The role of disciplinary epistemologies in HE academic writing

January 6, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Social Science, Psychology, Psychotherapy
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The role of disciplinary epistemologies in HE academic writing: Views and pedagogical applications from near and far Julio Gimenez Centre for English Language Education Centre for Research in Higher, Adult and Vocational Education

A bit of background • Dissatisfaction with my teaching and research approach to academic writing: traditional but generic • Opportunities for student writers to engage with the ways their disciplines structure a piece of academic writing = conceptualising and communicating disciplinary knowledge (e.g. history: engage with examining evidence and the ideologies involved in a situation or historical event) • Concepts like ‘criticality’, ‘voice’, and ‘evidence’ are not generic but discipline-specific

• Look more closely at how disciplines conceptualise and communicate disciplinary knowledge in writing: Midwifery, nursing, business and engineering • Work by colleagues (‘near and far’): – Iliana Martinez (Argentina): Biology and agricultural sciences, – Anna Jones (Australia): Medicine and history, and, – Inmaculada Fortanet Gomez (Spain): Business studies

Traditional (generic) approaches to teaching academic writing • Academic writing is a generic skills which, once learnt, can be transferred (writing ≠ academic writing) • Attributes of academic writing such as ‘criticality,’ ‘voice’ and ‘evidentiality’ are also generic and transferable • The traditional ‘essay’ is the key form of writing/academic genre that all students need to learn (‘essayist culture in HE’ Lillis (2001))

But Criticality • Engineering: skill for creative problem-solving; sound decisions • Midwifery: explain links between theory and practice, understand ideology and social change • Business studies: skill for conceptual problemsolving; logical evaluations

And Authorial presence • As academic writers, nurses prefer ‘authorial absence’, even when writing reflectively and evaluating evidence from research • Midwives choose to be present as authors of their own reflective practice • And engineers would write impersonal accounts of experiments but personal evaluation of projects

Questioning, reflecting, researching • Questioning my own pedagogical practices for teaching academic writing within the disciplines • Reflecting upon my class as a space for creating opportunities for students as writers of disciplinary texts • Researching how the disciplines conceptualise and communicate disciplinary knowledge in writing

What for? • To understand how criticality, voice and evidentiality are (or not?) epistemologically conceptualised in a number of disciplines: nursing, midwifery, business, and engineering,

• To see whether these conceptualisations shape academic practices (reading, writing and presenting) at undergraduate level.

Some literature informing my work • Disciplines and epistemologies: Becher (1989, 1994) • Discursive representation of knowledge: Parry (1998) • Generic attributes: Hyland (2000), Jones (2009) • Discipline-specific writing: Fortanet Gomez (2004), Hyland (2004), Jones (2009), Martinez (2009)

Some findings…

Disciplinary epistemologies Becher (1989): key features of knowledge base KNOWLEDGE





Becher (1989: 36) • “…the process of locating a discipline in relation to its neighbours is in itself of limited interest, and should be seen as no more than a preliminary to other more fundamental issues. Boundaries, after all, do not exist merely as lines on a map: they denote territorial possessions that can be encroached upon, colonized and reallocated. Some are so strongly defended as to be virtually impenetrable; others are weakly guarded and open to incoming and outgoing traffic.”

Discursive representations Parry (1998): • the way writers discursively assert knowledge; and • the conventions disciplines follow for structuring discourse.


Epistemologies and attributes Based on Gimenez (2008; 2012)

Discipline NURSING

Knowledge base


Mainly empirical

Relationship between health and illness; reflection upon practice

Development of competence; potential to generate action in practice

Creative problem-solving; sound decisions

positivist model


applied model

Evidentiality Hierarchy of evidence (RCTs - expert opinion)

Scientific evidence; professional experience in some contexts

Voice Objective, impersonal in most Circumstances, even when reflecting Mostly impersonal, but personal when evaluating

Epistemologies and attributes Based on Gimenez (2008; forthcoming)

Discipline MIDWIFERY constructivist model

BUSINESS applied model

Knowledge base

Scientific, but also competence, intuition, personal and embodied knowledge

Competence; basis for skills development

Criticality Explain links between theory and practice, understand ideology and social change

Conceptual problemsolving; logical evaluations



Holistic entity: scientific, objective and empirical facts, but also clinical experience and embodied knowledge

