Tag Archives: learning styles

The meaning of lists: a student’s view



The format and quality and of reading lists differs greatly. Not just between universities, but between schools, courses, and even individual academic staff. The best examples tend to be very structured, with the core texts and recommended reading for each topic clearly laid out, and the majority of seminar readings provided via Blackboard as digitised extracts. Reading lists at the opposite end of the scale simply provide a long list of texts – they don’t identify which are essential and which are recommended – while the majority seem to lie somewhere in between these two extremes.

As well as differing in style, reading lists currently lack a fixed, common terminology to differentiate between essential and non-essential texts. This can cause confusion, particularly for first year students. If you’re studying six different modules and are given a list of ten books for each, the idea of reading 60 books cover to cover, which may or may not be essential reading, is quite daunting.

It would be useful to have a consistent structure and common vocabulary for reading lists. The following are terms I have seen used in reading lists, along with my understanding of what they mean:

Core texts/ Essential texts/ Required reading

These are books that are necessary for the course. More often than not, these texts must be read in preparation for lectures, seminar discussions and assignments. They contain key information and ideas, and are essential in order to participate fully, understand a topic and achieve a good grade.

As these books are going to be read by every student on the course, many course tutors suggest that they should be purchased before teaching begins. This is particularly true for literature courses, where you may be required to read and annotate several books each week. Although library copies are usually available, the level of demand can often result in a long waiting period, leaving you with a limited amount of time to prepare for a lecture or seminar. Additionally, if the book you need is recalled, you won’t be able to take a copy to the lesson with you.

For these reasons, having core texts available in e-book format is invaluable – they are portable, can be accessed quickly and easily and allow you to annotate your own copy.

Recommended reading/ Suggested reading/ Secondary reading/ Additional texts

Recommended reading consists of any extra books which aren’t essential but could help you to achieve a higher grade. Generally, they allow you to understand a topic in more detail and act as a springboard for further, independent research.

Although it’s reasonable to expect recommended texts to be available in the library, there is not the same impetus to purchase a personal copy or wait for one to become available. It is highly unlikely that there will be time to read everything on a recommended reading list, making it important to be selective.

Reading lists may evolve to reflect the interests of the class, while students are also encouraged to discover their own sources for use in assignments. Some reading lists – particularly for postgraduate level courses – don’t include any recommended reading, though key texts may be mentioned in lectures and seminars.

Even allowing for flexibility of approach in terms of reading list structure, it would be really useful to have consistent terminology so that we all – students, academics and librarians – know what to expect.

Helen Saxton, University of Manchester

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One academic’s perspective: “Thanks, but no thanks”


The success of our reading list project will depend to a great extent on how well the Library works with our academic colleagues to understand student reading behaviour, identify core texts and implement e-book pilots.

There has been a considerable amount of work involved in establishing pilots to run in the 2014/15 academic year, from checking for suitable titles and availability to working with academics to run and evaluate the pilot projects with their students.

Given the perceived benefit of providing all students on a course with a personal copy of an electronic core text, we might have assumed that academics would be queueing up to get involved. While many have been keen to work with us, others have been more reticent.

One academic questioned the pedagogical impact of using e-books instead of print, referring to emerging research indicating that reading on paper is more effective than reading online. While electronic journals were seen as an effective way to get around limited access to content, “putting texts online is something else”.

The same member of staff also expressed concerns about the future of academic bookshops, stating that they are a valued presence on campus that may be under threat in the long term.

We have to listen to these concerns and take them on board. We know from our consultations with students that lack of access to core texts is a major problem and that a majority of students want – and expect – to be able to access texts electronically, increasingly on portable devices, without additional financial cost to themselves.

However, we also want to enhance the teaching and learning experience of academic staff and students. We have built evaluation and analysis into the pilot process and we are hoping to get back some detailed, qualitative information about the pedagogical implications (good or bad) of using e-books.

Queries and concerns from our academic colleagues are helping to inform the questions we will ask at the end of the pilot projects and serve as a useful reminder that we can’t assume automatic ‘buy-in’ from everyone we approach. We need to keep listening and keep the conversations going to make this a success.

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Our survey said…

The Books Right Here project is concerned with meeting student expectations in relation to Library provision of recommended textbooks.  A review of recent survey results makes interesting reading as the themes that emerged around course reading and e-books are definitely in line with the issues the project is trying address.

The University of Manchester Library conducted two major pieces of market research in 2013/14 and had over 2,000 responses, giving us a statistically significant bank of information to draw upon.

One piece of research looked at students’ perceptions of Library services; the other focused specifically on the digital environment and also included academics.


So what did our users tell us?

 Students’ expectations of course reading

  • Over 90% of students felt that for core course reading the Library should make an electronic copy available to all students on the course
  • Only 46% of students stated that they were happy to buy books for their course
  • The vast majority of students thought that all of the books on their reading lists should be available in the Library (91%) and that all of their reading lists should be available online and on one place (86%)

How are students reading?

  • When asked questions about the way they read, most students stated that they read a mix of electronic and hard copies with the overall preference leaning towards electronic
  • Users also expressed frustration that e-books currently accessed via the Library did not have the functionality and advantages that they expected in electronic texts, such as printing, downloading and highlighting capability

What can we learn from this? 

It is often reported that students prefer printed books but it may be that they are unimpressed by the e-book experience that is currently offered to them.

Our students are telling us that they want the Library to provide more books in electronic format for their core reading but they are dissatisfied with their experience of using the e-books we currently provide.

One of the questions we intend to address is whether providing seamless access to an interactive e-book via Blackboard will make for a better user experience.

We are going to investigate this and the other issues raised by investigating students’ experiences of taking part in our e-book pilots.

Sarah Rayner, Project Manager

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