University of Sussex
Amua-Sekyi,_Ekua_Tekyiwa.pdf (1016.91 kB)

Developing criticality in the context of mass higher education: investigating literacy practices on undergraduate courses in Ghanaian universities

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:14 authored by Ekua Tekyiwa Amua-Sekyi
The study observed five introductory classes at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, to find out what academic literacy practices are being engendered and how criticality is being fostered through those practices. The results are intended to help both myself, as a teacher researcher, and the university to identify how students make the difficult transition from expectations of literacy at secondary school to those at university. I observed lecturers and students in their classroom environment for a semester (16 weeks); interviewed lecturers who taught the courses observed and conducted five focus groups, made up of eight students each, with volunteers from each of the classes observed. These interviews were replicated in two other public universities: the Universities of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology where two and five lecturers respectively participated in individual interviews, and eight students each participated in focus groups. Finally, I triangulated the data in order to identify emergent patterns of lecturers’ and students’ experiences with teaching and learning. The data indicates that students need more explicit teaching of the basic literacy skills they are assumed to have. Most students in the study had difficulty comprehending academic texts. Additionally, students rarely attempted to read their assigned texts beforehand since they had little experience in anticipating what to look for or connect with in the text. Student writing is poor, as they have no opportunity to practice continuous writing. In order to address the literacy difficulties of these students, there is the need to pay attention to institutional and faculty engagement practices which promote student learning. A major area for improvement is in encouraging lecturers to teach using more explicit methods so that students can move from where they are in their literacy competence to where lecturers expect them to be. The place to explain to students what is expected in a discipline is within that discipline (Skillen et al., 2001), rather than assume that students will automatically see the shift in expectations for each field of study. Although there was substantial consensus about the importance of criticality in lecturers’ aims for student learning, this was not adequately translated into literacy practices. Massification has led to a preference for multiple-choice testing which has removed the need to read and write for assessment, inviting students out of the intellectual dialogue that characterizes the various disciplines as they engage critically and thoughtfully with course readings (Svinicki, 2005; Carroll, 2002). The findings of this study indicate that lecturers have only adapted to the changed circumstances of massification in ways that mean that the critical acquisition of academic literacies is diminished. The impact of massification on teaching and learning has resulted in lecturers feeling under pressure to teach in ways that conflict with their personal ideologies. To foster criticality in students lecturers will have to learn new skills as what may happen with a group of 20 cannot be translated into a group of hundred or more. There are policies in place to enhance teaching and learning but few mechanisms to implement them. In the most important sense that the university in its policy statements and course outlines values critical thinking and deep engagement with ideas and concepts, the practices described by students and lecturers are completely in tension. In order to address the literacy difficulties of students, universities will need to actively support lecturers in teaching reform efforts so as to respond to pressures on them to increase their output while maintaining quality. Significant progress is likely to come about only if universities are willing to invest in resources that are needed to experiment with institution-wide changes.


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