This is a summary of the key research findings that emerged from questionnaires, interviews and feedback sheets.
1). The current research indicated that learning to write in HE was an active, interactional and dynamic process encompassing three major interactional events (cf. Casanave 1995): interactions with members of the discourse community (tutors, peers and teacher-assistants), with the training system (taught module sessions, writing assignments, academic writing class, CAL support) and with institutional artefacts (samples of previously written work, guidelines and assessment criteria). These literacy practices were designed to introduce students to the disciplinary knowledge and writing conventions valued in their discourse community. Despite the provision of literacy practices designed to make the expectations visible to students, there was a level of invisibility of tutors’ expectations and values students were expected to adopt, which in turn influenced students’ perceptions of academic writing and of themselves as academic writers.
A range of individual, social and contextual factors came to influence students’ writing experiences, which are represented graphically in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Factors that influenced students' writing experiences
2). Next, the current study identified a host of sources of efficacy information that emerged from such factors as enactive attainments, vicarious experiences of observing the performances of peers, verbal persuasion and social influence and students’ physiological states (see also Bandura, A. 1997 Self-efficacy). The processes of negotiating departmental expectations also partly influenced the lowering of students’ self-efficacy beliefs and contributed to their identity crises (see also Ivanič, R. 1998 Writing and identity). Most students, in particular female students, underwent writing experiences fraught with conflictual and erratic shifts in their identities and their self-efficacy beliefs.
3). Findings indicated that students constructed their own concepts of academic writing through peripheral participation in the community’s literacy events and apprenticeship. Thus, at the beginning of the year students tended to be largely concerned with presentational aspects of their assignments and less with the analysis and critique of disciplinary knowledge. Throughout the course, most students shifted their focus to the construction of persuasive arguments and critique of disciplinary knowledge. This suggested that they expanded their knowledge about what their discourse community valued and moved their construct of academic writing into line with features common to tutors’ expectations. However, it did not follow that these students always translated the accumulated knowledge into their writing processes successfully. Paradoxically, most students adopted strategic approaches to seeking tutor’s clues to ensure that they attained acceptable outcomes when writing their last pieces of writing. Consequently, participants became increasingly dependent on tutors’ feedback and wanted more precise definitions and explanations of each criterion. Having taken a Masters course did not guarantee that students became independent and successful learners.
4). There was a noticeably negative trend in many students’ self-efficacy beliefs as academic writers throughout the year. These changes occurred as a result of the mismatch between students’ previous self-efficacy beliefs as writers and their perceptions of how tutors currently viewed their writing capabilities. Furthermore, some students experienced more dramatic episodes of temporary decrease in self-efficacy beliefs and crises of confidence during the year than they reported at the end of the course.