Podcasting as Scholarship

Sharing scholarship

increasingly, podcasting is envisioned as an alternative academic publication format in itself, where research is formally published as a podcast

This blog – from Open Reflectionsdisplays a varied repertoire of disciplinary podcasts ranging from cinematography to politics and the rhetoric of rhyme (a dissertation published as rap).

My interest in all this stems from the realisation that the writing of traditional, monomodal and monolingual academic essays still dominates academia – from undergraduate writing to the kind of writing that is perceived to be REF-able – despite evidence that the genres and modes of academic disciplinary communication have historically been and currently are varied.

Does traditional writing limit our thinking, our understanding, our explanatory force, our creativity, our imagination, and our communicative outreach? If so, how? And does this matter?


The richness of scholarly communications: https://101innovations.wordpress.com/

How do you and anyone you know (of) communicate your academic thinking? What formats and genres are demanded of you, have you chosen, and why? If you supervise diversity and mobility in academic communication, how do you navigate and justify your rhetorical adherence to both tradition and innovation, to stability and mobility in an academic landscape that is changing?


Thank you & sorry to a few people

Academic Messiness, but also Honesty and Integrity (I hope)

This teaching term is turning out to be unpleasantly busy, stressful, messy. I said ‘yes’ to too many projects before Christmas, and now I’m paying for it.

So I wanted to publicly thank a few people I have been neglecting and who are having to pick up the pieces of my disorganisation and my anxiety. I could not do a PhD, work, commute, parent, shop, cook, and generally function without them. I am also travelling very far next week, the furthest I have ever been, and I am feeling anxious: partly because it is so far; partly because I am presenting some of my research. I will be alone and very much outside of my comfort zone.


Where I spend a lot of my life

The following is not necessarily in order of guilt. Maybe in order of priorities … It’s just that the linear format of this medium obliges me to write in an order that suggests preferences, but I am sincerely grateful to everyone.

  • My son: I was horrid over Christmas because I had a Chapter to write and really didn’t want it to be Christmas. He is adapting to a new form of mothering: Remote Mothering. I phone him, text him, email him to find out how school went and what he wants for dinner. He is getting used to hearing me say ‘non adesso, amore’ (trans. ‘not now, darling’). He is a lovely boy who always asks me how I am when I get home;
  • My partner: he does a lot of my parenting, sorts out home technology, sources books and resources for me, fixes my car, cooks, and generally keeps things running smoothly, calmly and happily. We’ve agreed that if he is thinking of leaving me, he can only do so after I have passed my viva :-/;
  • My colleagues at CELE, University of Nottingham: they are covering lessons for me when I go to conferences and other PhD-related activities, sometimes at quite short notice (but I do return the favours!); they also put up with my lippiness and outspokeness, and I am sure I really piss them off (sometimes);
  • The School of Education, University of Nottingham: they are supervising and helping to fund some of my PhD and conferences, and have been really patient with me when I have missed deadlines or messed up applications or been late with meeting various deadlines;
  • My supervisors: they are encouraging, communicative and generous with their time and their guidance. I think they are slightly w(e)ary of where I am going with some things, but maybe that is why they are being so nice – just to make sure I stay level-headed and don’t give up. Either way, they are allowing me to believe I actually have a valuable PhD contribution to make and they are allowing me to do exactly what I want; they are also making me reflect a lot on how I teach and advise my students;
  • cover-jpg-rendition-460-707

    ‘Reunion’ by Fred Uhlman: a story of friendship

    My family and friends: both local and abroad. I am hopelessly crap at staying in touch (I always have been, but not as bad this). I think of them a lot, resolve to write or skype or send gifts, but then too much time passes and too much stuff happens to be able to just have a casual chat or send a short note. Each chat or meet-up would need hours and hours of catching-up, so I end up simply not not calling or writing;

  • My neighbours: I have really nice neighbours. Sometimes they are very noisy, though; sometimes they park in my parking space which drives me insane; one of them always knows when I am home and rings the doorbell to tell me something totally unimportant (to me, anyway). Predictably, I have got annoyed with them but then apologised as I realise I am particulalry impatient and over-sensitive to noise, and intolerant of other people who have normal lives that include leisure, gardening, listening to music, doing DIY, playing with toddlers, having time to chat.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, it’s back to my presentation slides …

How do we help students become more resilient writers?

