Activating Academic Skills

A digitalised, learner-centred programme for WUR students

SHORT DESCRIPTION

This project focuses on the possibilities of digital learning technologies to create a flexible course in which teachers can blend online and classroom activities to provide as much, or as little training in academic skills that each student needs.

We believe that our approach will save time in class while it provides a broader instruction in academic writing skills which will help students working within the social sciences departments to write more effective academic essays and papers. It allows lecturers to prioritize their limited time according to student needs and students to learn at a pace that suits them. Given the importance of written assignments in the assessment of many social science courses this has the potential to make a significant impact on their learning achievement. Furthermore, the ability to write texts that are well structured, well-argued and live up to the general standards of transparency is an extremely important skill outside of academic life.  

We have developed four modules on Academic Skills on the following topics:

  1. Writing an introduction
  2. Academic literature
  3. Plagiarism and referencing
  4. Writing a paragraph

All modules consist of two parts. In the first part of the modules (modules 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A) the students make a test of 10 questions in which we give them information and test their knowledge. In case they make three or more mistakes, they have to do a second test in which they can again practice with the same topics. This means that the modules adapt to their own level. In the second part of the modules (1B, 2B, 3B and 4B) the students apply the skills they have learned. This helps them prepare for the essay they write for the course.

For example: in module 1A students learn how to formulate a research question, while in module 1B they formulate a question for their own essay. And in module 2A students learn how to search for academic literature, while in module 2B they search for three sources for their own essay.

OBJECTIVE

The aim of this project was to train International Development Studies (BIN) students to write higher quality essays in their first period, and to better equip them with Academic Skills which will make them better prepared for other courses in their first year in which they develop their writing skills. 

STRONG POINTS

  • Students overall write better introductions in which they provide context, explain the relevance of the topic, introduce their research question, and inform the reader about their key finding.  
  • In previous years students often struggled to find useful literature, but in the last two years they were better able to find literature that contributed to their research question. They less often send us emails with questions on how to find literature.
  • Students know better how to structure their essays according to academic standards. Most of the paragraphs they write now follow the set-up of: core sentence, substantiation, concluding sentence.
  • We see far less mistakes in referencing. Most students apply the APA-rules flawlessly or with only minor mistakes.
  • The tutorials on Academic Skills were far more interesting for students as we did not have to go through all the basic information, but could discuss several topics more in-depth combined with interactive classroom activities.
  • The students have indicated that they find the modules useful and clear. This is also reflected in their results of the modules.

RECOMMENDATIONS

We would advise lecturers to look at our modules and use whatever they find useful. We also found it very helpful to talk to other lecturers who teach the same students in the first year. Together we came up with a list of Academic Skill that we thought students should learn in the first period of their first year in Wageningen.

Products

At this moment, the modules are only available at the Brightspace pages of the WUR courses RHI-10506 and RHI-10806. However, we definitely would like the modules to become more widely available within WUR and welcome all advise on how this can be arranged.

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