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It was like one of the questions from a previous course, which I could relate. I knew basically what sort of answer I should get, and from that I could work my way through it. I looked at it and I thought "That looks complicated"... It is not surprising to find that interest and background knowledge are related to each other in the natural setting of student learning. I think if I already know something about the subject about which I want to write, it helps. Because then I can write something out without having to refer to the books first, sketch something out in much more detail rather than just skeletal. This question was about popular recreations, and were attitudes to them changing. Well, having been grounded in Folklore — a consuming passion for the last eight years — I knew quite a lot about that already. So I just kind of wrote out three or four hundred words which gave a basis for it.
The first thing to say about these arguments is that they are at variance with the results top essay editing service of the recent research.
It is clear THE CONTEXT OF LEARNING 149 that students take different approaches to different tasks: more precisely, the same student takes different approaches in different circumstances.
In top essay editing service other words, lack of interest or motivation can be seen as arising from a context, rather than being fixed attributes which a student brings to a situation — although past experiences (at school, for example) clearly affect current perceptions. The study from which these findings were mainly derived was carried out at Lancaster University from 1978 to 1981. The research involved both an intensive interview study and a large scale questionnaire survey. A group of 57 students in six university top essay editing service departments (physics, engineering, independent studies, psychology, English literature and history) formed the sample. The students were interviewed about their methods of tackling recent academic tasks set as part of their normal studies. The range of tasks included problem-solving, reading, essay-writing and report- writing. This focus on specific tasks avoided too ready generalizations and provided more detailed informa- tion about the strategies used. We have seen throughout this book, in experiments and in everyday studying, that perceived assessment requirements are strong influences on the approach to learning a student adopts when tackling an academic task. It was also shown how perceived anxiety adversely affected the approach to learning (Chapter 3). Where students felt that the assessment situation was threatening (whether the threat was objectively present in the experimental design or not), they were more likely to adopt a mechanical, rote learning approach to the learning tasks. Students often explained surface approaches or negative attitudes in terms of their experiences of excessive workloads or inappropriate forms of assessment. I put this down to this very keen desire to cover that much work. The factual overburdening of syllabuses may explain why students display such a poor level of understanding in assessments which demand something more than the reproduction of well-rehearsed answers. What still remains unclear, however, is how to encourage deep approaches by attention to assessment methods. The attempts reported in Chapter 3 showed how difficult it is to induce deep approaches, at least by simple techniques of asking different types of questions.
But the range of responses itself demonstrates the powerful effects of the perceived assessment context. The quotation from the interview of a psychology student at the beginning of this chapter, for example, comes from a student who obtained a first class honours degree. Some assessment procedures invite, even demand, rote learning. Another academically successful student from the same course illustrates how the form of continuous assessment he experienced discouraged him from using an approach aimed at developing personal meaning in learning. These findings suggest that the experience of learning is made less satisfactory by assessment methods perceived to be inappropriate ones. High achievement in conventional terms may mask this dissatisfaction and also hide the fact that students have not understood the material they have learnt as completely as they might appear to have done. Effects of Teaching and Course Design Inappropriate assessment procedures encourage surface approaches, yet varying the assessment questions may not be enough to evoke fully deep approaches. How then may the context of learning be used to help rather than hinder understanding? It is probably true that assessments which are seen to require deep approaches by the students can discourage the use of reproducing strategies (see Elton and Laurillard, 1979). But a positive influence on deep approaches seems more likely to come from two other aspects of the context of learning: good teaching and greater freedom to choose both content and ways of learning. Although staff development efforts in higher education have typically been directed towards improving teaching techniques (lecturing, giving tutorials, using audio-visual aids), the research evidence (see, for example, Dubin and Taveggia, 1969) suggests little direct effect of teaching on learning. What has been missing top essay editing service is the important indirect effects. The ethos of higher education, especially in Britain, emphasizes individuality and autonomy. Lecturers rarely know, and perhaps feel it is not their concern, what students do in their private study time or even in lectures. Yet teaching does have important effects, in ways which we are only just beginning to recognize. Teachers in higher education have considerable responsibility for the 152 THE EXPERIENCE OF LEARNING organization of their own courses. This research makes it clear that lecturers in higher education do have far-reaching influences on learning.
These important links have already been suggested in Chapter 4.
Students may begin to experience the relevance of the content of the lecture for their own understanding if the lecturer can communicate interest and enthusiasm as well as information.
The study carried out at Lancaster enlarges on these findings. These effects can be seen to work in a number of different ways and, as will be made clear later, have several implications for improving teaching.
The influence of the teaching context is illustrated here by a series of extracts from the Lancaster interview data.