A post on the importance of developing resilience in academic writing by Sherran Clarence – how many writing curricula build in the time to help students develop resilience?

Writing in the Academy

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about this idea of resilience in learning and writing recently. This is partly because I have started a big project – a single-authored book – and I am really struggling to find my voice and the words, and the frustration is knocking me back a bit. This is also partly based on my ups and downs with peer review on papers I have written in the last two years, and how I have made sense of the process of peer review, even when it has hurt, so that I can keep moving forward. And I have been wondering how we develop resilience in academia, and as writers and thinkers, and whether and how we can help or teach students to develop this too.

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from difficulties or setbacks, and to keep going without letting the…

View original post 651 more words

Writing as an act of love

It’s not about cheating, it’s about care, passion and taking responsibility


Écrire est un acte d’amour. S’il ne l’est pas, il n’est qu’écriture (Jean Cocteau by Philippe Halsman (downloaded from Google Images)

Ghostwriting. A rotten issue that is not going to go away unless universities profoundly change their attitude to and understanding of what academic writing is, why it matters and how we learn to do it.

Several stories on how students cheat by paying ghostwriters to write their essays and on the essay mills that supply them have been hitting the headlines, such as this one, which appeared yesterday.

I have also drawn attention to unfairness in our academic writing expectations, the ethics surrounding essay mills, and the problem with not recognising academic writing as an actual subject or discipline .

What these stories on essay mills have in common (including reader comments) is that they often forefront the behaviour of the students as cheats, of the essay mills as moral corruptors and of the universities as upholders of standards and integrity, the sorry victims of an army of lazy, conniving, quick-fix customers who are undermining their credibility and who need to be punished and shamed.


My recent Tweets on this issue

I so profoundly object to the discourses surrounding ‘academic misconduct’ that I am compelled to point out a number of alterantive perspectives, all of which forefront the conditions that allow misconduct to fester and essay mills to profit.

Clearly, I do not condone cheating and I am not so naive as to believe the world is full of do-gooders who are hapless victims of an unfair system. But nor do I condone what I consider to be unhealthy academic writing cultures within universities which seem to be fundamentally and irresponsibly ignorant of a rich and established tradition of scholarly research on academic writing and how you learn to do it.

Some anecdotal evidence

Firstly, I have been teaching university students for 25 years in the UK and in Italy and I like them, trust them, find them interesting, learn from them, respect them. A very small number of these students cheat for no other reason than laziness and lack of interest, but some cheat because they are consumed with anxiety or lack self-esteem; others because they simply do not understand what is expected of them.

Secondly, I have recently become involved in an initiative to support home students with their academic studies – ie those students who have been through the British education system (as opposed to international students who have not). This is because, surprise surprise, home students also struggle with understanding the expectations of academic writing! This initiative is part of a wider university strategy to provide drop-in student services: with the huge amounts students pay in fees, universities need to be seen to be helping. Whether they are or not is contentious.

I have read some published work on how home students struggle with the transition from A-Level writing or Access courses (see for example Lillis 2011 and other work by academic literacies scholars) and on who is/should be responsible for helping these students: their departments, EAP centres, student services, writing centres, library staff? But talking to the students allows me to hear and see first hand what feedback their subject tutors are giving them and to glean insights into what is worrying these learners.

Here is a representative example of what I hear (from an undergraduate):

I got 48% in my midwifery essay and I don’t understand why. I got distinctions in my access course and when I was writing this essay, I thought it was good. I put in references, I looked at different aspects of the research question, my sister, who is really good academically, advised me to start with some context and give some definitions, but my tutor said I had too many ideas and they weren’t really connected to the main question. I also don’t really know what a paragraph is or how long it should be and what should go in the introduction and conclusion? Is the conclusion just a summary? I need to start writing my second essay and I just don’t know where to start now. I want to do it right, but I don’t know how. How do you write an academic essay? How is it different to what they taught me on my access course? I know people who have done A-Levels and they also say it is completely different to an A-Level essay

There is so much to unpack here. As an EAP teacher and academic writing researcher, this is my daily bread and it makes my heart sink to hear this. In a 30-minute drop-in session, I cannot possibly address systemic historical and political dysfunctions in how Further Education and Higher Education join-up, especially now that the UK has roughly reached its university widening participation targets of 50% of 18 year-olds (which means a huge range of students from diverse scholastic backgrounds). Nor can I single-handedly change each academic department’s perception of its own responsibilities when it comes to essay writing. But I can blog about it so let’s see who else out there shares some of my perspectives on this.

