10 January 2013

Improving reading lists

We are currently in the pilot year of a brand new reading list system. Not just new for us, new to the world - we were one of the first to sign up for PTFS' Rebus:list system. I'm going to be presenting on our experiences so far at the CPD25 Reading List event on 17th January - apart from worrying that I'm going to be the weakest link, I'm excited about this as the rest of the program looks very interesting and I hope to learn a lot.

Reading List systems are one thing - and they can be just that, a system - but the key aim for us is to improve the student experience and that means also keeping an eye on the wider picture: what sort of list is most helpful to the students? How do they use a reading list? What *is* a reading list? I have lists that vary from one book to 12 pages (reduced to 9pt font!) of references for one module. What's a student supposed to do with that? There's no clue on the list.

We have started a literature review to gather evidence for some of these questions but it became clear that this is also an issue being tackled at other universities. Here are some resources I found:
  • A project report from Loughborough University (PDF) which looked at the reading habits of students. p26 onwards is particularly useful for reading lists, with the wish for more guidance and better organization emerging as a key issue.
  • An excellent presentation from Northampton University (PDF) includes some great quotes from students. This one in particular is oh so very true! “It does make me chuckle when I get the odd reading list and I look and I think: typo, spelling mistake, error, and then we get penalised!” (Year 2 student)
  • Trinity College Dublin have some good advice on reading lists on their website but their 2008-2009 audit results are also interesting, with comments again about prioritization and annotation. I liked their emphasis on accessibility/inclusion concerns too.
  • It also sounds like there is a project going on at Edge Hill - look forward to hearing about that hopefully at some point!
Does anyone have any more examples or know of research been done at their institution?

The big question for me is how to widen this debate to academic staff and engage them in looking at how we can best help students to get hold of and read the right things. I think gathering evidence from the students could be a key persuader. I am hoping we can find a way to incorporate this into the launch of our new reading list system.

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