Faculty Spotlight: Amit Sharma

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Why do so few students complete their reading assignments?  Are they simply disinterested or are there other reasons why they don't read? This lack of preparedness can become so frustrating that it is tempting to simply shrug and let students suffer the consequences. Associate Professor Amit Sharma in the School of Hospitality Management, however, wants to get at "why" students aren't reading and he is taking a diagnostic approach from his own research and applying it to his classroom. As a researcher in decision-making and cost-benefit analysis, he is keenly aware that like all human beings, students can suffer from a "give it to me now mentality" where payoff seems too far in the future. He is exploring why students often fail to recognize long-term benefits of reading, and using that perspective to help his students become more active and effective readers. Dr. Sharma began this research from the fundamental premise that reading plays a large role in learning. He firmly states, "We've got to teach them [students] by getting them to think, to read, to question." He believes learning in the classroom is a shared responsibility between instructors and students because, "They [students] came here [Penn State] because they couldn't do it [get an education] themselves."

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With support from a Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence Teaching Support Grant, Dr. Sharma is identifying student perspectives on and approaches to reading.  He is conducting student focus groups, administering a survey, and testing new strategies designed to encourage students to take more responsibility for their reading--and learning. What has he learned so far? 

Preliminary analysis of the focus group data indicates that students prefer relevant, applicable reading assignments such as case studies and journal articles as opposed to dated textbooks that simply focus on facts or concepts. Students also prioritized reading assignments higher if the professor actively ties the reading into the course, using such strategies as quizzes, discussion activities and even clickers.  Two of the primary reasons some students do not complete readings relate to both their own behavior, and instructors' actions. If instructors simply re-state the reading during class presentations, students do not feel the need to complete reading assignments.  Also, students indicated that some instructors have no follow-through, meaning they assign a reading but never discuss with the students the importance of the reading, or how it applies to other course content. With regard to their own behavior, procrastination appears to be a critical challenge for students. The upside is that students seem to accept this issue, and may even be willing to modify their behavior, at least in some instances. Most importantly, students felt they were unable to connect the relevance and significance of reading assignments - the 'so what' question.

Can faculty make a better case for completing reading assignments, and would that influence student behavior? These are a few of the questions Dr. Sharma will explore during a workshop at the Schreyer Institute on September 14th at noon. Learn more about the workshop.

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While the demands of juggling a busy schedule may prevent professors from digging deeper into their students' learning habits and perspectives, we suggest contacting us. The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence helps faculty delve deeper into effective teaching and learning strategies while being mindful that time is at a premium. For Dr. Sharma, the time invested in studying and enhancing his students learning enables him to "look at the world differently now" and to see where he can make a true impact in his students' education.

For more information please visit Dr. Sharma's website

For ideas on how to encourage student reading in your course, see http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_40.pdf

Or contact the Schreyer Institute for a personal consultation: site@psu.edu

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