My books

My new book, out in March 2021.

ISBN: 9780367335618

More information and chapter abstracts below. You can also listen to me talk about the book here.


This book is written for educators – university lecturers and academic or educational developers. It fills a gap between theory in its less accessible, day-to-day usability forms and atheoretical ‘tips and tricks’ for teachers. It fills this gap by using a powerful, practical, creative theoretical framework – Legitimation Code Theory or LCT – to analyse five issue or questions that educators across and within many higher education contexts share. The book is part of the LCT series published by Routledge (series editor, Prof Karl Maton, who developed LCT). The book has two main aims: to offer readers accessible, context-based understandings of what the key issues are and how we may understand and contextualise them; and practical, theorised ways of unpacking, making sense of, and addressing these issues in our own classrooms or workspaces. It is intended to be a sourcebook, more than a source of any ‘best practice’: the goal is to inspire, challenge but ultimately support and help educators who want to create more accessible, socially just, and successful learning environments for their students.

Chapter 1: Context is key. Laying the foundations for ‘better’ teaching practice

The opening chapter of the book is divided into three parts.

It opens with an account of what the book is for, and why readers should engage with its analysis and argument. From this opening account of the contribution of the book to critical educational theory and practice, the chapter moves to consider some of the key aspects of the broader social, political and economic contexts surrounding contemporary higher education institutions. It posits systemic notions of social justice and social inclusion as necessary critical responses to dominant understandings of success as a highly individualized endeavour, disconnected from socioeconomic contexts and structures that privilege the few at the expense of the many. Wider student success is dependent on dismantling and changing institutional structures that maintain and protect inequitable statuses quo within universities, and teaching and learning is a crucial site for this work. The chapter then moves to introduce Legitimation Code Theory as the framework for reimagining teaching and learning practices through its ability to connect knowledge, knowers, and different forms of meaning making practices within and across the disciplines. It also sets out the structure of the book and offers readers a brief glossary of key terms and concepts.

Chapter 2: Creating a responsive curriculum: Specializing knowledge and knowers for success

Universities around the world are grappling with the discourse of ‘employability’, and the push from governments and industry to do more to increase students’ ability to contribute to economic growth and social development. One response has been to develop sets of generic skills and attributes that need to be incorporated into curricula, teaching activities and assessments. Yet, many lecturers struggle to make meaning of these generic notions of employability because of a lack of contextualization within the specialized bodies of knowledge and ways of knowing, being and doing that are the disciplines. The knowledge students come to university to acquire is powerful because it is specialized, as are the ways in which we know and use it and make it part of our identities. Using the concepts of specialization codes from Legitimation Code Theory to theorize different expressions of what makes knowledge and knowers valued and valid, this chapter shows you how to theorize and express your own discipline’s basis for legitimate achievement and success. This insight can help you to reflect on the learning outcomes for your modules and their alignment with both the discipline’s underlying specialization code as well as with teaching and assessment activities and expectations. Being able to consciously realize this code in students’ studies is an important part of their success.

Chapter 3: Can we change the university? Critiquing exclusion in the curriculum

Disciplinary organizing principles can be theorized and expressed using the concepts of specialization codes and specialization plane from Legitimation Code Theory (LCT). But these organizing principles do not necessarily recognize or validate a plurality of ways of being, knowing and doing, or knowledges. Further, acknowledging and clarifying the ways in which knowledge and knowers are specialized within the disciplines does not necessarily invite students and lecturers to question the extent to which they maintain or change a socially unjust status quo. Chapter 3 poses the question of whether we can change the university by considering the extent to which our dominant and valued practices reinforce exclusive, limited participation in higher education and society by reproducing knowledges and knowers that maintain, rather than challenge, the status quo. Using another concept from LCT, the epistemic–pedagogic device, this chapter looks at how curricula are designed through the choices lecturers and curriculum designers make about what the valid basis for success is, and is not. The analysis and discussion show you how the deeper logics and organizing principles of your own curriculum can be uncovered, theorized, and reimagined. Making different choices can create genuinely plural, diverse spaces for socially just teaching and learning.

Chapter 4: Enabling cumulative learning: Teaching students to surf waves of meaning

Chapter 4 begins with a problem many lecturers grapple with: many students’ tendency to break knowledge and related knowing, doing and being practices into pieces, often aligned with learning for tests or completing assignments. The most common result of this segmentation of the whole of meaning captured within a curriculum is the undermining of students’ ultimate transformation into different kinds of skilled, knowledgeable, professional graduates. This is echoed in comments across industry in different countries about graduates lacking, particularly, forms of professionalism or valued ways of acting in and adapting to working environments. Rather than addressing these complaints with generic graduate attributes, this chapter argues that teaching needs to enable cumulative learning, where students are able to see and create meaningful connections between parts of the curriculum, between different modules within a degree programme, and between their academic and eventual professional or vocational contexts. This chapter uses the concepts of semantic profiles and semantic waves from Legitimation Code Theory to help you theorize the ways in which knowledge and learning can be both contextualized and abstracted from contexts, and that both kinds of meanings are vital for successful learning. Achieving this requires meaning making practices that connect knowledge with ways of knowing, doing and being to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. 

