Students and academic reading during the pandemic

This post has been written by the Information Literacy Group’s Chair, Jane Secker.

Many of us have struggled to read academic books and longer pieces of writing during the pandemic. But how are students currently studying for at university fairing when it comes to academic reading? Academic texts, perhaps never the most accessible at the best of times are really important learning resources. We also know there have been issues with libraries sourcing core readings for students. However, assuming our students have access to the readings,  a new study interested in the challenges and opportunities of academic reading during the COVID-19 pandemic becomes particularly relevant.

The team of researchers includes Diane Mizrachi at UCLA, Alicia Salaz at Carnegie Mellon University and me, Jane Secker, Senior Lecturer at City, University of London. We have devised a short survey aimed at students at universities in the US, Canada and the UK.

The research builds on an earlier multinational survey on students’ academic reading led by Diane which took place around 5 years ago. It was called ARFIS (Academic Reading Formats International Study) which resulted in a number of publications, including one published in the PLOS One journal which surveyed over 10,000 students in 21 different countries around the world.

The UK study was written up by me and Chris Morrison, and our research assistant at the time, Juliana Rios Amaya and published in LSE Research Online. We had over 650 responses from students around the UK, mainly from LSE, University of Kent, University of York and Newcastle University. Promotion to students in the UK was largely undertaken by library staff in the participating institutions, however some institutions asked their Students’ Union to help promote the survey.

The findings from around the world are fairly conclusive; that students prefer print readings over electronic, or want access to both, but they can struggle reading and annotating academic texts in electronic format. In light of the huge shift to e-books during the pandemic obviously this finding is significant. So how are students coping now? Have they developed new strategies for reading online? Is reading in printed format still a preference or have students adapted to the online environment? These are all questions we hope to answer and more.

The project has now obtained ethics approval through UCLA for the survey instrument and we plan to collect data from students in the US, UK and Canada. SCONUL and RLUK have offered their assistance in circulating the survey to library directors, who we hope can promote the survey to students. The team is also open suggestions about how to distribute it around the UK to get as many students as possible to complete it.

The full survey instrument is available online if you would like to review it before deciding to participate or promote it to your students. Please get in touch with me if you think you might be able to help distributing the survey to students at your institution. We will be able to filter the data by country and institution, so will be able to share the institutional data with a designated contact, if libraries will find this useful.

We hope to make comparisons between students at different institutions and those in different countries. But mainly we hope the survey will shed light on a fascinating area and help us understand better academic reading during the pandemic.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *