“I just Google the term, and find a good sentence to copy” Supporting New Students in their Engagement with Literature.

Roisin Lyons- University of Limerick

Students entering third level education are faced with many new challenges as they navigate self-directed learning, learning management systems, novel module design, and new forms of teamworking. The requirement to engage with academic literature and scholarly text is often a new experience which students may feel ill-prepared for. While many institutions offer supports at the early stages of a degree course, such as referencing and library skills workshops, we argue that students may be still limited by a lack of connection to the ethos of academic research. In many cases, students may not comprehend how to read an academic article, how to search for credible sources, or how to engage in deep-level thinking for some time. Despite this, module assignments may require these new students to use academic sources in their submissions. Increasingly, we find that students use haphazard and cursory techniques to find and integrate academic sources in their assignments, without a clear sense of understanding of the purpose or importance of robust academic knowledge.
We argue that more needs to be done to support student engagement in the appreciation of academic research. Rather than fixate on bibliography semantics (which may be fully automated in the years to come), students should be told about the process of undertaking research; the labour, thought and commitment involved in generating a theoretical and/or empirical contribution.
Last year, in a large undergraduate enterprise module with over 600 students first-year annually, a number of pedagogical techniques were undertaken to aid student appreciation for literature in the field. These included:
– A prescribed reading list with an accompanying fully-formed bibliography. Students were required to use academic reading in their reflective assignments for the course, but were restricted to the articles in a prescribed list only. This reduced unnecessary time searching for content, and the use of inferior studies. The bibliography removed student anxiety about formatting, and provided a best-practice example for future assignments.

– Annotated PDF Academic Articles. As the articles chosen were deemed to be high-level academic articles, we provided supports to aid comprehension. Using annotated PDF’s, module staff overlaid notes, reading prompts, and highlighted sections of the articles to help student move through the texts more effectively.

– Paper Discussions. Module staff recorded podcast discussions with industry guests who had read one of the papers, discussing its contents, importance, and connection to the ‘real world’.

– Incorporating Authored Articles. Each of the module staff added one of their own publications to the prescribed list, discussing in class the study and the publication process. This allowed students to get a more honest view of the challenges faced and timeline.