Designing Disciplinary-Specific Literacy Support

Past Event

  Designing Disciplinary-Specific Literacy Support

Challenges & Opportunities

Thursday, December 12, 2019


212 Ross Hall

Higher Education Institutions in Australia are facing increasing pressure to ensure graduates can not only demonstrate knowledge of their field, but are also equipped with the communication and professional skills necessary to perform successfully in their future workplaces. This has witnessed growing recognition of the need to provide ongoing language support for students enrolled in tertiary education. Although language proficiency (or deficiency) in English (as the language of learning and teaching) is a frequently cited barrier, the issue is more complex. In addition to language and literacy challenges, students come from a variety of cultures and educational systems, bringing with them a range of dispositions, and are expected to engage with new discipline-specific discourse communities whose expectations, cultures and concepts are often tacit in nature. This suggests that literacy interventions require an understanding of not only discipline-specific content knowledge and literacy practices but also a means of making visible the tacit codes underpinning the bases of achievement.  

This talk introduces a pilot program at a major Australian university offering students a series of online modules and resources that aim to develop their academic and professional communication skills. It highlights the role of theoretical frameworks from linguistics and the sociology of education and the way these have informed the analysis of course materials and subsequent design of resources that focus on discipline-specific literacy practices and support cumulative knowledge-building. It then explores the processes involved in working with a range of stakeholders, producing ‘engaging’ online learning materials, and encouraging student uptake of materials. In this way, the talk addresses potential challenges and opportunities faced by language specialists and educational designers tasked with the design of literacy support in tertiary environments.

Daniel O’Sullivan is an academic and English language specialist of language and knowledge practices in higher education, with a focus on discipline-specific literacy, curriculum and pedagogy. He has an M. Litt in Applied Linguistics from the University of Sydney and is an Associate Member of The LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building at The University of Sydney. His work draws on Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to design literacy support materials that aid teaching across a range of subjects, including English for Academic Purposes (EAP), Education, Accounting, Engineering and Media Studies.


Sponsored by The STEM Writing Research Group