Moragh Paxton

Moragh's teaching, curriculum development and research has been in Commerce, Humanities, Science and Health Sciences at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Her research in the field of higher education addresses CHED’s mission to promote equity of access, effectiveness of teaching and learning and the enhancement of curriculum across all the faculties of UCT. Her specialisation is in the area now described as academic literacies research and recognised internationally as a significant field of enquiry. Her intellectual project has been to use critical discourse analysis alongside ethnographic methods to analyse students’ hybrid ‘interim literacies’ in order to understand the experiences and practices of a diversity of students from social groups historically excluded from higher education. In her PhD I used the term ‘interim literacies’ to move away from a ‘deficit view’ of student writers in the university and to capture the way these writers were reshaping past discourses to assist them in the process of acquiring the new academic discourses. 

This has provided  a more multi-layered understanding of the linguistic and cultural resources that South African students from rural and working class backgrounds bring to their academic studies and it has brought to light the complex discursive processes by which students ‘learn’ the subject. Further, by focusing on the historical and social context of one particular discipline, that of economics, a disciplinary area which has been underrepresented in the research, her research has made a significant contribution to the field.

The PhD research had analysed students’ written English, and, while English may be the medium of instruction at UCT, it is often not the language of learning. However because so much of the research in academic development has focused on understanding the cognitive and epistemic demands of a variety of academic literacies, the issue of multilingual learning has become somewhat neglected. Her post-doctoral research set out to extend these insights into discourse acquisition by exploring the resources that students draw on as they negotiate meaning in peer learning groups. Working in collaboration with the Multilingual Education Project, I analysed the way multilingual students used a mixed code while studying economics in informal small group learning contexts. The translated data from these peer groups revealed that students were sometimes not able to access a full understanding of concepts until they were explained in their primary languages. This indicated that the learning of new economic concepts in multilingual settings is restricted by the use of English only. When multilingual students draw on their rich linguistic resources to make sense of new concepts they bring enhanced understanding to these concepts.

More recently her research  could be described as extending the theory and methods used in her doctoral research to other levels and other disciplines. Her particular contribution has been to use theoretical perspectives on discourse, genre and voice to explore genre acquisition at the postgraduate level.  During this period I also developed an interest in the theory and methodology of academic literacies research.

I have a particular interest in using the findings of academic literacies research to design more appropriate curricula and pedagogical approaches so as to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. I believe that ethnographic approaches , such as those offered by academic literacies research are crucial for curriculum design so that we  understand where students’ conceptual gaps and misinterpretations lie, as well as what the alternative practices are and how these can make a contribution to curriculum design. Inevitably though, an ethnographic approach to curriculum design is not sufficient and it needs to be complemented by an understanding of how knowledge is structured, of the context independence of knowledge and the discontinuities between knowledge and common sense.
This profile would not be complete without noting that her research journey has been a very collaborative one, working in research groups with supportive and creative  colleagues in CHED and in the faculties and supervising many postgraduate students  all of whom  have inspired her own research trajectory.