Academic literacies practitioners seek recognition
Academic writing, public speaking, listening, critical thinking, communication studies, huddled under the umbrella of academic literacies, are seen as "English" courses that students believe they are "compelled" to do.
The educators who deliver these courses are also of the view that their status is low and that their work is not recognised. They feel that it is high time that these life-skills courses and the practitioners who teach them be given the recognition that they truly deserve.
To this end, The University of the West Indies (UWI) and The University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) have established of a non-profit entity called the Caribbean Association of Tertiary Academic Literacy Practitioners (CATALP).
The vision is "to be the leading professional organisation for academic literacies practitioners in the Caribbean region by being supportive, visible, vocal, and influential". Membership is open to practitioners in tertiary institutions in the Caribbean.
Caroline Dyche, lecturer in the Department of Language Linguistics and Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at The UWI, and one of the pioneers in the association, told Arts and Education that "people do no really know what academic literacies practitioners do". They are usual misconstrued as English teachers. But Dyche said that they are, in fact, educators who "teach through the medium of English". However, "the focus is not on the teaching of English per se".
These practitioners teach students how to write, listen, and speak logically, critically, and effectively. They are skills that students will need way beyond college and university. Yet, although similar courses are offered in different institutions across the Caribbean, practitioners do not know exactly what colleagues outside of their particular institutions do.
Collaboration then is key to the change of attitude towards academic literacies and the perceptions of practitioners. While standards are required, and alliances will be forged across the Caribbean and within countries, it is not about legislating what is to be done, Dyche said. It is principally about sharing ideas and developing a Caribbean approach to the teaching of academic literacies, especially in places where more than one major language variety exists. In addition to the merging of ideas and strategies, advocacy is going to be another major thrust of the association for staff development and a more professional image of practitioners.
A UNITED FRONT
"We need to be united in making the point to different educational institutions about the nature of what we do and what that means in terms of how many hours are ideal for teaching, what our various needs are in terms of technology, how we interface with other professionals, to partner with people who are not teachers of academic literacies," Dyche said. "It would represent the concerns of practitioners as there is strength in numbers", Clover Jones McKenzie, head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the UTech, added.
McKenzie wants the association "to change the perceptions by the institutions, the Ministry of Education, stakeholders, and the general public", "to sensitise everybody as to what we really do, and to seek support", while Dyche said that the association is seeking understanding, recognition and support, and the eradication of the low status of the practitioners. They want to grow as professionals, delving into research and publication rather than confining themselves to teaching, marking papers, and administration.
"Our mission is to promote high-quality, research-based teaching representing and supporting academic literacies practitioners in the Caribbean. We will facilitate collaboration among practitioners, as well as partnership with relevant stakeholders. We aim to be strong advocates for the field of academic literacies and to instil a commitment to lifelong learning," CATALP said.