews information ReadingPresentation skills Writing Assessment
    20. 20. Can you identify these features of academicwriting in the article on Japanese HE?• Hedging – circle = certainty/uncertainty• Signposting – [brackets]• Academic voice – wavy underline• Using other people‟s research – underline
    21. 21. Have the students shown any improvement in their work? They have definitely improved. Most noticeable is the use of Hedging and Signposting to structure their arguments. Their referencing skills have greatly improved, and I think, generally, they have realised that published work is there to be evaluated/criticised. Dr Caroline Orfila, Module Leader 2 1
    22. 22. Is MSc writing different to your previous study? 34 UK educated Overseas 12 9 6 6 4 4 0 Yes Not much No No response
    23. 23. How useful were the sessions (overall)? 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Very useful Useful Not useful Not Absent No answer relevant UK educated Overseas
    24. 24. Post-course confidence in academic writing atMasters level UK educated Overseas 4% No 37% change 44% Positive change 56% 59% Negative change
    25. 25. Have the skills sessions changed how you writeassignments? UK educated Overseas No response No 19% response 26% Yes No 48% 19% Yes 62% No 26%
    26. 26. What aspects have changed most for overseasstudents? 14 13 12 12 10 9 8 6 4 4 2 0 Info lit Academic writing Criticality Other
    27. 27. Non-native speakers‟ confidence re academic writingbefore the course 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Very confident Confident Not very Worried confident Attended pre-session Did not attend pre-session
    28. 28. Non-native speakers‟ confidence re academic writingafter the course 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Very confident Confident Not very Worried confident Attended pre-session Did not attend pre-session
    29. 29. Reflection C• Compulsory for non- D • Compulsory for local native speakers graduates• Three-way collaboration • Cohort size – challenges for• Academics in the timetabling and teaching sessions – student buy-in space• Using subject-specific • Timing within semester materials • Language – listening skills• Tied to assessment of some students behind• Use of the VLE writing skills
    30. 30. Recommendations• Schedule early in semester• Tie in with curriculum• Non-compulsory attendance for local students (student)• Assignments compulsory for all• IELTS 7.0 (student)• Attendance at pre-sessional English courses• Make expectations explicit• „Homework‟
    31. 31. What experiences, ideas, insights orsuggestions do you have to share?How could this model work for you?How would you provide context for yourstudents?
    32. 32. Apply the model? Thank you!• Session resources available from Caroline Orfila Skills@Library Victoria Burley• Contact your Faculty Team Librarian about support for academic skills development• Contact Skills@Library for general skills enquiries
    33. 33. ReferencesAcademic Skills Strategy, 2010 Leeds UniversityLibrary, Available from:, J. and R. Land. 2003. Threshold Concepts andTroublesome Knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking andpractising within the disciplines. Edinburgh: University ofEdinburgh.