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Title: Postgraduate writing assessments : a task-based analysis for understanding postgraduate students' academic writing needs
Author: Shelmerdine, Layla Nichole
ISNI:       0000 0004 9359 197X
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2020
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This study researched the writing needs of postgraduate (PG) students at an English medium, Sino-British University in China. This warrants research attention for several reasons. Firstly, while the population of PG English as a second language (L2) students continues to increase (Altbach & Knight, 2007; British Council 2014; HESA, 2015), many struggle with English language related problems (Barthel, 2008; Bayliss & Ingram, 2006; Bergey, et. al, 2018; Schoepp, 2018; Yen & Kuzma, 2009). Secondly, writing is often the principle mode of assessment in higher education (Goodfellow, 2006, p. 481), and although writing tasks in PG degree programmes are assessed, these tasks are rarely explicitly taught in degree specific courses (Goldsmith & Willey, 2016). This situation has resulted in a growing number of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses (e.g. Melles et al., 2005) and other writing support mechanisms at English medium institutions (EMIs) (Fenton-Smith & Humphreys, 2015); however, these support mechanisms are not always appropriate for students’ degree specific needs (e.g. Lax, 2002; Ma, 2018). Within this context, the overall purpose of this study was to identify PG students’ writing needs in order to inform improvements to writing support mechanisms (e.g. PG EAP courses). The students’ writing needs were considered by taking into account both the importance of writing tasks and student perceptions in terms of their perceived understanding of these writing tasks (i.e. self-efficacy) and of their perceptions of the current writing support mechanisms. This was achieved by using a sequential mixed methods approach where data was collected from a content analysis of PG writing task sheets to inform the development a PG student questionnaire used to obtain their perceptions. These two sets of data (the content analysis and questionnaire) were triangulated to allow input from multiple stakeholders (i.e. academic lecturers and PG students). Previous research into students’ writing needs have also used a content analysis of writing task sheets (e.g. Cho, 2014; Dunworth, 2008). However, this study has built upon previous research in three important ways. Firstly, the content analysis determined writing task type importance more thoroughly by taking into account multiple variables (word count, value and occurrence). Secondly, this was the first study to explore writing needs for all PG programmes at a single international university, demonstrating how writing needs can differ across various programmes. Finally, this was the first study to triangulate student perceptions with writing importance in order to provide new insights into PG students’ writing needs. The Sino-British University where the study took place offers a single PG EAP course. However, the results show that students from different PG degree programmes have very different writing requirements. Given these widely varying writing needs, if possible (i.e. the resources allow it), the findings suggest the University should provide support via the PG EAP course for individual PG degree programmes. An alternative is to increase the Writing Centre’s workshop provision, providing more degree specific workshops. However, if the University continues its current practice of a single PG English EAP course, then the overall most important writing task types identified by this study should be covered. This research will be of particular interest to institutions with a large L2 English student body and the wider research community with an interest in needs analyses. It is suggested that other institutions perform a similar content analysis to determine writing importance and consider taking into account students’ perceptions to inform their own writing support. However, regarding student perceptions, this study was only able to differentiate the students’ writing needs for a limited number of programmes. Accordingly, recommendations for future research which may further illuminate writing needs are also provided. The inspiration for this study was my own experience teaching PG EAP and the lack of research of degree specific writing. As the international PG student population continues to increase, it is important that teachers, academic lecturers and universities are prepared to support these students on multiple fronts and I hope this thesis can contribute to that growing body of research.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ed.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral