Monday, September 18, 2017

Research on academic reading format - print wins! Sheila blogs from #ecil2017

Another liveblog from the European Conference on Information Literacy in Saint-Malo, France. Next for me, Diane Mizrachi chaired a panel on the Academic Reading Format International Study (ARFIS). This project actually started at ECIL, as Mizrachi presented the results of her study into students' preferences between print and online, in 2014, and now the study has been replicated in over 30 countries (unfunded!!). I have reported on findings presented at previous ECIL conferences, and the impressive finding is that the findings from the small scale studies in all these countries demonstrate that students prefer print over online, although they see the advantages of online for some things. The website is here
The panel talked about various aspects about this international collaboration: both issues concerning with doing the survey in different countries, and discussion of the findings. Firstly Serap Kurbanoglu (Turkey) talked about adapting the instrument for different countries. For exaample, the original survey asked about Grade Point Average, and this question has to be removed for cross-study comparison (e.g. we don't use GPA in the UK). Also undergraduate study lasts a different amount of time in different countries, departments are called all sorts of different things in different countries: even classifying disciplines (to social sciences, humanities etc.) is not straightforward. The open ended questions were also an issue, since they were difficult to analyse to cross-compare. Altogether a lot of checking and coding was required. Incomplete answers, and identifying and removing them, was another issue.
Translating the survey instrument was a delicate task, to make sure that the meaning of the original was correctly interpreted. As an example, initially it looked as though (different from all the other studies) students preferred online to print, but this turned out to be because the question had been asked the other way round (so in fact the results DID agree). Getting a sample might need different approaches in each country, but in all countries is challenging, getting participation from students. In terms of communication between the researchers, this was also not straightforward since e.g. Chinese colleagues could not use Google groups.
Secondly Elena Collina (University of Bologna, Italy) talked about the challenges of doing the study in a huge university with many campuses, where the administration (Executive Board) did not approve the study. Collina had to restrict the study to one campus, where the rector was supportive. Once it was completed, the study's findings were welcomed by colleagues locally, but the Executive Board was still cold about it! Collina identified a message that shifting everything to the digital does NOT answer all the students' needs. She saw this message as important for improving the situation for students.
Thirdly, Nicole Johnson had carried out the study in Qatar and then in Perth, Australia. She emphasised that a lot of conversations and permissions had to be obtained before the survey was sent out to the total population at Perth (27,000 students: there was a response of just over 500): in Qatar she only got permission to distribute to a sample of students. Johnson had talked to the librarian at the University of Perth, where there was "interest in the results and then the reality of what they do with results". In other words, although the students expressed preference for print, there was not a budget for both print and online, and also there was pressure from the university to go digital. Pragmatically it may then be a matter of trying to get the students more familiar with online texts, and getting the texts easier to use. In terms of challenges, just getting the survey out was a challenge, and one university wanted extra questions answered.
Fourthly, Alicia Salaz mentioned that what was common across the studies was that you tried to distribute as widely as you could, and the aim was to recruit similar samples from every country. She was the joint researcher in Qatar. She was interested in whether culture, socio-economic or technological development etc. would affect results. Qatar was a richer country which was technologically advanced - but still, in fact, students preferred print, consistent with the global sample. The interesting the things was the response: what do you do about the results? There were varying responses, with people seeing what they want (e.g. if they like books - let's go back to books; if they are committed to online - how can we make the online experience better).
Finally Angela Repanovici (Romania) reported that in her country language (Romanian vs, say, English) influences preference. There had been an issue in getting ethical permission (this was not required in her university, but was required for open access publication, though this was resolved in due course).
There were interesting questions after and during the session. For example: what is the research about learning and understanding from print vs. online (the clear results from this study were that students THOUGHT they learned more from print). Also research on notetaking (on paper vs electronically was discussed: people may be bypassing the processing stage if they take notes electronically). There was also a point about connecting this with epistemological development and metacognition. There was also the issue of students working collaboratively (where again they wanted to use physical methods of reading/writing, not just online). Collina also mentioned sharing of print books being seen as an ecological choice. I suggested it would be useful to create some attractive media (e.g. videos of students) to communicate results to university managers (who may be brainwashed by pro-digital hype) and also mentioned research into students using print and online together as they worked. Another audience member raised the issue of students having digital devices, but not necessarily ones which made it convenient to read online, or they might not have data plans to download etc.
Mizrachi touched on a few more issues in the final minutes e.g. a "print divide" (students who can't afford textbooks); whether emotional attachment to print comes for reading books with your parent/caregiver; the issue of "screen time" for the very young.
The second photo is a slightly rough sea at Saint-Malo yesterday

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