Rules of the game

Attended a BALEAP conference last Saturday. After a speaker presented about a one-to-one research writing support programme for non-native speaker students at his institution, with an impressive before-and-after example of a student’s writing, a member of the audience raised her hand and asked: “But shouldn’t the student have known that already without your help? If a student doesn’t know that’s how an academic paper is to be structured by the time of the upgrade appraisal, doesn’t that perhaps indicate that the student might not be ready to be upgraded?”

So many big questions are rolled into one here, I feel. Should we simply give away the rules of the game to our students or let them go and figure them out on their own? If we tell them how the game is to be played, do we in fact rob them of a learning opportunity? Or worse, by telling some students, are we being unfair to others, who choose not to seek support outside their supervisory committee? After receiving such support, can a student claim the originality and integrity of his/her work and to what extent?

Given the philosophical scope of the initial question, the discussion that followed was bound to yield no definitive conclusion. Though what struck me most was none of the above but a comment by another member of the audience. He said: “Academic conventions are not as explicit.” Aha! That is it!

Incidentally, that comment also reminded me of a recent tweet that I dog-eared to share with students.

RT @lmtcrow Candidates assumed readers would recognise implied merit in their thesis. Note to self: be explicit! #MyPhD #icddet (11 April 2013)

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