What are academic literacies 

Whilst I hold with the process approach I also would like to see more of an appreciation of the significance of self within the academic process.

When I engage in an academic or scholarly activity it is not just about cognition. When we come to ask a question, to seek an answer to formulate a response we engage in a personal act of interaction. The action consists of my self, meeting the self of others as I read, I listen, or I watch their thoughts, feelings and meanings as part of the information-gathering process. It is also about who am I as I gather, interpret and communicate information. The nature of this engagement is influenced by how sure I feel about myself: how and what is my understanding, how strong is my voice, how can I make myself heard and understood in the accepted way within this academic community? This is my academic voice.

An academic voice is portrayed significantly through textual means; but it may also be portrayed symbolically, through performance, through image, through oral forums. Increasingly in the era of digital technologies and social networking, it is a voice in dialogue with others and not a one-way monologue. The essay that is written by a student and marked by a teacher in a singular directional flow typifies the monologue. I wonder whether we pay enough attention to how the dialogic experience impacts on the self that is portrayed to others? I find this interesting, as the process approach seems to pay limited attention to the significance of the social in the making of meaning, knowledge and even meaningful knowledge.

This for me is where the critical literacy perspectives of Freire and Mezirow are so significant as they acknowledge the more holistic qualities of academic literacies.  Critical literacy brings to the fore the issue of subjective positioning and engagement within the academic discourse. Literacies and being literate are related to participation and involvement within discourses; discourses in this sense relating to Foucault’s inclusion of ways of being and doing as well as language. Depending on where you are positioned your identity will be impacted on differently.

This we could see in the Teaching and Learning symposium facilitated by Waikato University at Unitec, where so many tutors talked about challenges with application of the assessment tool coming from a teachers sense of self in relation to the discourses of literacy and numeracy. A number of presenters acknowledged the self of the teacher being a self of doubt, of uncertainty and lacking in confidence when faced with academic literacies. Hence I would argue that academic literacies are not solely about the student
experience but about the academic experience in a more global sense. The
self within academic literacies is a self-in-transformation and more than a technical skill, which I feel is still the driving force behind information literacy

Mark, you state in your posting that "we start with a question, something that needs explaining or answering" but do we spend time to really consider what this initial question may be, whose question it is and more basically is there an academically appropriate way of questioning?

I wonder how much about asking questions is about confidence; especially as confidence calls for a self-assuredness to be able to step from a point of knowing. How do you begin to question if your foundational knowledge or understanding or even confidence is uncertain, shaky or weak.

May be the first part of the process for information literacy, as an aspect of academic literacies, is about knowing how to ask a question within an academic discourse:

What does questioning look like within academia?

What does questioning look like within an academic discipline?

What does questioning look like in an applied discipline?

This questioning could relate to the assumptions that we bring to bear within the academic discourse. How we may look at a situation a text a problem and how our prior frames of reference or problem-solving schema inform this?

Nic Dunham

Faculty Academic Literacies Advisor

Faculty of Creative Industries and Business

Views: 82

Replies to This Discussion

Hi Nic

Thanks for your thoughtful response to Mark's post on Academic literacies - it has made me think about a number of recurring issues ( in no particular order):

- the question of 'voice' - student's and teacher's -
I'll start with the students: a central concern I had when I was teaching in Foundation Studies was the lack of attention paid to the voice of the student in writing activities and assignments, and how difficult many of the students found it to assume/take on an 'academic' voice, when many of them weren't used to expressing their thoughts, feelings, responses etc in any kind of writing, personal or otherwise. If we want to bring the student's voice into the academic literacies process then I think we need to find ways to explore and explain what we mean by voice in both a general and a technical way, and to provide a
'bridge' between personal/social voices and academic ones - and to explain why academic ones have a place/purpose. Being able to deconstruct texts of all kinds (and reconstruct them) is surely an important part understanding any form of literacy or discourse

As an aside: Voice in (creative) writing is deeply connected to point of view, character, dialogue, tone and writing style - all of which tie into a sense of 'self' as you put it, or in political terms, identity, interests( to use an old Marxist term), position of power or otherwise.

I agree too that often the voice and/or identity issues of teachers ( and their learning needs) is often marginalised or not fully listened to - much of the change being required at Unitec currently ( on Living curriculum, elearning, embedding literacies etc,) deeply affects the identity of teaching staff - some embrace the changes, some resist, some try and make sense of it, some wallow in a sea of confusion and so on...

I think it is important that we try and open up a number of spaces in our understanding and practice of academic literacies to include the issues of 'self' you raise, and also to align a number of other 'literacies', including foundational literacies - which are implicit but unstated in the process -

Trisha Hanifin
Trisha and Nic,

thank you for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed reading your contributions and it made me think further.

Can I add another aspect (or two) into the discussion? Learning judgement is part of identity learning and of finding your voice (students and teaching staff). Hager's (1994) features of practical judgement in the workplace include 'to recognise what constitutes a problem' (or: what can constitute a question) before moving on to 'how to solve it'. Not only has this to be learnt but intermediate steps are needed. I am not sure where judgement in this sense sits in relation to knowing how to ask a question but I would like to raise it as something to be considered and for your feedback/ideas.

So how do we assist staff and students to develop such a capacity? What are the intermediate steps? How far can critical reflection strategies and activities be useful, with its potential to help building awareness of questions of power, and to be explicit about strategies and rationale in the classroom? How can this look like in different classrooms and at different levels of learning? Using feedback processes, modelling, articulation ...?

You might like to watch this. The importance of new media skills is discussed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEHcGAsnBZE

Thanks for this Nic - I'd appreciate a response to this as well.


The other day Dulcie and I discussed alterations to the Department of Social Practice's Induction week.  Based on the conversation we'd had earlier around using your ECE course as a model we presented the following.  That the induction week deal with:


You as a learner (identity and voice)

You as a learner in the discipline (questions, knowing and discursive practices)

You doing things as a learner in the discipline (functional and technical academci skills)

You as a learner at Unitec (orientating to place and people)


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