These differences are in turn related by the students to the different demands of the context of learning in arts and science departments (see Ramsden, 1981). It should be emphasized that we are not maintaining that these differences are immutable differences between subject areas. For full understanding of any complex subject- matter, according to Pask, both styles of learning need to be employed. But it may well be that differing disciplinary emphases inhibit, at least for some students, the development of a versatile style of learning in which both comprehension and operation learning are appropriately used. At its logical extreme, this perceived bias in tasks typically set could lead to science students being unable to describe the meaning of what they know, and arts students being incapable of deductive reasoning. The next step in examining the relationship between subject area contexts and approaches to studying is to ask whether deep and surface approaches to learning reveal themselves differently in different contexts. Laurillard has found an equivalent distinction in approaches to problem-solving, and parallels with these categories can also be seen in relation to listening to lectures and writing essays.
In normal studying the surface approach implies not Only a concentration on words or details to the detriment of under- Itanding, but also an over-awareness of assessment demands which leads to an intention to reproduce knowledge. In the Lancaster interviews both deep and surface approaches in normal studying were found clearly, but were expressed in different ways in different subject areas, because of the requirements of typical learning tasks in the different contexts. From the interviews it emerged that even a deep approach to learning talks in science departments often demands an initial concentration on details which is empirically hard to separate from a surface approach. This means that the descriptive category needs to be redefined somewhat in order to include this prior stage. In the humanities, in contrast, a deep Approach is revealed more commonly by the student stressing, right from the thesis service itart, an intention to re-interpret the material in a personal way.
In 158 THE EXPERIENCE OF LEARNING describing surface approaches, science students are more likely to stress an over-concentration on techniques and procedural details, while the arts and social science students tend to report a more generalized, vague approach — oversimplifying in reading or essay- writing, or memorizing unrelated generalities in their preparation for assessments. These differences in emphasis in deep and surface approaches show how the meaning of this fundamental dichotomy has itself to be understood in terms of the context in which approaches to learning are realized. Study Orientations and help on writing a research paper Perceptions of Academic Departments Although it is clear that the same student may use both deep and surface approaches on different thesis service occasions, there was evidence from the interviews that students also showed general orientations to studying. Two of these orientations, meaning orientation and reproducing orientation, are conceptually similar to the deep and surface approaches, even though they describe relatively consistent tendencies in individual students.
The study orientations, however, are not assumed to be unchanging characteristics of students: just as students change their conceptions of learning over time, so they may help writing a compare and contrast essay shift their study orientation during a programme of higher education. We might expect, for example, that departments perceived to have excessive assessment and syllabus demands would create reproducing orientations (corresponding to surface approaches) in their students. A complicating factor is the discipline taught in a department. Study orientations vary from one subject area to another, just as the meaning of the deep and surface categories differs in different subject areas. However, the teaching and assessment policies do differ between departments teaching the same discipline and so relationships with study orientations may still be observed. Such relationships could only emerge from an analysis of a substantial number of departments and a much larger number of students.
Partly as a result of earlier work at Lancaster, and partly from the research of Biggs (1978) and the ideas of the Gothenburg researchers, an inventory of approaches to studying was developed suitable for administration to large samples of students (Entwistle et al. The inventory asks students about their general approaches to academic work in the normal context of their main courses. Examines evidence critically and uses it cautiously. Actively relates new information to previous knowledge. Prefers to restrict learning to defined syllabus and specified tasks. Qualifications as main source of motivation for learning. Organizes time ineffectively, fails to plan ahead, not prompt in submitting work. Over-readiness to generalize and jump to conclusions without evidence. For our purposes here, the important thesis service scales are those making up the meaning and reproducing orientations. The Lancaster research also made use of a questionnaire of course perceptions, with eight sub-scales (Table 9.
Freedom in thesis service learning How much discretion students have over the choice of content and methods of studying it. Workload How heavy the pressure to fulfil the require- ments of the syllabus and assessment is perceived to be.
Social climate Quality of academic and social relationships between students. Subject area differences Formal teaching methods Importance placed on lectures and classes relative to individual study. Clear goals and standards How clearly the standards of assessment and ends of studying are perceived to be defined. The fact that students can respond to general questions of this sort, both in the questionnaire and in interviews, suggests that students are able to perceive general differences in teaching and assessment in departments in addition to specific differences between different lecturers within departments. The scales of the course perceptions questionnaire divide into two main groupings. One of these — formal teaching methods, clear goals and standards, and vocational relevance — differentiates mainly between science and professional studies departments, and the rest.