Commentators have noted that after the tuition fees increase, students are more likely to choose courses that are clearly linked to a relevant profession and have been compared to customers, wanting better value for money and return on their investment. We spoke to a number of graduates who had all completed degrees in the higher fees band (which came into effect from 2012), to see how their courses utilised reading lists and whether the students found this tool valuable for using content.
As an English with Creative Writing graduate, having a reading list meant not only were the most useful texts right there on the VLE, they also offered a jumping-off point for my own research (cutting down on the hours spent scouring articles on the Internet). Naturally, I expected that a subject like English literature would be more reading-intensive than others, but I wanted to see how other courses used them -- or if they did at all.
To do this, I spoke to seven recent graduates from different disciplines and institutions about their experiences with reading lists.
‘Reading lists weren’t available for my course, as far as I’m aware. It’s a shame really because I think you can only cover so much in a lecture. I definitely would have benefited from them if we’d had the option. You can find content yourself, of course, but with a reading list you know the content is relevant so it saves a lot of time.’
‘We had primary, secondary and tertiary reading lists, but students who only read the primary list were unlikely to get high grades. It can be difficult to tell what material is valuable in philosophy - there’s a lot out there and it can be quite dense - so it was really beneficial to have useful content presented like that. It definitely helped me a lot.’
‘We did have reading lists, but they weren’t relevant to exams so I didn’t use them. They were more like extra information if you were really passionate about maths. I think it was still nice to have the option, though, because some people are really passionate and they would benefit from that extra depth.’
‘Reading list material was relevant to assessments sometimes, so of course I’d read it then, but I preferred to learn through lectures mainly. In my final exams I actually avoided the reading list content because we’d been told it was impressive to do our own research and cite authors who weren’t assigned to us.’
‘I used reading lists tactically. They were definitely a good thing to bring up in exams, but not all the content was directly relevant to my assessments. I had to manage my time and pick the most useful material.’
‘Reading lists are important; they are sort of what you’re paying for, aren’t they? The problem is that students aren’t always good at knowing how to use reading lists. I always liked it when lecturers gave seminar-specific lists so I could clearly see how the content related to what we would be learning.’
‘Our reading lists were very detailed, which I liked, but they could be inaccessible due to time constraints. However, the materials on the reading list were very insightful and useful. They were really important for putting the content of the lecturer in a wider analytical context, which helped my understanding for assessments.’
It doesn’t seem too surprising that when asked how beneficial reading lists are, a lot of these graduates responded in terms of using them for better academic outcomes. There was a theme of using reading lists in assessments rather than for generally improving depth of knowledge. The graduates also appreciated reading lists -- even the ones who admitted to not utilising them -- and definitely acknowledged when a list felt more crafted and relevant, as opposed to an endless and overwhelming amount of information that they weren’t sure how to bring back to the course material.
Are you a HE professional involved in creating, building or maintaining reading lists? Or did you use reading lists yourself as a student at university? Comment below to tell us about your experiences and advice for creating engaging reading lists.