Reading Compliance

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As part of our Teaching Support Grant initiative (which we are currently accepting proposals via our application page) I get the opportunity to work with a wide variety of faculty on research projects that involve enhancing teaching and learning.  One such project involves the topic of reading compliance.  I recently sat down with several undergraduate students as part of a focus group, exploring the topic of students' reading habits.  Some of the interesting discussions points:

  • Case studies/Journals vs. textbooks: Unanimously, students indicated that case studies and journals are much more valuable to their understanding of concepts.  One student mentioned that case studies specifically feel more "first person", that the student can put himself/herself in the shoes of the writer and really see, first hand, what the author was attempting to do.  Compared to textbooks, which were referred to as "third person". The authors of most textbooks simply provide the factual information in a manner that infers "this is the way it is, 100% of the time". 
  • Students reported that they read case studies and journals more frequently, even if the instructor assigns this type of reading spontaneously ("I just found this great article on topic X, please take a look at this before tomorrow's class").  In addition to being a case study or journal article, the students also reported that this type of email and attachment shows that the professor is actively seeking new types of information to enhance student understanding.  By simply sending out an article via email, it shows the students that the instructor is thinking about the class and on the lookout for quality materials.  If the instructor thinks it's important enough to send out an email, students often think it's important enough to read.
  • One big complaint is that some instructors simply lecture straight out of the book during class times.  Some students expressed disappointment specifically when a professor uses the Power Point slides that come packaged with the book.  Students mentioned active discussion in class of the book's content as a big determinant for whether they read or not.  If students need to come prepared to talk about the content, students reported a high motivation to read the assignment.
We are in the process of conducting additional focus groups on the topic and hope to provide a short summary towards the end of the spring semester or over the summer.

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2 Comments

The popularity of case studies in your sample doesn't surprise me too much -- human beings are narrative creatures, and we see the world in stories.

Journal articles, though.... I was more startled by that, since I often find academic writing to be pretty poor (which equals tough sledding for the reader). But maybe the connection between case studies and journal articles is that both provide a detailed context -- what Clifford Geertz and company called "thick description." As your focus group noted, textbooks often strip away the context and present a too-simplified version of reality.

I'm not sure how we think of journals is the same way the students think of journals. Being researchers, you and I probably view journals as very academic, with some pretty thick language and methods to dig through.
I got the impression that this group was kind of lumping journals in with all sorts of other periodicals (magazine articles, newspaper articles, etc). I'll need to urge the next focus group for some clarification.

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