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Do students engage with academic reading lists? And if they do, in what format do they like their books - paper or e-books? After secondary education and strategies they have adopted to be successful at A level, many undergraduates fail to engage with non-assessed extension tasks when they transition to HE. A generation ago the sources of information available to students were comparatively few: lectures, journals and reading lists of carefully selected books. In some disciplines, literature has remained the focus of study, but in others, science in particular, online information has out-competed traditional sources. As the ubiquity of online interactions has increased with services such as Facebook and Twitter, important information becomes submerged in the chatter. Non-assessed reading to broaden knowledge does not compete effectively with just-in-time sources such as Wikipedia.
I surveyed 550 undergraduate students and discovered that only 30% claimed to have read any of the books on the reading list given to them. 25% claimed to have read an e-book in the previous year but only 5% of these used a specialized e-book reader such as a Kindle or iPad application.
*survey results in graphical form
To encourage students to engage with reading lists, I created a low cost interactive website with a familiar Amazon-style format allowing students to leave star ratings, reviews and recommendations (SciReadr.com). This low cost solution is based on WordPress and Google Forms. Working in partnership with the university library, student's union and a student society, I began a series of regular face to face student-led meetings in the format of a book discussion group to reinforce the online component of the project, held as casual twilight sessions in informal learning spaces in the students union.
Responses to the website indicate that the face to face element of the blended program is more important in driving engagement than the online element. The role of technology in driving engagement will be discussed.