Investigating the practice architectures of a whole-of-institution embedding academic language framework: what constrains and enables its sustainability?

Year: 2021

Author: Goldsmith, Rosalie

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Background: It has been well-documented that widening participation in higher education has placed pressure on universities to ensure that all students can meet the academic language and literacy demands of their degree. In response to widespread concerns about students entering Australian universities with low levels of academic literacy, one Australian university has implemented an academic language development (ALD) framework. The framework provides whole-of-institution, contextualised, discipline-specific language support for students who enter with low levels of academic language, as identified by a post enrolment language assessment. Significance and aims of the research: The theory of practice architectures provides both a theoretical lens and a methodological tool to analyse the arrangements (cultural, physical and relational) within a site of practice which can both constrain and enable practices. Using this theory, our research identifies arrangements in the site-specific context of our university which enable and constrain a whole-of-institution academic language development framework. It considers conditions for the sustainability of such a framework, thus providing a novel lens through which to view embedding academic language within a university curriculum. Research Design Utilising the data gathered from an ongoing evaluation of the ALD framework, the researchers have employed a theory of practice architectures lens to identify the practice architectures which can hold in place a whole-of-institution approach to embedding academic language. The evaluation data includes student surveys; focus groups with students regarding language development tutorials; interviews with disciplinary educators and interviews with Associate Deans Teaching and Learning from all faculties. Key findings: The analysis reveals how shifts in practice architectures in the site of the university have made language an explicit requirement of all degree programs. This has enabled language development to become a visible element of progression and success in first year subjects for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The compulsory elements of the framework enable student participation and constrain their avoidance of seeking language support. At the same time, practice architectures in the university curriculum which valorise content delivery in teaching are shown to enable the separation of content and language. This constrains the integration of disciplinary language development with disciplinary knowledge and may militate against the sustainability of the ALD framework. Uncovering these practices and making them more visible can provide opportunities to challenge or rethink practices that are unhelpful or damaging, and can enable other researchers to view their own sites of practice in a new light.