Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Texting, tweeting and snapchat: (Re)writing students' assessments in the 21st century University (#181)

Ursula Edgington 1
  1. University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

This Roundtable proposal addresses the Conference Sub -Theme of: Assessing, Evidencing and Evaluating Graduate Capabilities.


Conventions of ‘academic’ writing have a complex history and are (re)defined in diverse ways (for an interesting example see The Ethnogs, et al., 2011). Writing in an unfamiliar genre can be daunting for individuals at any stage of their career and especially for those writing other than their mother tongue and/or with special educational needs. 

The creative skills needed in university writing should not be alienated from ‘everyday’ communication. Yet often these skills are taken for granted, ambiguous or confined by moral binaries (Vardi, 2012). As Sword (2009) argues, writing ‘stylishly’ involves processes that should be articulated, challenged and deconstructed. Our personal, cultural and technological diversity can be valuable in exploring how language contributes to our socially-constructed lives.

The issue/topic to be addressed: Arguably, our students’ writing experiences bears little relation to communicating socially or in the workplace. Is this a gap that needs to be addressed? If so, how? If not, why?

A brief outline of the debates around the issue/topic:

In light of current research, examples related to three strategies related to current policies and practices are explored:

●The physical task of typing and writing: e.g. assessments via handwritten examinations, compared to more commonly-experienced ‘typed’ texts, the impact of ‘predicted’ text and voice recognition. 

●Micro elements of language involved in texting, tweeting and other social media and the differences in audience, time and space. 

●Writing assessments: the function and form of planning, grading-criteria, self-reflection, peer-reviewing and formative feedback (virtual and face-to-face classrooms).

Suggested questions for discussion:

a) Should/can/do writing assignments at tertiary level reflect commonly used texts and other forms of communication within public and commercial workplaces? 

b) To what extent is ‘academic’ writing performed and socially-constructed and/or contextualised for university students?

c) How far are institutional definitions and policies of academic writing limiting students’ achievement or further embedding existing inequalities in education (Bourdieu, 2003)?

d) What strategies are in place/needed to address the development of students’ contextualised, culturally-sensitive writing?

How the round-table proposal addresses the conference sub-themes:

Writing to communicate effectively is an essential skill for graduates’ survival and progression within workplaces and wider society. However, the way we write and how we perceive texts (and associated sounds/images) constantly evolves – as do the tools we use to ‘control’ them (e.g. text-matching software). Richardson (1997) explores how critical thinking is enhanced through reflective writing processes. Hence, graduates should be encouraged to view writing as a continual, fluid process which is integral to developing meanings and professional identities.

Educators have responsibilities to continually review processes and principles within which our students’ writing is framed – on micro and macro levels. Through addressing these complexities of communication, we can assist students to take responsibility for their own learning needs. Enhancing responsiveness towards the employability of graduates in modern workplaces, highlights the need for educators to exploit technologies in ways that enrich writing through co-construction and experimentation. 

  1. Bourdieu, P. (2003) Language and Symbolic Power, Polity Press: Cambridge, UK.
  2. Richardson, L. (1997) Fields of Play: Constructing an Academic Life Rutgers University Press: CA, USA.
  3. Sword, H. (2009) Writing Higher Education Differently: a manifesto on style Studies in Higher Education 34 (3) 319-336
  4. The Ethnogs, The Femnogs & Ripp Tupp (2011) Performing mythic identity: an analysis and critique of ‘The Ethnogs’. Qualitative Inquiry, 17 (7) 664-674
  5. Vardi, I. (2012) Developing students’ referencing skills: a matter of plagiarism, punishment and morality or of learning to write critically? Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 31, No. 6, 921–930