Posted by: MandyS | May 1, 2013

Reading Richardson (2005) Students

Block 2, Week 12, Activity 2: Richardson (2005)

There is quite a bit to do for this activity, so I think I might review my notes here and then get to grips with answering some of the questions later.

Richardson firstly assess the position of students and identifies 3 approaches to study:

1. Deep – understanding the materials

2. Surface – memorising materials for e.g. an exam

3. Strategic – gain highest mark

Students will exhibit different approaches to study in different situations depending on the ‘content, context and demands’ of the text, the demands of the course, the quality of the teaching and the type of assessment. Is this not a further example of students being strategic, regardless of which of the other two approaches a student might adopt? Surely students only ever do what they need to in terms of study.

So, to encourage students to adopt a ‘desirable approach to study’ a module must itself adopt ‘appropriate assessment, teaching methods and assessment’. Richardson never really says what ‘desirable’ means but the assumption is that it is ‘deep’ learning achieved via ‘problem-based curricula’. Which begs the next question, ‘desirable’ to whom and on what basis. I would argue that for the module team and tutors they envisage the ‘desirable approach’ being the one which enables students to learn effectively, i.e. ‘deep’ learning; whereas for students, a ‘desirable approach’ is one which allows them to achieve their goal with the least amount of effort; strategy again.  Not surprisingly, the studies revealed that ‘interventions’ to bring about a ‘desirable approach to study’ were ‘ineffective’ because of the ‘variations in how students perceive the requirements of a course’. I don’t think I need studies/questionnaires to evidence the fact that the majority of students study in order to pass. If the course requires them to reflect, they will do, if it doesn’t they won’t. For me, a students approach to study is determined simply by the demands of the course and a desire to pass rather than any desire to study in a ‘desirable’ way.

Richardson goes on to suggest that a student’s perception of their academic environment impacts on their approach to study. Relying on evidence from the Course Experience Questionnaire he determines a link between a student’s perception of course quality and the approaches to study that they adopt. In other words, ‘effective instruction’ (good teaching, clear goals and standards, appropriate workload, appropriate assessment, emphasis on independence) will encourage ‘deep’ learning…but not for everyone…

So finally we arrive at a student’s approach to study being dependent on ‘conceptions of learning’ and ‘conceptions of themselves as learners’. Here, Richardson introduces  Marton and his theory that:

‘Deep learning  is active and therefore learning is what a person does compared to Surface learning which is passive and therefore learning is what happens’.

He also introduces Säljö and his five different conceptions:

1. increase in knowledge

2. memorising

3. acquisition of facts procedures

4. abstraction of meaning

5. interpretative process to achieve meaning

1 – 3 represent Surface learning whereas 4 & 5 represent Deep learning. The approach to study that a student adopts will depend on what idea a student has about what they are learning. A student who sees learning as ‘knowledge accumulation’ is more likely to prefer a ‘subject based curricula’ whereas a student who sees learning as a means of achieving understanding will veer towards the ‘student centred curricula’. Richardson argues that students may move through the conceptions as they study but I think there is more of an argument for them actually moving through these conceptions on a task by task basis. As I have argued before, if you don’t understand the basics its hard to develop any understanding of them so, to that end, Deep study can only be achieved once the Surface study is mastered.

And then finally we have the 6th conception: the approach to study is a ‘conscious process fuelled by personal interest’ designed to result in the student ‘changing as a person’. Richardson argues here that the older student is more likely to have ‘sophisticated conceptions’ about their approach to study. I agree, but this is surely because the older student is often studying for a more specific purpose (self-improvement, change in career) whereas the younger student’s purpose is likely to be more generic (stepping-stone to career, friend’s studying). Which yet again brings one back to the idea of strategy.

I am no doubt sticking my neck out here but I still firmly believe that it is strategy which determines a student’s approach to learning.

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