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Talis Elevate

What have we learned so far from the Active Online Reading Project?

Natalie Naik

We’ve been exploring digital reading practice for our collaborative enhancement project, ‘active online reading’. In the post, you’ll find a summary of the initial findings, or you can read our more detailed writeup on the interim findings here 

So far we’ve had over 500 responses from staff and students internationally, with responses from the UK, Germany, Australia, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, USA, and Australia.

We looked at the following key areas:

  • Student confidence with reading vs academic perception of capability 
  • Academic priority vs student priority
  •  Tactics for deepening reading engagement 
  • Student challenges to online reading 
  • Institutional support vs discipline priorities 
  • Learning from others vs sharing ideas 
  • Reflections: What would you do differently?

Here are some of the findings that stood out to us:

Students are confident with reading, but not all academics agree their practices are effective 

93% of students rated their confidence with academic reading as neutral or positive. However 40% academics rated the effectiveness of students’ academic reading practices negatively.

The survey revealed a number of factors that affect the success of students’ reading practice. From a lack of motivation, to finding transition to Higher Education challenging. One academic reported “Students often struggle with academic reading. In particular, unfamiliar vocabulary or theories can be a big barrier for less confident students”. 

There are a number of perceived barriers to digital reading we need to address

We asked academics and students what challenges they perceived or experienced in relation to online reading practice. Thematic analysis from staff responses highlighted the following as top perceived challenges 

The largest issue highlighted by staff was distraction/lack of concentration, being exacerbated by access to digital resources via a variety of mediums (e.g. via phones), whilst time management also featured. A lack of core skills relating to reading ability/environment were highlighted as additional contributing factors here, with limited institutional support around reading practice further adding to the barriers. Factors such as screen fatigue and digital poverty (in various guises) also featured highly. 

Access, availability, and accessibility of resources were raised as challenges, with the discoverability, and direct availability of resources seen as a challenge. Many staff cited the issues around lack of screen reader support as one example of inaccessible content. 

 Student preference for print resources was raised, and clearly a greater challenge for many due to the ongoing pandemic disruptions. 

Our further analysis in this area will seek to contrast staff and student perceptions of barriers to digital reading. 

Whilst academics believe online reading is indispensable to students, most students spend less than 5 hours reading per week for their studies 

We asked “How important is online reading to students’ learning in your discipline?”. 40.6% said 10 out of 10 (indispensable) and further 37.7 rated between 7-9 out of 10 (important). 

Whilst this was seen as a critical skill and priority by academics, it appears to not be prioritised directly within curricula. Student prioritisation of reading tasks also reflects this.

When students were asked how much time they dedicate to reading every week for their modules, the results are quite startling in contrast to institutional expectations as detailed in institutional module guidance. 

There were many tactics used to deepen engagement with online reading; Discussion based activity was seen as most impactful. Collaborative annotation, through systems like Tails Elevate, were seen as valuable additions to learning spaces to deepen resource engagement. One student said “In certain modules we focused on the critical reading of primary and secondary sources. The weekly assignment of various texts essentially forces the student to develop better reading skills. The platform that we viewed these sources in (Talis Elevate) even allowed for us to make annotations while we read. I found this to be helpful as I liked to annotate texts that we examined in class.”

Staff were asked for specific technologies or resources that supported the development of online reading skills. Whilst 66% of respondents didn’t disclose any specific tools, of those that said ‘yes’, 57% highlighted collaborative annotation tools as a technology to support. 

If students could go back in time, they would change their reading habits

We asked students to reflect on their University experience and if they could change their approach around reading practice, what would they change? 

When asked “If you could go back, what would you do differently?”, the top two responses were ‘dedicate more time to reading’ and ‘change reading habits’. Responses spanned many areas of personal reflection; from simply prioritising and dedicating time to reading, to creating good reading habits early on. This included creating a regular pattern/cadence to reading, finding good physical environments in which to focus on reading, and discussing/collaborating more with peers.

What’s next? 

We will be continuing the analysis of the Active Online Reading Survey responses, segmenting by discipline and year of study primarily. Further activity is running alongside this survey, details of which can be found on the project website here. This research highlights some key themes for further investigation around critical literacies, embedding and signposting of support, and student self-efficacy. 


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