Some academic evidence

Much has been written on the issues raised by the student above. I’ve already mentioned work being done by academic literacies scholars. However, there are deeper and wider contexts in which all of this takes place. For example, ongoing work by researchers at Lancaster University on The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation is drawing attention to how academics themselves struggle to write and to meet the demands of an ever increasing marketisation of writing which requires them to publish in some journals and not others or to privilige some genres (eg the academic journal article) above others (eg the monograph or audiovisuals, and other multimodal texts). backThis leads to what Les Back has called a culture of ‘absenteeism’ because academics can’t meet their own writing targets if they have to be in their university offices, and therefore available for students, during the day. Consequently, universities are full of empty offices and the “smooth running of universities depends on those who are left behind. Usually referred to as ‘support staff'”(p. 104 of Academic Diary).

And there is the influential work of Charles Bazerman who draws attention to the ways in which writing shapes disciplinary epistemologies. This means that we cannot divorce writing from the socialisation processes that create it and this, in turn, means that academics and students alike need to be socialised into writing by their departments and  not be palmed off to drop-in sessions like the ones I am doing or forced to resort to essay mills (see also this impressive collection of Open Access research on  academic writing which, when taken together, provides ample evidence that writing is a highly complex cultural activity, not a transferable skill).


These, first and foremost, need to rein in some of the more legalistic and accusatory tones  that end up stigmatising students as cheats when some are are genuinely struggling through no fault of their own. Yes, of course some cheat because they are lazy, but that is so far removed from the issue at stake that it shouldn’t even enter into the debate (yet it always manages to and ends up skewing the whole problem).

Here is what Paul Greatrix, Registrar at the University of Nottigham, has to say and why I find it problematic, despite it being well-intentioned (my reactions are in red):

“Companies like this are profiting from students cheating. This is their raison d’être. The approach they take makes it very difficult to detect, but the sector has to find a way to deal with this corrupting activity. Legislation is not the only way forward – we do need a multi-faceted approach as the QAA suggests including:

  • educating students better about the importance of submitting their own work

students know about the importance of submitting their own work. The question is how to foster their passion for writing and their engagement with their discipline, and to raise their awareness of how the two are related. We need to inspire students to write their own work and to care about it, and we need academics in each discipline to do this

  • improved study skills provision

no, writing is not a skill, it is an embedded disciplinary social practice. See, for example, Ursula Wingate here and Joan Turner here. This is why it can’t be outsourced to somebody who is not socialised in the academic discipline that the student is learning to engage with. Students who already come from academic backgrounds, both in terms of family life and in terms of schools, adapt more quickly to university writing, but even they need nurturing once at university because they are unlikely to have written essays in the disciplines they are now studying

  • ensuring more assessments are designed to prevent plagiarism opportunities

this I agree with but not if the rationale is to ‘prevent plagiarism’. The rationale should reflect what counts as academic writing and the values we place on it, including process writing, multimodal writing, writing for different audiences.

  • working together across the sector, with the QAA and other agencies, to take on the cheating companies profiting from our students
  • ensuring university regulations specifically address essays procured in this way, including listing companies to be avoided, and stressing the punishments that will be fairly and rigorously applied to those who cheat

There would be far less need for law enforcement strategies if universities took a bit more responsibility for how their sector approaches the representation of knowledge. I urge students to speak out about this. What do they think is going on and what are they doing about it?

And to finish, here is Les Back again on how we should re-evaluate what academic writing means (p. 64, my emphasis):

More than any other measure the value of what writers do, even academic ones, is to provide companionship for further thought. Writing here is less an achievement that is measured extrinsically than an invitation to imagine beyond its own terms of reference. Books and essays here befriend and encourage thinking with interlocutors that remain anonymous. This value cannot be audited or cheapened through the mechanisms that aim to judge, measure and distribute repute and ultimately money.

