Thursday, 1 October 2009

Academics writing as professionals

Just come from a very interesting talk given by Mary (Lea) about her and Barry Steirer's CETL project on Academics' writing as professional practice.

The substance of what she was saying is reported in their article in Studies in Higher Education: basically that the idea that the writing that academics do can be classed as either 'teaching', 'research' or 'admin' needs to give way to a more nuanced appreciation of the enormous range of texts and genres that have to be dealt with, as part and parcel of academic professional identity.

The kinds of things their informants had talked about were, as well as research reports and teaching material: advice documents for public bodies, evidence for quality processes, audit trails for assessment, expert witness submissions, strategy reports, brochure texts, letters to students, newletters, examiners reports, references, recommendations, case summaries, learning outcomes tables etc.

Add to that a variety of digital media genres: emails, online forum contributions, powerpoint presentations, spreadsheets, online templates, reviewers forms etc.

And add to that again a number of more reflective-type texts that her informants didn't mention: appraisal forms, promotion cases, blogs, diaries etc.

One thing that struck me was their suggestion that the writing academics do is slowly coming to actually stand for the practice that it is supposed simply to represent. For example, the progress form written for a research student actually stands for their progress, for most intitutional purposes, rather than anything they might actually produce, such as a paper published or talk given.

This should be a familiar switch to 'inhabitants' of digital spaces - look at the way that hits on websites have come to stand for quality, electronic 'followers' and 'friends' have come to stand for popularity. Blogs and emails have come to stand for conversation!

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