Reading academic papers: participation in tutorials.

In conversation with: Nicola Pitchford. Produced: September 2009; Duration: 4 minutes : 33 seconds.

Nicola Pitchford, School of Psychology:
I get them to go to the library and to make a copy of an academic journal article. It's one of the things that they have to learn to do in psychology is to write lab reports and to write up their scientific studies so actually, it's supporting, you know, the kind of things that they're doing in year one, in year two and finally in year three anyway. But it's a really nice way of getting discussion going in the tutorial.

So, every student goes off to the library, they get a paper and they get a paper of different areas of psychology because one of the purposes of this, of these tutorials is to show that there are consistencies across sub-disciplines in psychology in terms of writing up scientific studies but also that there are differences, and that awareness that there isn't a set rule on how to do things is actually quite enlightening to them in that they can see that there are, that they can do things in different ways depending on the experiments that they're writing up. But they're also learning the consistencies as well.

So they come along with their paper, and I literally get them to read from the paper and then we'll have a discussion on it so the very first thing I get them to do is I'll say to them, "Right, what's the first thing on the paper?" And, "What's the first section?" and pretty much all of them will say "the abstract", when in fact, it isn't, it's the title. And so we then say, "Well, actually it's the title first, you all have to write a title for each of your lab reports". "What's the function of the title?" "What does it do?" And I get each of them to read out their titles and they then talk about what's in the title, what's not in it, how long it is, how short it is, you know, what kind of words are in it, what's it telling you and what it's not telling you, that kind of thing.

So we discover, as a group, what the function of each section of the article is, so the abstract, the introduction, methods, results, that kind of thing. But it's really nice for inclusion because it means that students have to read something out. It's often not a lot of text that they're having to read out, so it's often a sentence. The other students have to listen while that student's reading because they're the ones that are going to comment on it in terms of what's it doing, what's it not doing. And it's in small groups, so, you know, if you've got anyone that's very shy or very timid, they can make a contribution to the group, purely by reading out, you know, a short sentence. Overseas students, international students can also contribute and they've got the back-up of the written text that somebody else has written, they haven't written themselves, that they're reading out to the group. So, it's a really nice way of including students and getting them to work as a group, to discover themselves what the purpose of the different sections of the report are.

And I've run this now for a couple of years, we take a section a week so it may take us sort of five weeks to, five or six weeks to go through the paper, but it's nice because it's progressive, it builds up, it's active learning, the students are actively involved in the process. If they've forgotten to bring their paper, you know, I've got papers on the shelf of mine that I can give them, so that, you know, there's no getting out of it. But they also have to participate.

And the students say that they really like it, they say that they've learned a lot about it, the process of writing lab reports and they've also found that their own lab reports have increased in grades since going through this process. But I also think that they are learning to speak in groups, they're learning to ask questions, they're being, they're sort of seeing me scaffold their learning. So, you know, "Where are you going with this?" "why do you think people have written it that way?" You know, asking questions so they're learning critical analysis as well. But it also is a way in which every student in the group can be included.

Short paper

The culture of 'critical thinking' examines western ideas about "critical thinking" and explores the possibility of the notion as a cultural concept. Notions of "critical thinking" evident in the UK are unpacked, and the implications of getting to grips with what academics mean by critical thinking, for learners entering higher education both from home and abroad, are considered. Ideas about approaches to teaching critical skills are also briefly considered. The paper makes use of the work of Professor Ron Barnett (1997), a UK academic who has examined the idea and role of critical thinking in relation to higher education.
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