Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 6, No. 1 (2009)

\"All at Sea\": an Activity Theory analysis of first year nursing students learning to write academic essays

Wendy L Madsen, CQUniversity


Learning to write an academic essay can be a daunting experience for a first year undergraduate student. This paper explores this experience using data collected from a survey of sixteen first year nursing students as part of a small teaching and evaluation project. It uses Activity Theory to guide my reflections on the process students undertake when learning to use the library and the protocols of academic writing, and to analyse comments made by students regarding the resources they accessed throughout their first term, and their perceived levels of confidence in this process. Activity Theory allows various aspects influencing the students in this process to be explored separately, as well as highlighting potential tensions within the system that need to be considered. In this instance, two internal tensions were revealed: individual ways of doing things versus prescribed process; and expectations of student participation in their own learning versus student behaviour accessing and using resources. These tensions provide insight into the process students work through during their initial months undertaking tertiary study.

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