In this blog post, Samantha Sharman (2nd year Classical Studies student at the University of Lincoln and one of our student researchers) compares what staff and students thought were the advantages of online reading in our survey. The post forms a sort of pair with one about ‘challenges‘, published yesterday.

Over the past few years, reading online has become an increasingly important aspect of studying at university. Although it is often a contentious topic as it is viewed by some academics to be an ineffective way to learn (discussion and references to some key literature here, here, and here) there is a clear sense in the survey responses that students believe online reading has many advantages.

Accessibility was by far the most significant advantage indicated by our student responses. 65 respondents praised online reading for being easily accessible, or easier to access and use compared to physical resources. The main takeaway from this is that many students like online reading as they find it easier to access and utilise. This is because staff survey responses overwhelmingly indicated that, across many disciplines, online reading was of great importance.

Figure: staff responses to the question ‘how important is online reading to students’ learning in your discipline?’
Figure: staff responses to the question ‘how important is online reading to students’ learning in your discipline?’

Staff also emphasised that accessibility was an important advantage of online reading.

‘Online reading ensures accessibility for all and can be specific in terms of the texts selected.’ (Education academic, UK)

On the issue of accessibility as a positive element of reading online, there is considerable alignment between student and staff views.

Several other elements of ‘accessibility’ were repeatedly described as advantageous. The cheaper costs of online reading were noted by 20 students, with another 26 praising the ability to access a wide volume of resources and types of reading materials. Subsequently, there is a sense that students appreciate getting more ‘bang for their buck’ with online readings. In this regard, there is a significant disconnection with the staff survey, where only two respondents emphasised the cheaper cost of resources when accessing online reading.

The survey results also highlighted the changing nature of reaching. Multiple staff responses heavily associated reading with physical trips to the library, with some lamenting the growth of online reading as it has reduced the number of students taking books out the library. However, many students found online reading advantageous due to the flexibility it provides – they enjoy not having to visit the library constantly. There were 20 student responses that highlighted the benefit of portability and being able to access the readings anywhere, whilst 19 responses appreciated being able to work from home due to the availability of online reading. Moreover, 21 references praised the speed of online readings, as they are faster to access compared to physical texts in the library. Staff responses associating libraries with reading indicate some detachment from actual (as opposed to desired/ expected) student reading practices.

All the responses to the questions that I analysed included some element of praise; there were no outright negative statements about the pitfalls of online reading (although responses to other questions did point out drawbacks and challenges). There was also a great degree of consistency between different levels of study, with the benefits mentioned in this post receiving praise from across our cohort of respondents.  The overall sense is, for many students, online reading has a considerable number of benefits and I suggest that this should be seriously considered by university staff when assigning readings.

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