Evaluating the effectiveness of an academic literacy course: Do students benefit?

  • Jean Parkinson
  • Leonora Jackson
  • Tamlin Kirkwood
  • Vasanthie Padayachee


The proliferation of academic literacy courses in South African universities in the last 25 years prompts the question of how effective such courses are. Addressing the difficulties of studying in a second language combined with insufficient stress on reading and writing at school, such courses are designed to assist students with university reading and writing tasks. This article describes how reading and writing acquisition are scaffolded in one such course designed specifically for students who enter a science degree programme through alternative access routes. It then assesses how successful the course is at improving students’ academic reading and writing. Equivalent tests before and after the course indicate that students do improve their academic reading and writing, with the weakest students making the biggest improvement. By the end of the course the academic literacy of this weakest group is, however, still not equivalent to that of regular entrants to the Faculty. Student evaluation at the end of the course indicates that students believe they have learnt much from the course and, to a lesser extent, that they have enjoyed the course. Previous students report making extensive use of the literacies taught by the course in the later years of their degrees.


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Author Biographies

Jean Parkinson
Jean Parkinson teaches academic literacy in the Science Faculty at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her research interests include language teaching and literacy acquisition and science discourse.Email:  PARKINSON@ukzn.ac.za
Leonora Jackson
Leonora Jackson is coordinator of entrance testing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She has experience in teaching English for Academic Purposes in various faculties of UKZN. She is involved in institutional research on testing as selection tool and research into the assessment of academic writing.
Tamlin Kirkwood
Tamlin Kirkwood is a lecturer in the Department of Applied Language Studies on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her research interests in the field of Educational Linguistics focus on reading proficiency in the development of academic literacy, particularly in the disciplines of science.  
Vasanthie Padayachee
Vasanthie Padayachee is a senior tutor in the Science Faculty at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She currently teaches Communication in Science and has a literature and teaching background.