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      Research Project:   Supporting students’ writing at Austrian universities






Supporting students’ writing at Austrian universities: exploring possible applications of linguistic research in students’ academic writing

This research project is based on the results of two recently completed projects (FWF-projekt no. P14720-G03, and Jubiläumsfondsprojekt der ÖNB, project no. 8884) as well as on the results of a pilot study (Jubiläumsfondsprojekt der ÖNB, project no. 7921). This series of research projects investigated Austrian students’ academic writing competencies and practices, and has yielded a vast range of results. The aim of the follow-up project we are proposing now is to explore the possibilities of a practical application of the insights gained in the course of the previous projects. The application we have in mind is the development of an academic writing course for students at Vienna University. The course will follow a blended learning approach, combining a web-based platform with face-to-face workshops. Our course design will be based on the needs analysis we conducted among students and instructors in the previous projects in three study programs (business psychology, economic history, personnel management). The proposed project is unique and original in its approach for a number of reasons: First, it draws upon the results of the most comprehensive empirical study of students’ writing in the German speaking world to date. Second, it is specifically tailored towards the demands and specificities of the Austrian university system. Third, it develops a communication model which provides a theoretical basis for designing blended learning environments. Fourth, it is theoretically informed by the academic literacies approach (Jones, Turner, & Street, 1999) which provides a conceptual model for students’ academic writing skills in which the specifics of institutional, disciplinary, and individual determining factors receive equal attention.
At the first stage of our project we will review the current literature in the fields of discourse analysis and pragmatics in general and theories of CMC in particular to provide a theoretical basis for designing a blended learning course and in order to compensate the communication theoretical weaknesses on which most e-learning courses are based. Our overview will deal with the following aspects of communication: learner characteristics, communicative situation and social context, different modes of communication, forms of mediated communication, and text types and genres.
Based on this theoretical groundwork and on the results of our previous projects we will conduct the following further research steps: (1) design a writing course for students in three disciplines which comprises an entrances module and course modules on three levels of specification; (2) implement a prototype course at the e-learning platform of Vienna University and carry out a test application of this course with students in seminars of the three disciplines; (3) evaluation and fine-tuning of the course program.

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