Impersonal but relative to what is being explained, personal Descriptions & reflections also important

Balanced mix of scientific evidence and professional practice

Mostly impersonal but personal evaluations also important

Conceptualising ‘criticality’ Criticality as a generic skill: “Critical thinking is a cognitive activity, associated with using the mind. Learning to think in critically analytical Generic and evaluative ways means using mental processes such as attention, categorisation, selection, and judgement.” (Cottrell, 2005: 1) Criticality in the Disciplines (1): “… critical application of research knowledge from the social and human sciences … action, reflection and evaluation… integration of contextual, analytic, explanatory and practical understanding…. (QAA Benchmark Statement for Social Policy and Administration and Social Work, 2000: 11) Criticality in the Disciplines (2): “… including self awareness, openness and sensitivity to diversity in terms of people, cultures, business and management issues.…. (QAA Benchmark Statement for General Business and Management, 2007: 4)


Conceptualising ‘Voice’… Voice & Individuality: In order to think critically, one must have an individual voice (Ramanathan and Atkinson, 1999) Generic Voice & Responsibility: “…in association with knowledge claims and beliefs voice acknowledges the writer’s responsibility for them and property rights over them” (Ivanic, 1998: 308)…. by not using “I”, “the writer is withdrawing from all responsibility” (p. 306).

Voice & Identity: First person as a key element for establishing the individual identity of an author (Hyland 2002; 2009; Ivanic, 1998) Voice in the Disciplines: “In nursing students are required to ‘project an impersonal voice and avoid using the first person singular’”


Conceptualising ‘Evidentiality’ Evidentiality & Positioning: linguistic encoding of information source… expressing the speaker’s/writer’s attitude towards Generic knowledge (Kim, 2005) Evidentiality & Argumentation: Statements or assertions serving to strengthen the argument… support for the truth of a proposition, especially those deriving from empirical observation or experience (Kemerling, 2002) Evidentiality in the Disciplines: In midwifery evidence also encompasses clinical experience and what Fullbrook (2004) defines as embodied knowledge, that is, informal knowledge learnt from personal experience and observation. Evidence is also conceived of as expert knowledge; consultation with Discipline-specific stakeholders (including clients) as well as evaluation of previous policies.

Generic & Transferable? Discipline-specific? A transferable attribute (skill) is ‘an ability learnt in one context which can be applied in another’ (Transferable skills modules in HE, Skills Portal for Oxford University Researchers, 2010). Jones (1999: 96) the transferable skills argument ‘‘ignores the importance of the disciplinary culture and community of practice’’.

what would be most helpful for student writers?

Some thoughts…

• Academic writing is largely discipline-specific; • ‘Criticality,’ ‘voice’ and ‘evidentiality’ are central to academic writing in higher education; • These attributes are not generic and transferable but discipline specific and epistemologically determined; • How different disciplines conceptualise these attributes poses challenges for undergraduate student writers- especially those studying across disciplines; • Current approaches to teaching academic writing may be inadequate.

Towards an alternative pedagogy Discipline-specific pedagogical interventions which encourage students to examine the relationship between disciplinary epistemologies, attributes, and academic practices in higher education

Pedagogical interventions so far Student writers as researchers of academic practices in their own disciplines

Student writers as analysts of academic practices in their own disciplines

• Students as researchers of their own disciplines: (1) knowledge: what it is, how it is framed, how it is linguistically realised; (2) attributes: (e.g. criticality, voice and evidentiality) how they are conceptualised and determined, how they are linguistically realised; (3) discourses & practices: how knowledge and attributes are discursively represented in the academic practices of their disciplines.

• Students as analysts of disciplinary practices in their disciplines: (1) Disciplinary analysis: how practices are epistemologically shaped; (2) Discourse analysis: how practices are discursively represented in their disciplines; (3) Genre analysis: how knowledge and attributes that constitute the academic practices of their discipline are linguistically realised in writing.

Concluding thought If students are to become effective participants in disciplinary practices in HE, and therefore core participants in the discursive construction of disciplinary knowledge, academic writing and its disciplinary attributes should be explicitly taught within the disciplines, and this should become the responsibility of content and writing lecturers alike.

The role of disciplinary epistemologies in HE academic writing: Views and pedagogical applications from near and far Julio Gimenez Centre for English Language Education Centre for Research in Higher, Adult and Vocational Education

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