A national audit of academic literacies provision in enabling courses

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A national audit of academic literacies provision in enabling courses

The findings from this 2014 study provide the first comprehensive overview of the enabling field for practitioners and researchers in enabling education.

Authors: Sally Baker and Evonne Irwin (University of Newcastle)

Enabling education in Australia has grown sporadically since 1974 in response to a number of key national policy and funding interventions around equity of access to higher education. While all enabling programs share the characteristics of being free to students, providing an entry pathway to higher education and (largely) bearing no credit towards a degree, enabling education is a relatively disparate field. Despite the evolution of the enabling field being shaped by government policy, it remains largely unregulated in terms of curriculum standards and there is a lack of cohesion with regard to many aspects including how programs are structured, application procedures and entry requirements, and how students are supported.
This report presents the findings from an AALL-funded project that attempted to address this lack of cohesion as it explored the academic language and literacies provision in enabling programs across Australia seeking to present both their commonalities and disparities. The report offers the first comprehensive and detailed overview of the enabling field and includes: an inventory of pre-degree pathways (including enabling, sub-bachelor and access programs) available via Australian higher education institutions; a typology of Australian enabling programs providing information on mode of delivery, age of program, age requirements, location of the program in the institution, and whether diagnostic testing is used during application procedures; and a detailed picture of the academic language and literacies provision in enabling programs—including five models of enabling curriculum viewed through the lens of academic language and literacies. Taking an evaluative stocktaking approach, data was collected via: a desktop audit of pre-degree pathways; telephone and email interviews with key representatives from higher education institutions that offer enabling programs; and key teaching and learning documents provided by those participants. Informed by the academic literacies critical field of enquiry (see Lea & Street 1998) and using Ivanič’s (2004) discourses of writing and learning to write framework, the qualitative, interpretive analysis of the data revealed that many institutions and practitioners view academic language and literacies as primarily decontextualized, transportable ‘skills’, and that a ‘genre’ discourse—which views writing as a product with a purpose—is often used when describing academic literacies. The analysis also found that academic literacies are positioned largely on the margins of enabling curricula—although some examples of curricula which ‘centre’ academic literacies have emerged in newer programs or where older programs have been recently re-designed. It is suggested, therefore, that curriculum shapes and possibly practitioner attitudes are influenced by each program’s unique historical–institutional context.
The findings from this study provide the first comprehensive overview of the enabling field for practitioners and researchers in enabling education, (the resulting Enabling Typology will be available from November 2015 at http://enablingeducators.org/enablingtypology/) which we hope will act as a springboard for further discussions around (but not limited to): the underpinning values of enabling education; the nature of open access; enabling curriculum design; and effective support for enabling students. These discussions and potential future projects will strengthen the theoretical foundations of enabling education as it moves from a ‘field’ to a ‘sector’.