We are a team of four- three students and an academic. Nadine Spence, Luke Kennedy, Dr Sue Becker and I have been working as a student partnership for around a year and 6 months now to develop ‘The Student’s Academic Literacy Tool’ (SALT) for students in FE and HE institutions to improve their academic writing style. We are all from different years of study and the SALT project brought us together. From the minute we came together as a team we have got along really well and worked well together which has been great!
The SALT (Student’s Academic Literacy Tool) project was started with the aim of developing a resource to improve student writing by working in partnership with students to produce a set of materials which would make the key features of a good academic writing style accessible and identifiable to students spanning a range of ages and abilities. The partnership team was established in May 2014 and initially included Dr Sue Becker (Senior Lecturer in Psychology); Luke Kennedy (final year Psychology undergraduate); Holly Shahverdi (second year Psychology undergraduate) and Nadine Spence (First year Psychology undergraduate)
The project began after Sue Becker had spent several years delivering a first-year core module during which students submitted their first piece of assessed writing at the University. She observed high levels of anxiety amongst successive cohorts as they had little knowledge of what was expected of them in their first piece of extended writing at university level. Students’ lack of preparation for the transition to university and unfamiliarity with academic writing style led to recognition that support for improving academic literacy needed to be embedded in disciplines as part of the first-year experience (Hathaway, 2015). As a way of supporting students to recognise and improve their writing styles, Sue had started to run a diagnostic academic writing test and provided targeted feedback to students as part of a formative assessment in their first term. Unfortunately, the highly-specialised nature of the test meant that both students and tutors on the module required extensive guidance and support to understand the technical aspects of academic writing identified in the diagnostic test.
The Student‘s Academic Literacy Tool itself comprises two main elements, a checklist and a glossary. The key features of academic writing are divided into four sections: grammatical accuracy, correct use of language, structure/development of text and the use of relevant source material. Each section includes a set of criteria designed to enable students to identify key features of each element which they need to incorporate into their writing to enable users to assess how successfully they have met each of the criteria. The second element of the SALT is a glossary, explaining each criterion in more detail and demonstrating, by means of short illustrative texts written by the student researchers, how these criteria appear in academic writing.
The development process/ your experience
Unlike the majority of teams, we already had our tool developed as a paper based tool and upon entering, we were already user testing the tool in FE and HE institutions in the North East of England. Our reason for entering SOSI mainly is because our feedback indicated a demand for an online-based version of the tool. So I guess our experience was pretty different to everyone else’s. I suppose in some ways, we had a head start. But the way the workshops are structured meant that in other ways this was also a setback, as once you have created one idea it can become difficult to change it.
Attending the design sprints was a great experience for us in a number of ways. Firstly, it was a test of the strength of us as a team. To spend four, 8 hour days working solidly on unpacking your ideas and then reducing them down again wasn’t the easiest thing we have had to do in our time together on the project, and I personally feel that we were too quick to take prioritise everyone’s opinion but our own which really slowed us down at one point. However, towards the end of the four days we really began to pull our ideas together for an app that would be most effective for students to use.
What you’ve gained/ learned from the experience
I think the main thing that our team have taken from this experience is that one concise idea is much more useful than lots and lots of ‘oh that might be pretty good’ kind of ideas. The most effective components of our tool have been tried and tested over and over again before reaching a final version. You cannot always use your own judgement alone, but equally, you have to have a certain degree of belief in your idea otherwise no one else will. Basically, all I am saying is that if someone criticises your idea, it really is a good thing. It shows that they have taken the time and interest in your idea and want to help you make it more effective.
Opportunities it has created/ future plans (a very brief taster of things to come)
Since its dissemination, interest in SALT has grown through publications, conference presentations and national media coverage following the Team’s success in winning the SOSI competition. This has led to the Student’s Academic Literacy Tool being used across a number of Science and Technology disciplines at Teesside University and in addition it is being used in a number of other Universities across the U.K. Since winning the SOSI competition, SALT has also been shortlisted for a Guardian University Award, and most importantly, the app will help a lot of students to attain a higher standard of academic writing and reduce their anxiety.
Summary of why people should enter the competition
I personally would encourage anyone who thinks they have a great idea to enter the SOSI competition. I would even go as far as to say it has been life changing where our project is concerned. Having the opportunity to network with professionals and gain support to develop your idea is such a great thing to be able to have access to. However, too many times have I seen people come up with an idea who haven’t done their background research, so my advice would be to choose something that brings something original and useful to the education sector. There is a lot of competition out there, so it is up to you to bring new ideas, and JISC will help you with the rest!