Writing about writing

In search of completion: preparing to write the thesis and the genres it requires

thesisSince October, I have been thinking about my own thesis. What’ll be in it and in what order; what forms it will take and modes it will include; how it will compare to other theses and in what sense that matters; how long it will take to write; how I remain ‘in the zone’ for another two years without becoming even more anti-social, mono-thematic, scruffy, fat, and self-absorbed …


Only a graphic novel can convey what doing a PhD does to your appearance

I have spent the last 4 years part-time reading about the history of academia and of ideas, and then writing what I can only describe as ‘epistolaries’ to my supervisors, bits of process writing that have no clearly defined genre: they weren’t essays or chapters or annotated bibliographies or reports or summaries or book reviews, or anything that I had ever written before or seen in the research writing guide books. They were sort of responses or reactions to our meetings and emails, prompts and props to break the ice at the start of a supervisory meeting; they were more like reflective pieces or bulletted slides to show where I was intending to go with things. In Italian, I would collectively call them pro-memoria: things that serve to jog your memory. I think, at one point, I called one piece of writing a ‘Clarification’. Another time, I just had images on a loop to exemplify some point or other. Oh, and then there is this blog … So, I have actually written thousands of words in the last 4 years. I haven’t actually counted them, but a lot of this blog is going into the thesis, and every ‘epistolary’ was about 10,000 words, and there were probably around 5 or 6 of those, plus the email exchanges, the conference and seminar presentations, and the draft papers I have written which I have not yet submitted to a journal.

But now I am on a ‘proper’ writing rota. I have to write chapters, about 6 or 7 in all, and all those pieces of writing, conversations and annotations have to coalesce into recognisable and acceptable’academic writing’, the very topic of my thesis, the very phenomenon I am deconstructing and reformulating. And I have just submitted a draft chapter (which took me over 2 months to write) that self-consciously follows all the conventions that I am questioning: in fact, as I was writing it, I was conscious of how its very form was progressively, word-for-word, being undermined by its very content, i.e. my argument!

How supine am I?!

As I was writing, I was also desperate to close my Word .doc and write a blog post instead, and I think the reason is that blogging is so liberating, it’s a little box where you can store all the thinking, evidence and annotations that can be retrieved at a later date, when they become relevant to other contexts and projects, and, crucially, to delivering some poignant rebuttal! I submitted my chapter late last night, have been at work all day, and now I can write this post! Liberation!

A blog post also affords a sense of completion in the same way that going into the kitchen and making dinner has a clear beginning, middle and end. That’s why I prefer washing up to ironing (which I actually never do): I don’t have a dishwasher, and I don’t want one. Washing up is cathartic.  Doing a PhD for so many years makes you crave completion because after a while, however much you are devoted to your subject, you do get bored with it.



I may refer back to this post and the ones I wrote here and here as part of my reflections on the actual process. And, NTM, start to link and group these posts better.


SETs (Student Evaluation of Teaching surveys): wolves in sheep’s clothing?

Survey fatigue, and other reflections on Higher Education in the UK

Not all that counts can be measured and not all that can be measured counts (can’t remember who said this, but it’s true)

Several thoughts and (re)sources on how university teachers are being (d)evaluated and how students see Higher Education have been languishing  in my head, my Twitter feed, emails, and ‘to be filed’ folders, so this post attempts to bring them together, spurred by an @PhilOfEdGB talk given yesterday by @JoshForstenzer at the Philosophy Department of the University of Nottingham (where half of my PhD is based).


A wolf in sheep’s clothing (Francis Barlow [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The essence of Dr Forstenzer’s talk was this: current government trends to privatise Higher Education and to introduce Gold, Silver, Bronze rankings for universities based on how well they do on the TEF (the Teaching Excellence Framework, designed to measure teaching quality in higher education) are ideologically-driven by neoliberalism (whereby free-market competition determines what counts and doesn’t count as ‘education’). Such trends further eschew evidence which actually undermines any significant correlation between privatisation (of which SETs are an expression)  and improved educational quality. Forstenzer further claims that, as such, the TEF is simply a ‘managerial tool’ devoid of Teaching & Learning value.

To my mind, too, there are several problems with privatisation that are based on principle, and not on whether privatisation may or may not work under certain circumstances (I am sure that there are places where it works a treat, but that is not the point).

