Write It: a free multilingual programme to support students with academic writing

South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) forges ahead with an initiative to help students with basic academic writing.

SADiLaR’s language development and testing node, the Inter-institutional Centre for Language Development and Assessment (ICELDA), has developed a series of videos, called Write It, to fill the gap by guiding students through writing.

Academic writing is key to academic success, but getting it right is not easy, particularly for students who are learning in a second or third language.  Some institutions offer modules in academic literacy and academic writing support, but not all students across South Africa have access to these kinds of support.

Videos with handouts for simple reference and optional online tasks have been made accessible in sign language and all 11 of South Africa’s official languages.  Students can watch the Write It videos on SADiLaR’s YouTube channel.

Dr Detlef Cloete, lecturer at Akademia and former project manager at ICELDA says the choice of topics and how the content is presented is driven by insight and knowledge in academic writing development, as well as global and local research

The programme comprises 15 topics, which include, among others:

  • task analysis: how to understand what a set task is requiring from you;
  • introduction and conclusions: how to write them;
  • discourse markers / logical connectors: how to logically guide your reader through the text;
  • voice, stance and engagement: how to display authority over your text and involve your reader;
  • referencing support: how to reference correctly; and
  • plagiarism avoidance: how to integrate and reference sources in such a way that you don’t plagiarise.

Although videos are available in South Africa’s official languages, the ICELDA team has decided to maintain the handouts and activities in English.

Prof Tobie van Dyk from North-West University’s School of Languages, and ICELDA-SADiLaR Node Manager, explains that students indicated that they would like to write and study in English with the support of their home languages.

“Handouts and videos should be used as a package, moreover, in a situation where a student knows the English term used, but not the term in their mother tongue, or vice versa,” says Prof van Dyk.

Although the course is divided into 15 modules, students are free to pick how they want to interact with it. Therefore, students can use the materials from start to finish or just concentrate on the parts that are difficult for them.

“We are incredibly passionate about this programme as a way of supporting South African students with academic writing in their own mother tongue,” says Dr Kristien Andrianatos, senior lecturer at the North-West University’s School of Languages, and content developer at ICELDA.

 “Using academic English and completing written tasks in higher education is complex, especially for beginners and we trust that “Write It” will assist students with their academic acculturation on their journey of becoming part of the academic community.” Says Dr Andrianatos.

Testing and quality control

As part of the design and development phase, the ICELDA team worked with Prof Kris van de Poel and Dr Marilize Pretorius from the University of Antwerp, Belgium in providing universal course content explains Dr Cloete.

ICELDA also worked with a Belgian company called InterCulturate who provided useful support for elements like the design and layout of the handouts and the online packaging.

“We also tested the materials on local students in our Writing Centre environment and in postgraduate academic writing workshops, and the feedback is really positive,” says Prof van Dyk.

Access to all

Students and lecturers can watch the videos on SADiLaR’s YouTube channel, for those who wish to access the full course content or require further Learner Management System support may contact SADiLaR via info@sadilar.org

Words by: Natalie Simone