Enhancing the development of students’ disciplinary discourse and content learning in science and engineering through a focus on writing: a comparison between approaches at a Swedish and a UK university.
Paper in proceeding, 2017
An Erasmus funded collaboration between Chalmers University and Queen Mary University of London in
2016, involving a one‐week visit by Queen Mary disciplinary and Learning Development/Thinking Writing
staff to Chalmers, enabled us to share practices and approaches in how we support the development of
students’ disciplinary discourse in science and engineering.
In Queen Mary, a funded project known as The Whole Programme Approach to Writing Development has
been focusing on two degree programmes, Mechanical Engineering and Electronic Engineering and
Computer Science. The objective of the project is to investigate writing development across the three years
of the programmes and support innovations that build engineering discourse along a more coherent
trajectory. At Chalmers, there is a long tradition of developing disciplinary discourse at the level of entire
educational programmes. Given that many students start on a BSc‐programme and continue onto an
associated MSc, the ‘programme’ at Chalmers allows for a five‐year sequenced progression for a majority of
the students. There are also a number of students (25%) who enter at the level of the MSc and consequently
experience less of the sequenced progression. Since the BSc section of the programmes is delivered in
Swedish and the MSc is delivered in English, the whole programme approach at Chalmers also needs to
negotiate issues of transferring from L1 to ESL or EFL. The different engineering programmes, therefore,
exemplify different degrees of EMI and some provide more integrated disciplinary discourse development
The symposium will be organised in the form of a dialogue between the two universities to draw out
significant parallels and differences, and how these have been addressed. The dialogue is framed by three
interrelated conceptual configurations: disciplinary practices, contexts, and multimodal texts. Our
engagement with these configurations is influenced by our educational philosophies or theories; the
pedagogical approaches we encounter or use and find to be effective with specialists or students; and the
multimodal artefacts and practices of students and specialists we encounter in the various programmes.
Drawing on experience in our respective contexts and using joint concept mapping to visualise our activities,
we will offer some of the approaches we have adopted (e.g. social semiotics; constructive alignment;
research‐based learning, genre‐based writing instruction; writing‐to‐learn; and concept mapping) to explore
how they are used in strategic mixes within the various programmes. In our practices, we find our focus
shifting between the three configurations of practices, contexts and texts, sometimes emphasising artefacts,
sometimes practices, sometimes students, sometimes specialists/lecturers, and sometimes the development
of educational material and resources.
We hope to be able to present the audience possible ways towards implementing a whole programme
approach at their respective institutions. However, we also want to highlight the challenges we face and how
we are currently addressing them.
How do your experiences of developing students’ disciplinary discourses and content learning compare with
the ones you have heard about in the presentations?
Do the three broad perspectives of practices, contexts, and texts and the theories and approaches referred
to help in articulating your experience?