Dublin Institute of Technology, New Campus at Grangegorman
The size and mission of the institution : The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is now one of Ireland’s largest and most innovative university-level institutions. There are 20,000 students registered in DIT (nearly 20% of the student body comes from outside Ireland). Publicly-funded, DIT is a member of the European University Association and offers an extensive range of undergraduate programmes at Bachelor Degree levels and postgraduate programmes at Taught Masters, Research Masters and Research PhD Degree levels. All degrees are recognised internationally and as an autonomous, doctorate-awarding institution DIT has an excellent reputation established in areas including: Applied Arts and Tourism, Business and Finance, Engineering and the Built Environment, Sciences and Health. DIT’s mission is to provide an innovative, responsive and caring learning environment for a diverse range and level of programmes to students of all ages and backgrounds.
Explain the specific writing related initiative(s) at this institution (for example: Writing Center, Specific Writing Related Classrooms, Teacher Training, Teaching Pedagogies, etc.)
Since the early 1990s, there has been an obvious trend in faculty professional development which emerged as a formal activity in most third level institutions in the UK, Australasia the US, and in turn, Ireland. This led to the inception of centres for (faculty) academic development, including the Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre (LTTC) at (DIT) in Ireland in 1999. A year later, the LTTC began to offer its accredited academic development programmes and short courses for academics within and externally to the Institute. Academics have a range of qualifications to choose from within the LTTC, and the focus of this AWP initiative for the web portal is a 10 ECT module offered as part of a Masters in Higher Education, or can be taken as a standalone CP module.
An exploratory model [see web site below] is proposed for critical academic writing encompassing a series of scaffolded in-class activities, virtual peer learning, and blended tutor feedback – culminating in the publication and dissemination of individual practice-based educational research. These two practical outputs from the module, a paper for publication in a peer reviewed journal and a conference presentation on each participant’s practice-based research have been designed to support lecturers with academic writing in their discipline. A diverse and contemporary range of topics from practice have been published to date including: research on the use of wikis to support collaborative learning in Marketing; stories from higher education technology-enhanced learning; a practical approach to teaching students with dyslexia; active learning techniques in legal professional education; project management skills for apprentices in construction; problem-based multimedia learning; cognitive research in first year chemistry; and effective tutorials in professional education; work placement blogs as a means to facilitate peer to peer learning; effective implementation of ‘crits’ in art and design education, interdisciplinary engagement in higher education through opera training; meta-analysis of research into sustainable construction materials; reasons for the failure of knowledge management strategies in business; state-of-the-art research in retail display and business.
Figure 1 shows the different components of the blended module. Integration of online and face-to-face class (f2f) activities for writing development saw an online journal club being introduced as well as virtual peer learning sets. The journal club took place in the virtual learning environment, Blackboard. It was aimed at helping participants learn how to read articles critically. Provocative articles on the role of academic writing were chosen for review, and participants worked in small groups to appraise a recently published research paper, and present their findings to their peers in the online journal club. If possible, articles with some discipline relevance were assigned. Initially, participants do not feel confident in their critical appraisal skills, so checklists for critical review were made available online. The advantage of this approach is that reviews are more consistent and alert the readers to methodological flaws. Incorporating learning principles such as agreeing goals relevant to participants was used to enhance the learning experience. Group theory suggests that clear boundaries contribute to a sense of security, making creative thinking possible.
The peer learning sets were virtual to allow the participants to maintain the dynamic and pace of their learning between f2f classes. It was integral to the impact of these sets that investment was made in establishing mutual trust amongst the participants as part of the f2f module induction as such peer exchange is rooted in existing relationships and a certain degree of reciprocated faith. We established early on that peer exchange necessitates a minimum shared knowledge of the context so as to make sense of what peers have to say about their work and that it requires a will to learn on the part of all the participants. That will to learn implies that participants need to be able to admit that they do not know all the answers, which in turn requires there to be mutual confidence and a relatively non-threatening atmosphere within the virtual peer set. Arguably writers require both social and academic integration in order to successfully complete their work in a timely fashion. We believe that creating opportunities for social and academic interaction with other participants is of vital importance for setting a positive affective climate for writing. By providing personal support, the virtual peer sets were based on openness and personal commitment to one another which helped participants develop the ability to combine criticism with support and also serve as a first filter for ideas and shared resources. The emotional side of writing is usually privatized and often under-communicated so the participants were encouraged to exchange experiences, frustrations and discuss writing-related issues. Having an open-hearted manner and communicative frame of mind by all involved, which they interpreted as trust was central to its success. The crux to engaging writers in the virtual environment is the creation of a space where they feel comfortable, trusted, and valued.
Figure 1 Exploratory Model of Supporting Postgraduate Academic Writing
In terms of writing dissemination opportunities resulting from this module, two outlets for the participants’ work have been introduced – a graduate student conference to celebrate their work and an online journal entitled Irish Journal of Academic Practice (IJAP) http://arrow.dit.ie/ijap/. Special emphasis in the journal is on innovative practices in teaching and learning. The purpose of the graduate conference is to disseminate educational research from across the programme (involving both present and past graduates), which is relevant and interesting to all academic staff. The graduate student conference is a way to build a network of research-informed participants and by encouraging such networking, it is anticipated that the event will also reinforce participants’ understanding of the value of involvement in communities of practice associated with academic disciplines and professions. This conference focuses attention on how learning and academic writing happens, as well as how it is experienced in different subject contexts; specifically it encourages participants to critically reflect on their thinking and learning about educational research in which they are currently engaged, and to share these reflections with others by involving themselves in this student-led conference.
As a complement to the provision of support in academic writing for Faculty, in 2015 an Academic Writing Centre (AWC) opened for the first time in the institution to provide a free service to all DIT students (undergraduate and postgraduate) who seek support to enhance and develop their academic writing skills. The Centre operates by providing non-judgemental and friendly support to assist students in developing their ability as writers in an academic environment. Its remit is to support students in becoming better writers. It does this by offering one to one appointments with one of the AWC tutors and a weekly drop-in session. http://www.dit.ie/awc/
 ECTs is European Credit Transfer System