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Talis Elevate

What We Hope to Learn from the Active Online Reading Project

Natalie Naik

We are sponsoring the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) Collaborative Enhancement Project 2021 ‘Active Online Reading’, seeking to explore how we can enhance students’ active online reading practice across the sector. Find out more about the project here.

Read the interview below with our project leads:

Dr Jamie Wood, Associate Professor in History in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln

Dr Jon Chandler, Senior Teaching Fellow at University College London

Dr. Anna Rich-Abad, Assistant Professor in Medieval History at the University of Nottingham

Why were you interested in getting involved with the project?

Jon Chandler: I am really interested in how students learn online. Students were already accessing more and more of their learning online, and this has been accelerated by the pandemic. But, in many ways, the process of reading and researching online is very different to the mostly analogue methods that we taught a decade ago. This project is an opportunity to learn more about how students engage with online reading. The more we understand, the more we can develop new strategies to support our students. 

Jamie Wood: I wanted to take the work that I’d done in History with Talis Elevate a step further. To think about how what we’ve learned about students’ online reading practices and related pedagogies could be generalised, and then applied in other disciplines and using other technologies. Talis Elevate generates a lot of data, which, coupled with the insights of students and teachers, allow us to gain insights into students’ actual reading and annotation practices in real-time. It’s a powerful research and analysis tool as well as being an effective piece of educational technology. We intend to harness those insights during the course of the project. 

Anna Rich-Abad: Jamie brought the project to my attention and I thought it was a great opportunity to further the work on student’s engagement with online learning that I have been developing through my work with Talis Elevate. Online learning practices have great potential beyond the situation we have experienced this year with the global pandemic and we will have to see how best to deploy them. 

What has changed in Teaching and Learning in the past year in this area?

Jon Chandler: The pandemic has really accelerated the shift to online learning and, although I hope to return to a real classroom soon, many of these advances are here to stay. I think there is now a real appetite from staff and students for blended learning. Students are eager for knowledge acquisition to be moved online, with pre-recorded lectures, online reading, and asynchronous discussions, so that valuable classroom time can be used more creatively. However, this also means students have to take more responsibility for their own learning. We therefore need to think deeply about how we can continue to proactively support our students in their learning outside of the classroom. Class preparation has always been considered to be an activity students do on their own, without support from their teachers. But does this have to be the case? Can we use a tool like Talis Elevate to ensure students are better prepared for class, so that our limited time with them can be used even more effectively?

Anna Rich-Abad: Obviously, we have made a great leap towards online resources, and I feel that it is a good time to bring in data from teaching and learning practice and reflect about when and where to use these resources.

Jamie Wood: I’ve begun to think beyond Talis Elevate and to consider what it reveals about students’ reading practices and teachers’ teaching practices. Similarly, while my primary focus is on History, it’s clear that due to the nature of the discipline there are some well-developed pedagogies for teaching students to read that should be shared more widely (both between historians and with other disciplines). 

Why is this project important to the sector? 

Jamie Wood: Because reading is ubiquitous – it’s relevant for all institutions and all disciplines, on some level. Furthermore, online reading touches on a number of key issues in HE right now: it is fundamental to the transition to higher-level study (learning new ways of reading, ‘unlearning’ old habits), to citizenship (handling misinformation online), to disciplinarity (reading in a particular subject), and to decolonisation (going beyond curriculum content, considering how students are taught to read).

Finally, I think it’s important that we encourage university teachers to move beyond a deficit attitude towards student reading (and other skills). Rather than focussing on what students can’t do or what they are doing wrong, we’d like to provide information and resources that are based on ‘real world’ practices and experiences, including by drawing in input from school teachers. 

Jon Chandler: We are all aware of the benefits and challenges of reading online. On the one hand, it is truly amazing that our students can access so many texts at the click of a button. No need for you to rush to the library to get your hands on the only copy of a required textbook, or to strain your eyes deciphering a dreadful photocopy. This is so important to ensuring equality of opportunity to all of our students. On the other hand, reading can now be even more isolating than ever: instead of strolling among shelves in a library, students are scrolling along screens in their bedrooms. 

I am really excited by this opportunity to research how students read online. The learning that students do outside of the classroom is absolutely foundational. Our research will provide an insight into how students learn, and how teachers can support their learning, that will be relevant for any subject, and at every stage of education. 

Anna Rich-Abad: Interestingly, I was talking to a student today and they mentioned how great it is to be able to read online because it is really time-effective, it is accessible and it is agile. They also admitted that it meant that sometimes their individual reading was a bit superficial. Solutions like Talis Elevate help to achieve deeper meaning in online reading because it allows for collaboration and building-up of understanding of the sources. Historians read all the time, and we read each other, we can introduce collaborative reading at an earlier stage with the online tools.

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