Male student working on a laptop

Embedding academic skills in courses

Enabling students’ academic development

ANU Academic Skills regularly work with course convenors around the University to provide workshops about academic literacies such as academic writing, exam preparation advice, effective note-taking strategies, and time management.

However, identifying exactly what students need advice on and when is best to provide the advice can be a challenging, complex task. That’s why we’ve developed an easy to use framework to help staff identify the range of academic literacies that students need to develop. Over the past year we’ve been working with course convenors and tutors in CAP, CASS and CBE to test this framework.

We met with convenors and tutors before semester to map out the course assessment tasks and use the framework to identify their students’ needs. Needs varied according to whether the students were new to study at ANU, later year students doing an unusual type of assignment, or second semester first years who wanted more advanced advice than they had received previously. We worked to identify when and how best to provide advice.

Then, in close collaboration with convenors and tutors, we developed a range of workshops and tutorial activities that blended course content with academic literacies advice. This form of teaching is described as “embedded”, whereby academic literacies advice is provided in the context of the course content.

Academic literacies diagram

For example, we co-created a series of tutorial activities in which tutors presented course content while also teaching effective study habits. These activities included annotated course readings which enabled tutors to discuss both the tutorial discussion topics and strategic reading and note-taking techniques, as well as academic integrity practices. And in workshops, we co-taught with convenors and tutors using authentic assignment examples to model both course content analysis and effective writing strategies. We also created short explanatory videos for course Wattle sites, examples of which can be seen on our Academic Skills YouTube channel.

Results from the project were extremely positive. Embedded teaching was highly valued by staff and students alike. Academics and tutors reported that the activities strengthened their own teaching and assessment design and helped to reduce their teaching burden. Students reported that following the advice helped them to improve their work, made completing the assessments easier, and increased their ability to understand the course material. As one student explained:

“My experience in this course and others in my degree has been that when lecturers provide really clear advice about what they want and expect, it is far easier to then focus the scope of my research, structure my writing and use my time efficiently to meet those expectations and achieve high results. Following Academic Skills advice does lead to better outcomes.”

These positive reports were echoed in student surveys. 88% of respondents reported positive satisfaction with the advice, 89% reported that they think it is worthwhile to spend class time learning about how to do their assessment tasks, and 81% reported that they wish to continue receiving such advice in their courses in future.

Overall, staff who engaged with the framework reported that it had a positive impact on their teaching. They valued the framework’s identification of their students’ needs, including the often sidelined “input” literacies such as time management, reading, and note-taking strategies. In some cases the framework even enabled staff to consider ways to embed academic literacies at a sustained program level – an approach which we’re piloting with CAP in 2021.

Please get in touch if you’re interested in collaborating to support your students!

November 2020

Dr Vivien Silvey is a Learning Adviser in ANU Academic Skills