Firstly, the very principle of privatisation undermines one of the main purposes of higher education, that is the ability of universties to ‘out-think all others‘; secondly, privatisation clips the wings of HE at the outset by denying it the possibility to be truly imaginitive, creative, and multiversal (see also here, here, here, here, and here); thirdly, it enshrines the teacher-student relationship as one of seller-buyer, which is wrong because of this (i.e. the purpose of higher education is not to make loads of money and get a good job) and because of this (which undermines the entire mechanism and aim of SETs); fourthly, as both a teacher and a student (and a citizen, consumer, and parent), I am sick of surveys: a) they detract from valuable teaching time and rapport-building; b) they are irrelevant to my relationship with my supervisors; c) they are uttterly unreliable; fifthly, privatisation fuels job insecurity.

I therefore share the following view:

University, particularly in the humanities, is, or should be, a door into doubt, not a leap into “knowledge”. And unless you understand that it is there to help you to frame questions, rather than to give you answers, the numbers of those disappointed with higher education is unlikely to fall in the near future (@timlottwriter)

Josh Forstenzer’s advice on how to counter these government trends is as follows:

  • for students: join your Union and speak up for your right to be educated, not trained to do a job (you can get the training once you get the job);
  • for university teachers (and concerned parents, like myself): join your Union and speak out against being demeaned by metrics that have no value and join lobby groups such as this one (not sure if this is the one Josh meant, so apologies if it is not)

(This post was rushed. All comments and corrections welcome, as ever)

What counts as an ‘academic discipline’?

Disciplinary matters

What counts as an academic discipline matters to me on two fronts: firstly, because my research on academic writing is allowing me to reflect on why academic writing is not classed as a discipline (in the UK, at least) given its rich history and scholarly identity; and secondly, because I teach EAP (English for Academic Purposes), and over the years the issue of whether EAP is a discipline or not resurfaces, mainly because its recognition within and without the academy remains contested (debates surrounding this contention can be found here).

Moreover, academic disciplinary boundaries also matter when it comes to justifying and establishing the remit of current and future disciplines. For example, the dicipline of Science evolved from Natural Philosophy; Psychology came into its own once its links with Philosophy and Medicine were scinded; Anthropology and Sociology clearly overalp, but what has traditionally distinguished them is their methodology (ethnography in the former case, statistics in the latter; yet, more and more Social Scientists are using ethnography as their preferred methodology, including Educationalists); and current university degree courses on Peace, War and Terrorism are new: do they count as ‘disciplines’ and if so, on what grounds?

As universities increasingly have to vie for custom, academic departments are opening and closing their doors on the basis of ‘student demand’. As a consequence, academics are increasingly having to re-negotiate their own identities and scholarly remits at a time when job security, the purpose of higher education and ‘post-truth‘ politics are being hotly debated and are likely to be having an impact on how academia is being understood. Research funding is also linked to how secure and recognised an academic discipline is. All of this, therefore, raises legitimate questions about ‘what counts as an academic discipline’ and to what extent do current affairs determine this.

I’ve come across this helpful and clarificatory resource which contextualises the above debates surrounding disciplinary boundaries (the document has further references on (inter)disciplinary issues). Below, I’ve copied the 6 criteria for establishing ‘what counts as an academic discipline’ that Dr Armin Krishnan lists on pages 9 and 10 of his report:


‘Discipline’ has a rich and complex etymology which highlights tensions between agency and structure

The term ‘academic discipline’ certainly incorporates many elements of the meaning of ‘discipline’ discussed above. At the same time, it has also become a

technical term for the organisation of learning and the systematic production of
new knowledge. Often disciplines are identified with taught subjects, but clearly
not every subject taught at university can be called a discipline. There is more to
disciplines than the fact that something is a subject taught in an academic setting.
In fact, there is a whole list of criteria and characteristics, which indicate whether
a subject is indeed a distinct discipline. A general list of characteristics would
include: 1) disciplines have a particular object of research (e.g. law, society,
politics), though the object of research maybe shared with another discipline; 2)
disciplines have a body of accumulated specialist knowledge referring to their
object of research, which is specific to them and not generally shared with
another discipline; 3) disciplines have theories and concepts that can organise
the accumulated specialist knowledge effectively; 4) disciplines use specific
terminologies or a specific technical language adjusted to their research object;
5) disciplines have developed specific research methods according to their
specific research requirements; and maybe most crucially 6), disciplines must
have some institutional manifestation in the form of subjects taught at universities
or colleges, respective academic departments and professional associations
connected to it.Only through institutionalisation are disciplines able to reproduce themselves ‘from one generation to the next by means of specific educational preparation’. A new discipline is therefore usually founded by the way of creating a professorial chair devoted to it at an established university.
Not all disciplines have all of the aforementioned six characteristics. For example, English literature has the problem that it lacks both a unifying theoretical paradigm or method and a definable stable object of research, but it still passes as an academic discipline.Generally it can be said that the more of these boxes a discipline can tick, the more likely it becomes that a certain field of academic enquiry is a recognised discipline capable of reproducing itself and building upon a growing body of own scholarship.

