Exploring and evaluating strategies to help students manage the reading demands of course material in a Basic Mechanical Engineering Trades Skills (BMETS) programme.
Case Study from Otago Polytechnic
Lecturers from the level 2 Basic Mechanical Engineering Trades Skills (BMETS) programme explored what strategies they use which help students manage the reading demands of the course material and to evaluate how effective these strategies were.
The research questions were, "What strategies do lecturers use to help students read effectively" and "To what extent do these strategies help the learners understand the material?"
This is a one semester-long programme with a mixture of classroom and workshop sessions. Teaching material was mapped at step 5-6 of the Learning Progressions.There were 10 students on the programme and their literacy and numeracy was assessed as ranging from Step 2- 6 on the Learning Progressions.
The AE team included one lecturer, a member of the Embedding Literacy and Numeracy team, and a staff member from Otago Polytechnic’s Educational Development Centre(EDC).
A written survey was given to students near the beginning and end of their programme. This was to ascertain what reading strategies students used to help them manage the programme reading material and what strategies the lecturer used which helped them. The survey used a Likert scale and there was space for students’ comments.
Initially the intention of the AE was that the lecturer would adjust his teaching strategies in response to initial survey feedback. The results however showed no clear gaps in the reading strategies the students used, or preferences in terms of teaching strategies.The lecturer therefore continued to use a range of teaching strategies to help learners manage the course material.
The lecturer did though trial, and seek, student feedback, on a new pre-reading activity. This was used in an engineering unit which previous student cohorts had found difficult and laborious. Students worked in pairs to research a topic on the computer and report back to the class.
Summary of findings
The initial survey results indicated that students felt they used a number of reading strategies to help them understand the material. Almost all students reported high use of these reading strategies.
Talking with, and surveying students about reading strategies seemed to encourage some to be more reflective about their learning. Responses showed students felt a range of activities supported their learning. Providing a written sheet to guide students as they sought information, and giving them a framework for reporting back, helped students make useful notes and improved the quality of reporting. This resulted in greater student engagement during a challenging learning time, 8am-10am on a Monday morning, and the lecturer felt overall student results on the engineering unit were better than in previous cohorts.
Action enquiry was a useful process and provided a framework for the researchers to identify and evaluate a particular intervention. It helped maintain interest in the embedding literacy and numeracy work.
Explaining the project to the students was an important message to give students. It made explicit the lecturer’s interest in using student feedback to inform his teaching.
Working in a cross-departmental team was helpful and affirming.
The lecturer has altered his teaching approach and understanding of how students learn. He has asked to be involved in another action enquiry on another aspect of embedding.