By Andrew Northern, Teacher of English for Academic Purposes, Centre for Academic English
You may be familiar with the concept of academic literacy, but what exactly does it mean in the context of Imperial? Is it the ability to identify what is relevant from a lecture or a reading text? Is it the ability to communicate your science effectively to your target audience in speech and in writing? Is it the ability to recognise the need to adapt the way you communicate your science to an increasingly interdisciplinary audience? Academic literacy encompasses all of these abilities and more, and is thus an integral part of learning and engaging with science. Moreover, it is also a vital part of the Learning and Teaching Strategy and its drive towards a more inclusive curriculum in which the student experience is enhanced through active learning.
Here’s a quick example sentence to show you how successful communication of science to a target audience requires more than just accurate grammar and vocabulary ̶ it requires academic literacy:
“Using this theoretical background and a wide range of well-known qualitative research methods, this paper reports on the specific innovative management processes that were at work in the development of two new products over the last four years that were outside the core business of the Chilean forestry firm described earlier and which were nevertheless successfully developed.”
The risk is that the value of the work described in the sentence above may be clear only to the scientist and not to the intended reader or listener. As a result, the mind of the latter may start to wander away from the science and its impact may be lost. What if the information were organised and communicated as below?
“We used this theoretical background together with qualitative research methods to map and analyse the specific innovative management processes used to develop two new products at the Chilean global forestry firm. Despite being outside the core business of this firm, both products were successfully manufactured over the last four years.”
Dividing the information into two sentences enables the reader/listener to pause and process before taking in a new piece of information. The reader/listener can appreciate the value of the scientific work as it is given prominence in the second sentence. The meaning in the original sentence also becomes clearer and more accessible with the use of active verbs (“We used…to map and analyse”) and more explicit linking (“together with” instead of ‘and’). An awareness of the reader/listener ensures that the science is communicated successfully and effectively.
The Centre for Academic English (CfAE) is a team of academic literacy experts who specialise in the communication of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine. We provide courses, workshops and consultations that cover all areas of academic literacy and are available to all members of College, including academic staff.
You may have attended our workshop as part of Imperial College Education Day 2018. Specifically, in terms of the undergraduate curriculum review, the CfAE team is collaborating and sharing our expertise with departments across the College. Our mission is to ensure that Imperial College students can have the academic literacy competence they need as lifelong learners and science communicators, both on their degree course and in the workplace. You can find a detailed overview of the broad range of ways we are working to embed academic literacy in the undergraduate curriculum here.