Are you dealing with any of these issues? If so, I’d love to know your thoughts, especially on whether academic writing should be classed as an academic discipline!

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Technical_drawing?uselang=en-gb#/media/File:Zentralperspektive_zeichnen.png

Writing Across Borders 2017, Bogotá

If I can manage to get some funding, in February 2017, I will be presenting at http://wrab2017.com/javeriana/, an international conference on academic writing and literacies. This will be my first WRAB conference. I’ve copied my abstract below.

I would be very grateful for any comments, suggestions, ideas and thoughts relating to the content of my abstract, to the conference itself, to Bogotá, and to the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

 Proposal for Wrab 2017 (Bogotá)

640px-flag_of_bogota What makes writing ‘academic’?

Building on studies in the field of Academic Literacies (Scott & Lillis, 2007), which have mainly adopted ethnographic approaches to provide thick descriptions of how academic writing works, this presentation further expands the sociological lens proposed by Lillis (2013) and introduces a socio-philosophical perspective (Archer, 2000; Bhaskar, 1989). This allows me to argue that what makes writing ‘academic’ requires an account of how agency interacts with structure (i.e. how the writer interacts with the socio-historical conventions that tend to determine what counts as ‘academic writing’) and of the contested notion of affordance (since Gibson, 1977). I foreground the extent to which academic writing (understood as both an activity and a text) is a social practice and reflect on the implications that such a view commits us to, including the need to foster diversity in what counts as ‘academic writing’. I trace some key historical and contemporary moments in the development and range of academic writings in Europe, specifically (but with comparative nods to non-European scholarly traditions), with the intention of highlighting the de facto diversity of genres and modes of scholarly writing, and the range of academic purposes which they fulfil. This will allow me to claim that such diversity warrants full recognition in our pedagogic, publishing, and research writing practices because by ignoring diversity, we risk losing sight of what ‘academic’ means, including the creative, reflective, and socially-engaged significance of ‘academic’ writings. By foregrounding diversity rather than conformity, I am able to reflect on the role that writer agency can play in influencing scholarly practices. This reflection will further propose ways in which we – as students, teachers, publishers, and writers – can shape the kinds of academic writings that we wish to engage with (Bazerman, 1988).


Archer, M. S. (2000). Being human : the problem of agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge : the genre and activity of the experimental article in science. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press.

Bhaskar, R. (1989). Reclaiming reality : a critical introduction to contemporary philosophy. London: Verso.

Gibson, J. J. (1977). The Theory of Affordances. Hillsdale: Erlbaum ; New York ; London : Distributed by Wiley.

Lillis, T. M. (2013). The Sociolinguistics of Writing. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Scott, M., & Lillis, T. (2007). Defining academic literacies research: Issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 5-32.

Multimodality and fairness in #acwri

Could a multimodal approach to academic writing be a harbinger of fairness in recognition of a diverse 21st century literacy landscape?

Some key quotes and reflections from recent #acwri readings

This post is linked to others on multimodality here and here. It helps me keep track of readings, but it may be of interest to both teachers and learners of academic writing including Research Writing, EAP (English for Academic Purposes), Academic Literacies, and Writing Studies. All bolds are mine (they refer to key words in my research).

Multimodality refers to a field of application rather than a theory (Bezemer and Jewitt, 2010, p. 180 cited in Archer and Breuer, 2016, p. 1).

Most research on academic discourse has been based on the analysis of written text and as a result, most classes on the teaching of academic writing have concentrated on language (p.1)

What is seen as ‘academic’ writing is contestable and always emergent (p.2)

[…] the writer does not have complete freedom to change genre characteristics – especially if the writer is not a long-standing member of the academic community (Bhatia, 2004, 2010; Hyland, 2004 in Archer and Breuer, p. 3)


Me discussing multimodality with a group of EdD students using ‘Unflattening’ by Nick Sousanis to explore how argument can unfold in a visual mode.

