Within the social work student cohort there is a significant minority of West African origin students who have English as a 2nd or sometimes 3rd language. These students are predominantly female and mature with caring responsibilities. They live mainly in South London and commute to the Medway campus.
The social work programme at BA and at MA level is a very demanding course which is both academic and professional. It requires students to understand theoretical perspectives from a wide range of disciplines from Sociology, Social Policy and Law. Students must learn to write standard academic essays, case studies – integrating their professional practice with theory and reflective pieces in which they use their work experience to reflect on their development as a professional in key areas such as anti-oppressive practice. This means that students have to learn many different academic writing formats and they are extremely busy during term-time in university and on placement.
The outcome of this busyness is that the students who have English as a second language can become overwhelmed trying to meet all of the deadlines and they often do not have time to address their written language needs even though they get repeated feedback that this is an issue which they need to work on. This can result in students becoming quite frustrated because they know that their marks are suffering as a result of their written language skills. For many years the Student Learning Advice Service (SLAS) has worked with social work students and have considered putting on extra summer classes, but this has always been prevented by logistics because the students are carers, commuters and wage earners.
However, this year lockdown provided an opportunity; everyone was suddenly at home and living life through their computer screens. Therefore, it was possible for SLAS to offer an online course to support students’ writing skills. The online course was initially planned to last for 5-weeks and be delivered via Moodle and TEAMS. Topics included:
• Sentence structure,
• Academic style
After 5 weeks the group was strong and keen to continue, so 3 additional sessions were added:
• Writing conclusions
Twenty five students enrolled for the course and seventeen attended regularly. The classes were interactive using web resources and question and answer format. They were delivered in TEAMS and the last 4 sessions were recorded (prior to that the record function was not working). Feedback on the course was overwhelmingly positive students reported that they felt supported by the course and their confidence in academic writing improved. Due to the positive feedback, the summer school will be repeated next summer.