Title page for ETD etd-07212010-194445

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Fouche, Ilse
Email ilsefouche@gmail.com
URN etd-07212010-194445
Document Title Improving the academic literacy levels of first-year Natural Sciences students by means of an academic literacy intervention
Degree Master of Arts
Department Afrikaans
Advisor Name Title
Dr H G Butler Supervisor
  • English for science and technology
  • language support
  • EST
  • English for specific purposes
  • tertiary education
  • ESP
  • authentic materials
  • academic literacy
  • collaborate
  • ODL
  • writing course
  • undergraduate reading and writing
  • open and distance learning
Date 2010-04-22
Availability unrestricted

Over the past years, there has been a consistent call from Government and industry for South African tertiary institutions to deliver more graduates in the fields of science and technology. This, however, is no mean feat for universities, as the pool of prospective candidates delivers very few students with the necessary academic literacy abilities, and very few students who passed mathematics and science at the right levels to succeed in science higher education. This puts tertiary institutions under mounting pressure to accept students who are under-prepared and to support these students appropriately.

The plight of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institutions like the University of South Africa (UNISA) is even more desperate, as they are often left with those students who are either unable to gain entrance into, or to afford the study fees of, residential universities. These students are often in greater need for face-to-face interaction than are their counterparts at residential universities, yet they generally receive very little of this.

The intervention examined and critiqued in this study is an attempt at raising the academic literacy levels of first-year students at UNISA in the fields of science and technology by means of a 60-hour face-to-face workshop programme. As its foundation, it uses the principles of collaborative learning and authentic material design. It also treats academic literacy abilities as interdependent and holistic.

This study starts with a broad overview of the context. This is followed by a review of the literature. This review focuses on concepts such as collaborative learning, academic literacy, English for academic purposes, English for specific purposes and English for science and technology. Thereafter, a needs analysis is done in which studentsí Test for Academic Literacy Levels (TALL) pre-test results, as well as a sample of their assignments, are examined. In addition, the workshops in this intervention programme are analysed individually. To determine the effectiveness of the academic literacy intervention, studentsí pre- and post-TALL results are scrutinised, and a feedback questionnaire filled in at the end of the year is analysed. Subsequently, recommendations are made as to how the workshop programme could be improved.

Findings show that the academic literacy intervention did improve studentsí academic literacy levels significantly, though the improvement is not enough to elevate students from being considered at-risk. However, with fine-tuning the existing programme, the possibility exists that studentsí academic literacy levels might be further improved. This calls for a careful examination of the areas in which studentsí performance did not improve significantly.

Student feedback indicated a positive attitude towards the entire intervention programme, as well as a marked preference for collaborative learning and face-to-face interaction. In the redevelopment of the current workshop programme, such preferences would have to receive attention, so as to integrate studentsí wants, together with what they lack and what they need, in subsequent interventions.

In conclusion, the limitations of this study are discussed, and recommendations are made for future research, as the current study must be seen as only the beginning of a process of action research that could lead to a sustainable intervention programme in future.

Copyright © 2009, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Fouche, I 2009, Improving the academic literacy levels of first-year Natural Sciences students by means of an academic literacy intervention, MA dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-07212010-194445/ >

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