When comparing academic texts emanating from different academic contexts, one can see that students from English speaking backgrounds tend to focus on creating linearity in texts that contain content that is topic relevant […]. Other academic approaches, for example, in France, Germany, Russia, Arabia, do not cohere to this rule of linearity but prefer to present a wider picture of the topic or of taking different perspectives on them. Reading these texts is more demanding , and could result in academic communities being seen as elitist, trying to ‘keep out’ readers that do not belong to the academic community. These traditions tend not to ‘sell’ ideas as does the English academic community, but rather to ‘tell’ them […] and the text is understood as working as a “stimulus for thought or even intellectual pleasure” […] (p. 3)

On the one hand, it would be in their learners’ interests if they [teachers] could help them to conform to the expectations of the institution. On the other hand, by doing so, they are reproducing the ideologies and inequities of the institution and society at large (p. 4)

The cartoon argument below sharply brings into focus the claims made in a recent  Times Higher Education article in which the writer argues that the priviliging of writing in academic assessments leads to inequalities and discrimination.

I would also argue that priviliging writing leads to missed opportunites for exploring diverse epistemological commitments and perspectives because different modes afford different things: this cartoon, for example, connects more directly, in my view, with our embodied experiences of education than a verbose academic abstract or quote might do, and if one of the purposes of academic communication is to trigger action – see Threshold Concept # 1.5: Writing Mediates Activity – then, arguably, this visual stands a far better chance of generating discussion (at least).


I also find the comments posted in response to this article indicative of profound political and ideological orientations towards education more broadly, and to academic writing (literacy), specifically. I’ve copied these comments below hoping to hear what others think:

unfair_assessment_commentinequalityInterestingly, Commentators #2 and #3 seem to be unaware of the fact that it is possible to “rethink the relationship between modes, for example, the interaction between image and writing in a text” (p. 7) and that a fairer, more just and more inclusive approach to academic writing consists in “recognising student ‘interest’ […] and agency as people who choose how to represent meaning from a range of possibilities […]” (p. 7).

These commentators also seem to assume that writing (i.e. language) is the best and only way to put forward an argument and be ‘scholarly’. This view is challenged by many in the field of literacies and writing studies such as Archer and Breuer (Eds), by Andrews (2010), and Andrews, Borg, Boyd Davis, Domingo and England (Eds) (2012). In their extensive body of research on what argumentation is and what the best way of advancing it might be given the range of modes available to us, they strongly argue that relying on language alone limits our academic expression.

Archer and Breuer’s edited collection provides many examples which extend our conception of academic writing beyond its propositional remit (i.e. language) and towards its mutlimodal affordances whereby mode is undersood as a “socially shaped and culturally given resource for making meaning” Kress cited in Archer and Breuer, p. 5).

I’m ending this post with a visual reflection on why education matters.


On the value of Education


Archer, A. and Breuer, O. (2016) ‘A Multimodal Response to Changing Communication Landscapes’ in Multimodality in Higher Education (Archer and Odilia Breuer Eds.) Brill: Leiden/Boston: 1-17

Andrews, R. (2010) Argumentation in Higher Education: Improving Practice through Theory and Research Routledge

Andrews, R., Borg, E., Boyd Davis, S., Domingo, M. and England, J. (Eds) (2012) The Sage Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses, Sage

Sousanis, N. (2015) Unflattening, HUP

Photo credits: I am ashamed to admit that I dowloaded these straight from the Internet and now can’t re-trace their origins. If anybody objects to me using them here, please let me know and I will either credit them (if you know their source) or take them down.

The first rule of writing

There isn’t one best sentence structure; instead, your choice should depend on the readers you’re trying to reach, the material you’re trying to communicate, and perhaps on your own voice as a writer (https://scientistseessquirrel.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/the-first-rule-of-writing/)

Confession: I’ve not YET read any of the books that @StephenBHeard often blogs about, but I do follow his #acwri posts, and the above quote resonates with my thinking. I’ve re-blogged today’s post by The Scientist Sees Squirrel below.

People love rules – in writing as in everything else.  Lists of rules litter the internet: “Five rules for better paragraphs”, “Seven habits of successful writers”, “Ten top tips for clearer writin…

Source: The first rule of writing