Lin Norton

  • Supporting diversity and inclusivity through writing workshops

    Lin Norton(1), Katherine Harrington(2), James Elander(2), Sandra Sinfield(2), Peter Reddy(3) and Edd Pitt(1)

    1. Liverpool Hope University College
    2. London Metropolitan University
    3. Aston University

    Research paper

    Themes: Assessment, Supporting learners

    Widening participation has implications for retention as well as taking account of diversity and inclusivity. Where students from non-traditional backgrounds are concerned, the whole experience of Higher Education can be alienating (Mann, 2001). Simply getting students into an institution is not enough. We have to ensure that they have a quality learning experience and are supported in building the necessary competences. As Gibbs & Simpson (2003) have noted, we can no longer assume that students have the necessary study skills and subject knowledge when they start their degrees. Assessment points typically tend to be junctures at which students who are feeling insecure and falling behind in their studies typically drop out. Writing at Higher Education level is demanding and complex for all students, whatever their previous background, so there is a growing imperative for institutions to help students to improve their writing skills.

    This paper reports on a research study* carried out to analyse the efficacy of a workshop programme specifically designed to help students write academic essays by concentrating on assessment criteria. The research draws theoretically on the work of Price et al (2001; 2003) who have led the field in making assessment criteria explicit to their students. However it is substantially different in its focus on what we have called ‘core criteria’ which we link to taking a deep approach to studying and complex learning (Elander et al, forthcoming). The programme was delivered at three institutions in the UK, which each have a particular brief to welcome students from a diverse background. At institution A, two types of delivery were carried out. Firstly, the programme was embedded into the delivery of a third year module on health psychology and secondly some of the workshop activities were incorporated in a Generic Study and Academic Skills programme offered to all students (undergraduate and postgraduate) from any discipline. At institutions B and C the workshops were offered as an optional support system for first year psychology students.

    A qualitative analysis of student focus groups (from 1st, 2nd and 3rd year groups) will explicate student concerns about writing in psychology. This will underpin data from the three institutions which includes quantitative analyses of student evaluations of the workshops and measures of performance in exams and in essays. Comparisons between the different methods of delivery and the research findings will be discussed using the theoretical frameworks of deep or complex learning and capability. The implications of this research will be considered in the context of the conference theme of supporting diversity and enhancing inclusivity.

    *This research is part of a HEFCE funded FDTL4 project to support psychology student learning through resources linked to core aspects of assessment


    • Elander, J., Harrington, K., Norton, L., Robinson, H., Reddy, P.& Stevens, D. (forthcoming) What type of learning do essay writing assessment criteria represent? To appear in C. Rust (Ed) (2004) Improving student learning. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development
    • Gibbs, G & Simpson, C. (2003) Does your assessment support your students’ learning? (accessed 8 April 2003)
    • Mann, S.J. (2001) 'Alternative Perspectives on the Student Experience: Alienation and Engagement', Studies in Higher Education, 26, 1, 7-19.
    • Price, M., O’Donovan, B. & Rust, C. (2001). Strategies to develop students’ understanding of assessment criteria and processes, in C. Rust (Ed.), Improving Student Learning - 8: Improving Student Learning Strategically. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.
    • Price, M., Rust, C. & O’Donovan, B. (2003). Improving students’ learning by developing their understanding of assessment criteria and processes. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 28, 147-164.