Case Study - Promoting Immersive Engagement with Core Readings

Dr. Anthony Papathomas, School of Sport, Exercise & Health Sciences


This case study outlines the development and trial of immersive readings or the “iREAD”: a time-efficient and theory-informed tool to enhance student engagement with core readings. Using standard functions in Adobe Pro, I interspersed a series of pedagogically informed comments to guide the student through one core reading per week for 4 weeks. Comments are questions or statements designed to direct attention or prompt reflection on four key pillars: knowledge, critique, application, and writing style. The resulting iREAD revolutionises weekly readings from a passive task students must do, to an immersive learning experience they want to do.

1. Background

Across 15 years higher education teaching experience, I had grown frustrated with the small number of students completing the weekly recommended core readings. Seemingly only the very conscientious consistently engaged and even then, it was described as a chore and there was uncertainty as to what to take from each chapter or article. This year, I turned to the literature to discover this was not a unique problem. Sector-wide, students find reading a passive, unfulfilling, and demotivating experience; the result is they stop doing it.

In contrast, the literature also suggests that regular academic reading leads to improved performance across a range of markers, including increased knowledge and comprehension, improved writing style, and enhanced critical analysis. In summary, core reading is invaluable, but few students are motivated to do it or enjoy it when they do. Against this backdrop, I was driven to find a way to make my weekly readings more engaging, immersive, and, ultimately rewarding and beneficial for students. If I could achieve this, students would read more and their learning, in terms of subject knowledge and wider academic skills, would improve.

2. Methodology

I contributed 4 lectures to the Part B Current Themes in Sport and Exercise Psychology module, a 20 credit Semester 2 class serving Psychology and Sport Science degree programmes. For each lecture, there are 3 compulsory readings identified as integral to the lecture content and holding relevance to the assessment. Readings are always scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals and thereby available in PDF format. Each week, I transformed 1 core reading into an immersive read (iREAD, see appendix A and B for full examples). By utilising the “add comment” function in Adobe Pro, I was able to highlight sections of text accompanied with a guiding comment to prompt student thinking. To add structure, comments addressed four key pillars; knowledge, critique, application, and writing style. These four pillars were based on Subject Benchmark Statements for Psychology.

It was important to me for the iREAD comments not to simply digest meaning and summarise content; providing a route to surface reading and skimming. Instead, I wanted comments to guide focus (e.g. “See how the two constructs differ here”), prompt thoughtful critique (e.g. “Are there any issues with the sample recruited?”), and encourage applied reflections (e.g. How might this change future coaching practice?”). Lastly, for writing style, I wanted students to gain appreciation for how content is communicated (e.g. “see how key definitions are given early in the subsection”). As such, the iREAD is not a spoon-feeding exercise, where I simply signpost and summarise to make reading quicker; but rather an interactive activity that takes longer to complete but is more enjoyable and involves deeper engagement.

3. Issues

Two minor technical issues emerged: 

Formatting: Two (from 222) students informed me that the formatting on some comments was corrupted and that it was not always apparent which extract of text my comments pertained to. On exploring the problem further, the issue was resolved when the students opened the document on a different device – specifically a standard laptop PC. In future iterations of this practice, it will be important to clarify to students what the optimum viewing device is (e.g. personal laptop, University computer).

Audio versus text comments: It was my original intention to deliver each comment in both text and audio formats, with audio providing a more personal touch further supporting engagement. However, audio files could not be opened successfully. Resolving this issue with IT support may provide an additional layer of engagement and increase accessibility.

4. Benefits

 Several benefits emerged from use of the iREADs. Student experience was enhanced as weekly core readings became engaging and enjoyable rather than burdensome and stressful. According to student feedback, the following direct benefits occurred: Deeper engagement with and enhanced focus on core reading. 1) A greater appreciation of scientific critique and how to do it. 2) Increased motivation to complete the readings. 3) iREADs support successful engagement with regular readings. 4) Increased enjoyment of reading and improved subject knowledge. 5) Readings more inclusive of students with specific learning needs (e.g., dyslexia).

5. Evidence of Success

Voluntary student response has been overwhelmingly positive. In summary, students reported deeper engagement with weekly readings, better critical comprehension, and increased focus and enjoyment. Collectively, students felt more motivated to read.

Specific student emails have stated:

1.“Being dyslexic, a large amount of text in front of me can be daunting… This is one of the first articles I have read this semester, without support from my study tutor, that I have felt I have taken in the relevant information and identified critiques.

2.“I feel they are hugely beneficial…it helps me to understand how I should be critiquing papers myself, and once I've got one reading under my belt that week, it doesn't seem as bad to tackle the others. So I wanted to say thank you for taking the extra time to do this as I massively appreciate this and I'm sure others do as well.”

3.“By having the additional comments has helped me to think more critically about the topics. By thinking more critically I find that I begin to look at other articles in a similar way, helping to further my understanding of the topics being discussed.”

4. “I just wanted to let you know that I found the guided reading very helpful, it helped me not to get overwhelmed by the length of the articles and really challenged me to think deeper about certain areas rather than skimming over lots of areas. I would really like them to keep going and think this is something that would work in my other modules as well. Thank you for all your hard work and for going a step beyond the usual to help us all in this module.”

5. “I am finding it easier to feel engaged with the reading as it is less overwhelming opening up a plain article with loads of plain text everywhere. The prompts make it easier to stimulate my thoughts on a particular area and create a deeper understanding of the content. Overall, I think it is a great idea and would love to see it continued. I am definitely feeling more motivated to read the articles that are guided than the articles that are not guided.”

6. “The comments encouraged me to think more analytically with what I was reading and engage with the reading in a much deeper way, something which I often struggle to do. I found the comments were of a good frequency as they also encouraged me to look at all sections of the reading rather than just engage with the introduction and discussion.”

6. How Can Other Academics Reproduce This?

The iREAD tool has huge University-wide applicability. As comments are created by the lecturer for their own core readings, there are no subject disciplines to which this does not apply. It is important to develop a “How to” toolkit that enables academics to produce iREAD effectively with minimal impact on workload.

7. Reflections

I was extremely satisfied with the student response to this Case Study. The simplicity of the innovation, the ease of production and accessibility, and the fact it meets a genuine student need, are the biggest contributors to its success. The next steps involve consulting academic staff and students regarding the optimum number of comments per iREAD and the optimum number of iREADs per module (and whether this should differ according to year of study – e.g more in Part A). Consistency across modules will be important to manage expectations and discourage dependency.

8. References

Hermida, D. (2009). The importance of teaching academic reading skills in first-year university courses. The International Journal of Research and Review, 3, 20-30.

McGuinn, K., Stone, G., Sharman, A., & Davison, E. (2017). Student reading lists: evaluating the student experience at the University of Huddersfield. The Electronic Library.

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