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Higher education for professional and/or academic literacy?
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Education.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4858-0385
2019 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

As in other professional programmes within academia, part of the learning outcomes relates to content like anatomy and physiology, others relate to tools, and materials used for dental work and their properties – in everyday terminology the ‘theoretical’ aspects of dental work. Other learning outcomes relate to what a dentist does – the ‘practical’ (clinical) aspects of dental knowledge. Aspects of these are both understanding patient needs, hands-on-skills, being able to construct an anamnesis and explain oral conditions, treatment need and prognosis (Kurz, Draper & Silverman, 2016). Furthermore, as becoming a dentist requires attending an educational programme, reading and writing, i.e. literacy competences, are seen as self-evident aspects of contemporary education. While it seems obvious that it takes time to become a skilled dentist and a degree is the necessary beginning in this direction, it seems less obvious that it also takes time to become a skilled writer in academia. 

But future dentists not only examine or repair their clients’ teeth. Part of a dentist’s everyday work is also to document examinations and treatment, prescribe medicines, but also to communicate with other professionals about clients that may need complementary or specialist treatment. Transition from higher education to work requires that students can cope also with the literacy practices of the profession. Studies with this focus show that although a person may be a successful student, (s)he isn’t necessarily well acquainted with the kinds of literacy demands that (s)he will encounter when entering the world of work (Ask, 2017; Dias et al., 1999). 

Since the 1980s there has been a growing interest in literacy practices, that is, what people read and write in specific activities, how people are expected to read and write (what qualifies as an acceptable text) and for what purposes representatives for the activity read and write. Our focus is on literacy practices in professional higher education, since these prepare for professional as well as for academic writing. On the one hand, students in professional higher education write as part of their studies, but part of professional higher education there also is a practicum or clinical part (what this part is called varies between programmes). During this part students also write, but the purpose for writing is not necessarily the same.

The issue for this paper is firstly, to analyse one of the Swedish dental programmes in relation to its design in relation to possible content of relevance for academic and professional literacy, and secondly to explore the literacy practices of the first two modules of a course, specifically from the perspective of students: what do they read and write, how do they read the texts related to this module, how do they write, and what purposes do they express for their reading and writing?

In Sweden previous research concerns professional education for engineers (Hållsten, 2008; Berthén, Eriksson & Lindberg, 2006), teachers (Ask, 2007; Blåsjö 2007) and policemen (Ask, 2014). Furthermore, the academic literacy has been studied by Blåsjö (2004) and (Hagström 2005). Our study aligns with the theoretical framings for such studies – text-cultures (Bazerman, 1995), the New Literacy Tradition (NLS) (Street, 2003) with specific focus on literacy in higher education (Jones, Turner & Street, 1999; Lea & Street, 1998, 2006) as well as literacy at work (Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000). Activity theory has also been used by e.g. Dias and Freedman (1999) in relation to professional higher education and corresponding work (see also Engeström, 1998).

Methods/methodology

In line with studies framed by NLS, ethnographic mapping of literacy events - what students read or wrote, and text-related communication (Barton 2007; Karlsson 2006; Street 2003) informed the data produced. They comprise of the following:

  • Formal documents: the curriculum for the study programme in dentistry as well as the curriculum for the modules Orofacial pan and jaw function 1 and 2 
  • Course literature (recommended however not compulsory): Jeffrey P Okeson (Ed.) (2013). Management of temporomandibular disorders and occlusion. 7th Ed.  St. Louis: Mosby. The book is on 488 pages (of which approx. 100 pages consist of references). Of the 68 students, 16 bought the book. 
  • Teaching material: hand-outs (copies of lecturers’ power-points) to students. Power-points for all lectures are based on core content from the book. 
  • Students' notes (N=10), all anonymised. In total, 68 students attended the modules. The group pf students was informed about the study and or interest in having copies of their notes but that participation was voluntary.
  • Audio-recordings of the lectures (N=8) – permission given by the two teachers – with the microphone placed close to the teacher. The audio-recordings were complemented by field-notes from one or two researchers attending each lecture
  • Multiple-choice tests and students’ results (although not used for this paper).
  • Complementary to the multiple-choice test there were three mandatory clinical skills demonstrations. For the clinical skills demonstration, no documentation was demanded of the students. The teacher filled in a template for each student, based on observation of students’ performances.
  • Video-recorded, material based thematic interviews with students. During one of the final lectures, students were asked if they could consider being interviewed based on their notes from the lectures. All three student that registered were interviewed. The video recording focused only on students’ notes and their hands, the main point with this procedure was to capture if and when a student pointed at some specific part of their notes.

Data was processed and analysed in the following steps: The formal documents were read in order to identify parts of the programme and curricula were academic and/or professional literacy was likely to occur. For this part, the dental researchers in the group necessary. Secondly, the teaching material provided by the two teachers (hand-outs of their Power-point presentations) were compared to students’ notes in order to identify what kinds of notes students made. Thirdly, the interviews with students about their were analysed (this part is still in progress).

Expected outcomes/preliminary results/implications 

The analysis of the programme showed that there, in principle, are several options for addressing both academic and professional literacy. During the first semester the curriculum indicates that students are expected to read academic articles. Attention should be paid both to the content and the structures of these articles. During the following semesters, professional literacy is focused in terms of communication with clients, colleagues and teams of various professions, but also written documentation for various professional purposes. From the sixth semester, academic writing is introduced. In parallel, more complex professional communication and documentation becomes part of the curriculum.

The analysis of students’ notes was performed by two researchers, one specialized in dentistry and the other in pedagogy, for reasons of double-control. Both researchers had participated in data collection and observation of lectures. This analysis was developed and tried out based on randomly selected notes from one student before the main analysis of all student texts. The initial analytical template of the student texts was then compared to the main analysis, and the congruency was satisfactory. We found that some students took notes in hand-writing, while others took digital notes. In relation to what was noted, we found three types of notes: 1) copied text from teachers’ power-points, 2) re-formulated text in teachers’ power-points, and 3) written complementing text. The amount of each type pf notes was then estimated and patterns of the three types of notes (copied, re-formulated, or complementary) for each student were mapped and patterns were then constructed into profiles for students’ note-taking. The result of this analysis was used for developing some of the questions for the thematic interviews with students. Preliminary findings of the interviews show that students are aware of professional as well as of academic writing throughout the programme.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
Keywords [en]
New Literacy Studies (NLS), pilot study, professional literacy, academic literacy
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Didactics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-175439OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-175439DiVA, id: diva2:1365971
Conference
8th Nordic Conference on Cultural and Activity Research, Trondheim, Norway, 18-20 June, 2019
Available from: 2019-10-27 Created: 2019-10-27 Last updated: 2019-11-01Bibliographically approved

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