The Chronicle of Higher Education site has an interesting article entitled, “Choosing and Using Textbooks.” This article describes some studies that examined how students interacted with “pedagogical features” within textbooks (such as bold face terms, glossaries, outlines, discussion questions, and self-tests). Sadly, a study of psychology students (presumably undergrads) found that only 27% of the students read the assigned readings before the class period while 70% of them read the readings before the test–which I assume means that 30% didn’t read it at all.
I’d love to do a study like this with my students. I have a feeling that while not everyone reads my assignments, many of the students do because I structure at least part of many of my sessions along the lines of a seminar instead of a straight lecture–I get the discussion going and then expect the class to join in with their reflections from the readings. Also, about a quarter of the students’ final grade is participation which specifically includes their activity within the discussions.
Another aspect of the study that I found interesting was that the students read and valued supplemental materials if the professor emphasized them. At the end of the day if you want the students to read the course materials and truly engage with them I think the instructor has to instill an internal motivation in the student–a passion for the subject–not merely an external motivator of the fear of failing the class. A couple years ago I wrote a little electronic document for ChangeThis in which I talk about some tips on how to accomplish this and as we go into the summer break and start thinking of our classes next semester (in the spare bits of time in between our feverish efforts to churn out publications) it might be a good thing to think about how we can be even better teachers for the next year. Any suggestions?