Vignette 2: Competition and collaboration

Lin: “Our initial strategy was mandated from the top and led by someone from outside the central language and learning unit. This caused some hostility at the outset, and the disaffection continued for much of the duration of that phase, with the area refusing to engage in the process. As a result, many of the decisions had to be made executively to avoid a blockage in achieving the designated targets.”

Tom: “The provision of language and learning services across our university was very fragmented with separate central units for local students and for international students. There was also some separate provision provided by some faculties. The ELICOS centre was also seeking to be involved in ALL activities. This situation led to a fair degree of non-co-operation, even rivalry between units. An attempt was made to break down these barriers through the creation of a cross-university ‘academic literacy teaching and research network’. The group has had representation and involvement of staff from across all these units, and worked towards the hosting a number of community activities, including symposia, seminars (presented both by in-house and external speakers), and finally a national conference. The focus of such activities has been on the broad theme of the ‘embedding of academic literacy skills within programs’. This has led - to some extent - to the creation of a more unified approach to the issues. It has also been an effective way of getting greater involvement and interest by discipline academics in academic literacy issues and practices. There has however, been some difficulty getting senior management to recognise the value of such initiatives, and the network has run mainly on the good will of a number of key participants.”

Jane: “While many ALL program within universities are organised on a top-down basis (emanating from a central unit, and governed by certain established policies and procedures), it seems that a lot of the more useful ALL work often emerges out of bottom-up style processes within the disciplines. One such example has been a collaborative project at our university between ALL staff and sociology staff aimed at the embedding of academic literacy skills within units. The program has involved: close collaboration between discipline and ALL staff in the design of assessments, the provision of learning resources and in class sessions targeted at the discourse demands of the discipline; the development of a system of referral to ALL support for students who have struggled with the writing demands of the disciplines. Also important has been the conducting of joint research between ALL and discipline staff related to the program. The program was a recent recipient of a national teaching award. More importantly its perceived success has led to it being taken up subsequently by staff on a range of other undergraduate programs.”