Shall we read?

I took a speed reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
Woody Allen

Reading is time consuming. When it involves unfamiliar terminology on novel topics it can also be hard intellectual labour. Worse still, some academic writing seems deliberately obtuse. No surprise then that a colleague who had been collecting feedback from learners following an online course reported they had objected to the amount of required reading.

However the students’ gripe was that the online nature of the course and the assessment tasks involved (evaluating what they had read on discussion boards) had required them to actually read the readings.

One of the students observed that in a traditional seminar style course you can pick up the gist of the readings from other people, particularly from the teacher. In fact, just attending the seminar and bluffing some acquaintance with the literature is sufficient engagement, as long as you pass the exam or whatever the assessment tool happens to me.

Given that a great deal of the material students have to read is online and that writing about your reading requires a deeper level of processing that talking about it (or nodding sagely while others discuss it – a favourite ploy of my own back in the day) this is maybe an argument in favour of a wider application of blended approaches with on-campus learners. This would need to be balanced with more formative assessment and perhaps less ambitious reading lists?

Does this sound familiar or have we found an anomalous group of learners?

One thought on “Shall we read?

  1. >Interesting post, thanks Paul. I certainly remember from my undergraduate degree (in computer science) that there were lots of recommended texts. I bought precisely one textbook, and never really used it at all. It was clear to us, even if we never realised the significance at the time, that no reading beyond our own notes of the lectures was necessary to pass the course. Clearly, computer science is fairly light on reading anyway, but I did do some reading when I had a good research project to get my teeth into. Students will read things, but only if they seem relevant. I suspect "because I say so" doesn't quite constitute relevance… 🙂 Certainly not an anomalous group of learners.


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