Chapter 5: ‘Show me what you’ve learned’: Guiding cumulative assessment practice

Assessment in higher education places a premium for success on students’ ability to work out kinds of literacy practices lecturers require them to enact and respond in specialized ways. Yet, literacy practices such as reading, writing and thinking are too often considered to be outside of the remit of disciplinary teaching and learning. Chapter 5 uses the dimension of Semantics from Legitimation Code Theory to explore the connections between disciplinary literacy practices, specialized knowledge and ways of knowing, and the social (disciplinary) contexts in which meanings are made. This chapter uses examples of assessment tasks from the natural and social sciences to unpack the ways in which students’ thinking and writing work in response to the assignments is specialized by the knowledge they are working with, and by the ways of knowing, doing and being that specialize knowers in the discipline. The argument here is that, whether they are able to do so on their own or are able to work with academic developers, disciplinary lecturers need to make the ways of thinking and writing about knowledge an overt part of their curriculum and teaching practice. This chapter shows you how to develop a more complex and nuanced understanding of success for your students as related to the success acquisition and enactment of their disciplinary literacy practices.

Chapter 6: Learning through reflection: Sustainable feedback and evaluation practices

An important, and often under-utilized, part of the teaching and learning cycle is feedback, from lecturers and tutors to students on assessment, and from students to lecturers as evaluation of their teaching. This chapter argues that feedback and evaluation, although linked to the assessment of specialized knowledge and practices, is often given or designed in generic ways. This undermines further specialized development of knowledge and knowers, and it limits the ability of both students and lecturers to engage in critical, forward-looking reflection and change. Generic feedback to students, in particular, can exclude students who do not successfully show their ability to realize the ‘rules of the game’ in their assessments from improving their learning and becoming more successful knowers. Evaluation, as a form of feedback to lecturers from their students, can also reinforce generic and individualized notions of what it is to be a successful teacher. Using the concepts of specialization codes and semantic waves from Legitimation Code Theory, this chapter shows you how to consider offering students feedback that is connected to the discipline’s organizing principles and feeds forward to future writing and learning. In terms of evaluation, it looks at how to ask for feedback on your teaching that enables you to reflect both on the teaching context and on your own ongoing development as a specialized teacher in your discipline or field.

Chapter 7: Afterword: From access to success

The concluding chapter is written in the style of an afterword of sorts. It pulls together the key threads that run through the book, connected to the main thread focused on the need to develop better teaching and learning through theorizing our practices in relational, explanatory and empowering ways. This theorized way of analysing, understanding and questioning the nature of teaching and learning is informed by a systemic or structural account of social injustices in education, and the need for critical social thinking around success as a collective, rather than individual, responsibility and goal. The Afterword begins with a brief reconsideration of the ways in which globalization and neoliberal corporate culture threaten more expansive, socially just, and socially transformative enactments of higher education, and teaching and learning practice. It moves to then consider the arguments made in the chapters around the need for knowledge and knowers to be theorized specifically, rather than generically, and in both context-dependent and context-independents ways that can be both complex and simpler, depending on the purpose of the teaching and learning, and the disciplinary context itself. The final thread is higher education’s collective need for hope and courage to make change possible.

Edited collection of essays on writing centre praxis in South Africa and the US

co-edited with Dr Laura Dison, Wits University

ISBN: 9781928357544

This book contains a collection of essays theorising writing centre work from a range of critical perspectives, including meta-theory, social realism, Legitimation Code Theory, and democratic theory. Contributors come from a mix of historically advantaged and historically disadvantaged universities across South Africa, and from one university in the United States. The book is based on the premise that writing centres are established student and staff academic support structures in many universities around the world. But, while their work is widely relied upon by students and their lecturers and supervisors, many writing centres still struggle for greater institutional recognition, support and funding. Further, many are at times pushed into working in less theorised or critical ways to secure funding that fits into universities’ larger ‘mission and vision’ statements, which may not necessarily align with writing centres’ missions and visions. Contributors to this collection show, in a range of different essays, how critical the work of writing centres is to teaching, learning and assessment within and across the disciplines. Rather than reflecting only on the work they do within their own ‘four walls’, these contributions reflect on the work writing centre and academic literacy practitioners are doing within the disciplines, with lecturers and with student-writers. This book makes an important contribution to theorising and sharing the diverse work of these important academic support centres.