Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Dr Yvonne Haig

Second Advisor

Dr John Ehrich

Abstract

Over the past decade, Australian universities have experienced an exponential increase in the enrolment of fee-paying overseas students whose preparation for tertiary studies may differ significantly from that of local students. Despite English language proficiency requirements, there is some concern that international entry tests do not adequately measure the complex features of university writing; an important concern given that student success is heavily dependent on their mastery of academic writing. As a result, many international students require additional support structures. Until the present, debate about the most effective way to meet the diverse needs of English as an Additional Language (EAL) writers entering universities has concerned a choice between two alternatives: on one hand a separate, short-term English for Academic Purposes (EAP) language program and on the other, direct entry into disciplines with lecturers taking responsibility for assisting students to learn the discipline-specific language skills required. While the Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA, 2009, 2013) supports the latter view, this research investigates a third alternative; that is, an English for Academic Purposes Pathway program (EAPP) that not only teaches general academic English skills, but also English required in discipline specific contexts, as well as important and necessary adjunct skills that support writing.

This three-phase, mixed-methods study used both qualitative and quantitative data to investigate the efficacy of such a program. The study, which was analytic, descriptive and comparative in approach, was conducted in a naturalistic setting and, where possible, qualitative data were used to support the findings from quantitative data. Theoretical propositions guided the data collection and provided important links to connect primary and secondary research. Phase 1 investigated the academic writing needs perceived by 60 students who were either studying in the 20-week or 10-week EAPP program at Swan University (a pseudonym). Perceptions of student needs by 13 EAPP teachers were also analysed and writing samples collected. In Phase 2, the cohort decreased to 31 students representing seven faculties. Perceptions of 17 faculty staff from across and within these seven faculties were sought regarding the tasks and genres required for EAL students to meet the writing expectations within these disciplines. The marked ex-EAPP student’s faculty writing assignments were collected and analysed at the end of first semester. At this stage, because the volume of student writing produced over the course of the study was so large, disproportional stratified random sampling was used to select and analyse the EAPP and faculty writing of a sample of seven students. Research by Kaldor, Herriman and Rochecouste (1998) provided direction for frame analysis which was used to analyse the student writing. In Phase 3, which was conducted one year after entering their chosen faculties, 22 students replied to a request to judge which, if any, writing skills from their EAPP program had transferred to assist them with their faculty writing.

Findings are discussed in relation to four major issues. Firstly, reflections provided by ex-EAPP students ascertained that, on entering the EAPP program, the majority of them had been academically, linguistically, culturally and socially unprepared for study at master’s degree level in an Australian university. Secondly, analysis determined that in the students’ first year of faculty study, writing tasks and genres were almost identical in type, complexity and word-count restrictions to those taught in the EAPP program and that students readily adapted to the highly specified frameworks of any tasks that were unfamiliar. A third major finding was the significance that students placed on the type of feedback necessary to support their writing. Finally, students identified major areas of improvement in their academic writing at the end of the program, but provided suggestions in key pedagogical areas about how the EAPP program could be improved to better address their needs. This study found that EAL writing development involves much more than content knowledge, mastery over discipline-specific genre requirements and a wide vocabulary. Academic writing comprises a complex combination of extratextual, circumtextual, intratextual and intertextual features and skills, some of which are completely new to international students. A model was proposed to illustrate elements that provide: circumtextual assistance for prewriting support; intertextual assistance through reading and writing support; extratextual assistance through sociocultural support, and intratextual assistance through the scaffolding of academic writing skills. To conclude, recommended modifications to the program are presented.

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