Developing criticality in the context of mass higher education: investigating literacy practices on undergraduate courses in Ghanaian universities

Amua-Sekyi, Ekua Tekyiwa (2011) Developing criticality in the context of mass higher education: investigating literacy practices on undergraduate courses in Ghanaian universities. Doctoral thesis (EdD), University of Sussex.

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The study observed five introductory classes at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana,
to find out what academic literacy practices are being engendered and how criticality is
being fostered through those practices. The results are intended to help both myself, as
a teacher researcher, and the university to identify how students make the difficult
transition from expectations of literacy at secondary school to those at university.

I observed lecturers and students in their classroom environment for a semester (16
weeks); interviewed lecturers who taught the courses observed and conducted five
focus groups, made up of eight students each, with volunteers from each of the classes
observed. These interviews were replicated in two other public universities: the
Universities of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
where two and five lecturers respectively participated in individual interviews, and eight
students each participated in focus groups. Finally, I triangulated the data in order to
identify emergent patterns of lecturers’ and students’ experiences with teaching and

The data indicates that students need more explicit teaching of the basic literacy skills
they are assumed to have. Most students in the study had difficulty comprehending
academic texts. Additionally, students rarely attempted to read their assigned texts
beforehand since they had little experience in anticipating what to look for or connect
with in the text. Student writing is poor, as they have no opportunity to practice
continuous writing. In order to address the literacy difficulties of these students, there is
the need to pay attention to institutional and faculty engagement practices which
promote student learning. A major area for improvement is in encouraging lecturers to
teach using more explicit methods so that students can move from where they are in
their literacy competence to where lecturers expect them to be. The place to explain to
students what is expected in a discipline is within that discipline (Skillen et al., 2001),
rather than assume that students will automatically see the shift in expectations for
each field of study.

Although there was substantial consensus about the importance of criticality in
lecturers’ aims for student learning, this was not adequately translated into literacy
practices. Massification has led to a preference for multiple-choice testing which has
removed the need to read and write for assessment, inviting students out of the intellectual dialogue that characterizes the various disciplines as they engage critically
and thoughtfully with course readings (Svinicki, 2005; Carroll, 2002). The findings of
this study indicate that lecturers have only adapted to the changed circumstances of
massification in ways that mean that the critical acquisition of academic literacies is
diminished. The impact of massification on teaching and learning has resulted in
lecturers feeling under pressure to teach in ways that conflict with their personal
ideologies. To foster criticality in students lecturers will have to learn new skills as what
may happen with a group of 20 cannot be translated into a group of hundred or more.

There are policies in place to enhance teaching and learning but few mechanisms to
implement them. In the most important sense that the university in its policy statements
and course outlines values critical thinking and deep engagement with ideas and
concepts, the practices described by students and lecturers are completely in tension.
In order to address the literacy difficulties of students, universities will need to actively
support lecturers in teaching reform efforts so as to respond to pressures on them to
increase their output while maintaining quality. Significant progress is likely to come
about only if universities are willing to invest in resources that are needed to
experiment with institution-wide changes.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher education
L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC0065 Social aspects of education > LC0149 Literacy. Illiteracy
L Education > LG Individual institutions (Asia. Africa. Oceania) > LG401 Africa > LG480 West Africa > LG497 Ghana
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 18 Nov 2011 11:42
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2015 13:47

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