Challenges with unguided work at university
Challenges faced by students transitioning from guided work at high school, to unguided work at university
Students face a range of difficulties when transitioning from high school to university. Moving away from home and the stress of adjusting to a new environment are just two examples. One other major hurdle is tackling the course reading list. New terminology, advanced subjects, the sheer volume of writing - academic texts can be a daunting prospect!
What are the challenges with unguided reading and why is reading harder at university?
Many students struggle with reading when they arrive at university due to the change of learning environment and the faster pace of the academic world. Specific challenges include:
- Greater focus on self-guided reading
- More technically complex texts to digest
- Less regular support in a different system
- Far steeper learning curves
Students often have a set of expectations regarding what university life is going to be like, from living away from home, communicating with professors, and meeting new people. Rarely do students consider that one of the biggest challenges will be simply reading the required text.
But why is reading hard? At university many recommended books have daunting titles and use complex language that is difficult on its own to interpret, let alone the information it conveys. Students will be recommended many textbooks to read for each module, plus academic papers, and the in-class presentations to read prior to attending lectures. All this literature quickly adds up over many different modules, along with their other course requirements to focus on at the same time. University is also a time where many students need to get to grips with wider subject areas across their module selection. This often corresponds with the change from theory-based, to more practical work, where their knowledge is tested with more rigor.
This contrasts with reading at high school, where the students would be given a far smaller workload. They would also have external pressure to complete the required reading by having regular check-ins with their teachers. The teaching staff at high school are also likely to signpost specific sections, which are likely to include a summary section to help break the material down to a level they should understand. Whereas at university the students will be expected to identify the relevant chapters and sections themselves, which can add a lot of stress before the content can even be approached. This supportive environment at high school is conducive to getting the students into a routine of reading the set text within a specified time limit. This structure is removed when students head off to university and are expected to self-motivate, and work on their own.
Why is this a problem?
As the guided nature of study disappears when students head to university, new challenges and barriers are presented which can make self-starting difficult. Amongst new responsibilities such as arranging accommodation and managing finances, students are expected to manage their workload independently.
Having to be a self-starter can present barriers to learning, where distractions, confusion, and anxiety relating to their course can lead to students putting off their reading. This procrastination can amplify existing stress and can lead to academic burn out, or even dropping out of the course. Starting off in this position means constantly playing catch up, with potential negative impact on the remainder of their learning at university.
What causes the aversion to reading at University?
Managing reading becomes more difficult as students beginning university may not have the support systems that they had at high school to motivate them towards tackling the reading. Other responsibilities might divert their attention, making it harder to reach out for help, when they realise that there is a problem.
This, it can be hard for students to identify their academic weak points before they are graded on their submitted work. High school students often have reviews with their teachers, such as in-class tests, or enforced mini-deadlines prior to important coursework or exams occurring. These strategies are used to identify where they are struggling, and any knowledge gaps they may have, prior to their final coursework and exams. This type of structure rarely exists at university, where students are often left to their own devices when it comes to managing their study responsibilities.
How does the problem present?
The barrier to entry posed by the quantity and difficulty of the required reading lists often presents with the student procrastinating starting their reading. This can result in the student either not reading the texts they have been provided or attempting to complete all their reading at last minute. This sense of urgency might initially propel them up the learning curve, but can result in rushed reading, or sections being skipped, which leads to students not fully appreciating or understanding the text. Alongside this, the last-minute urgency to complete their reading can result in other important tasks being neglected, adding further stress and difficulty to their workload.
All the while students are putting off approaching their required reading, they are often still feeling the stress and anxiety of having to start it. This is a recipe for academic burn out, which will spill over into other areas of their life.
What can be done?
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