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Do the low levels of reading course material continue? An examination in a forensic psychology graduate program.

Clump, Bauer, and Bradley (2004) and Burchfield and Sappington (2000) previously found extremely low levels of reading in undergraduate psychology courses. The current study investigated whether these low levels of reading are also found with graduate students, or if this value is altered by only investigating individuals who show continued interest in higher education. As a result, we assessed the reading levels of students in graduate Forensic Psychology courses. Across the six courses from which data were collected, 193 usable responses to the Textbook Reading in this Course (The Teaching Professor, 2001) and 4 questions from previous research by Solomon (1979) were analyzed. Unfortunately, the reading levels of these graduate students, who recently graduated from college, are still disappointing with students only reading 54.21% of the assigned material before class and 84.14% before a test.

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Previous research has investigated the level of student reading in psychology courses (Burfield & Sappington, 2000; Clump, Bauer, & Bradley, 2004). Burchfield and Sappington found a consistent decrease in required reading across a 20-year time span by graduate and undergraduate students. Clump et al. found that across undergraduate psychology courses, the students only read 27.46% of the assigned readings before class and 69.98% of the readings before a test. The graduate students in Burchfield and Sappington's study were found to have a mean compliance reading rate of 61.6%. Mokhtari and Sheorey (1994) found on average only .57 proportion of the surveyed ESL graduate students endorsed reading the different items the authors listed as reading materials usually required for studying in college. All of these findings are rather disappointing.

A survey composed of the Textbook Reading in this Course (TRTC) and 4 questions from previous research by Solomon (1979) was given to Forensic Psychology graduate students to determine the extent to which these students, who had recently graduated from college, but showed a continued interest in the pursuit of higher education, read the assigned course readings (i.e., textbooks and/or primary sources). Given the plethora of information related to the way that undergraduate students handle course-related material, one begins to wonder if this trend continues into graduate school. The results of this study are important to both graduate and undergraduate faculty because it provides information about the reading habits of graduate students; but more importantly, it further provides insight into the habits of undergraduate students by indicating that their previous behavior of not reading textual material continues in graduate school.

Method

Participants

Usable data was collected from 193 responses by students in master's-level graduate courses at an eastern university. Of those responses, 20 responses were from the PS 500 Research and Evaluation course, 18 responses were from the PS 517 Applied Social Psychology course, 20 were from the SOC 510 Theories of Social Deviance course, 81 responses were from the PS 517 Neuropsychological Issues, Treatments, and Assessments course, 22 responses were from the PS 582 Advanced Issues in Forensic Psychology course, and 38 responses were from the PS 585 Forensic Assessment course. It was possible for a student to have completed the instrument in more than one course as the instrument asks students to indicate their reading habits for each course in which they complete it. Participation in this study was completely voluntary. The participants ranged in age from 21-years-old to 53-years-old (M = 25.45-years-old, SD = 5.22-years-old), with 88.4% of the students selecting female as their gender and 11.6% selecting male. Modal year in school was the 2nd year in graduate school (46.2%), followed by 1st year (45.2%), 3rd year (6.0%), and other (2.0%). The students had completed on average 18.79 (SD = 12.22) graduate-level course credits. Expected course grades were 63.8 % A, 32.2% B, and 2.5% C.

Materials

The survey questions in this study were comprised of Textbook Reading in this Course questions from The Teaching Professor (2001), as well as 4 questions from previous research by Solomon (1979). Students were asked a series of questions concerning their personal behaviors concerning textbook and primary source usage. The first portion of the survey included the following questions: "When do you typically do the assigned reading for this class?," "How much time do you spend on one of the reading assignments?," "What do you do when you read the material?," "What do you see as the relationship between material presented in class and material covered in the book?," "How do you review text material before the exam?," and "What can the teacher do to support your effort to learn text material?" (The Teaching Professor, 2001, p. 8). Additionally, the participants reported the following percentages: "What percentage of the readings do you do before you come to class?," "What percentage of the readings do you do before the material is included on an exam?," "In other classes that you take, what percentage of the readings do you do before the material is covered in class?," and "In other classes that you take, what percentage of the readings do you do before the material is included on an exam?" (Solomon, 1979, p. 79).

Procedure

Students were tested in large groups and allowed 1-hr to finish, but most finished in 15-min. Students were told about the study and also encouraged to ask questions.

Results

In Forensic Psychology courses overall, students read 54.21% of the assigned material before coming to class and 84.14% before the material was included on a test. There were significant differences between the classes with regard to reading before the class for which it was assigned, F (5, 187) = 2.91, p = .02, and these differences were investigated with a priori t-tests (see Table 1 for means and standard deviations). The students in SOC 510 Theories of Social Deviance read the assigned materials significantly more than the students in PS 500 Research and Evaluation, t (30.22) = 3.15, p = .00, PS 517 Neuropsychological Issues, Treatments, and Assessments, t (48.12) = 4.66, p = .000, PS 582 Advanced Issues in Forensic Psychology, t (37.36) = 3.43, p = .00, and PS 585 Forensic Assessment, t (53.76) = 2.06, p = .04, courses. In addition, the students in PS 585 Forensic Assessment course read the assigned materials significantly more than the students in PS 517 Neuropsychological Issues, Treatments, and Assessments course, t (85.05) = 2.20, p = .03.

There were not significant differences overall between the classes with regard to reading the assigned material before it is included on a test (see Table 2 for means and standard deviations), F (5,187) = 1.67, ns. However, the students in PS 517 Neuropsychological Issues, Treatments, and Assessments course read the assigned materials before an exam significantly more than the students in PS 585 Forensic Assessment course, t (54.06) = 2.05, p = .04.

The students' responses to some of the questions on the TRTC are very intriguing. Most students (81.9%) spent less than 2-hr on each reading assignment, with 42.7% spending between l- to 2-hr on each reading assignment and 35.2 % spending less than 1-hr (4% indicated not reading ever reading the assigned material). Even more interesting is that most students feel that the instructor should tell them what is important in the reading (58.8%) and regularly speak about how class material relates to textual material (52.8%). Students furthermore do not think that an instructor should encourage them to ask questions about what they do not understand in the text (70.9%), question the class about textual material (62.8%), or provide in-class time for discussion among the students on the textual material (84.4%).

Discussion

As was found with undergraduate students (cf. Clump et al., 2004), the results indicate that the number of Forensic Psychology graduate students actually reading the assigned material is rather disappointing. Our findings of students reading 54.21% of the assigned material before class across all of the classes is similar to the level (61.6%) reported by Burchfield and Sappington (2000). It should be noted that the value for the graduate students in the current study is significantly larger than the value for the undergraduate students (M = 27.46%, SD = 31.66) reported by Clump et al. (2004), t (318.85) = 8.53, p = .000; however, it is still on average only 50% of the assigned material before class. In addition, the graduate students did not complete all of the assigned readings before a test; they completed nearly 85% of the readings, which is still significantly larger than the undergraduates, who only completed 69.98% (SD = 32.30) of the assigned readings before a test, t (469.74) = 5.87, p = .000, but it is still incomplete. Our findings of graduate students reading more of the assigned readings matches the significant differences between graduate students and undergraduate students that Burchfield and Sappington (2000) found, and Mokhtari and Sheorey's (1994) findings that graduate ESL students reported reading significantly more of, and for significantly more time, the academic material usually required in college than their undergraduate ESL counterparts.

The information in this study provides a baseline for one master's-level program at one university with regard to the amount of reading of assigned material for graduate students. However, it indicates that the low level of reading by undergraduates continues into graduate studies at least at the master's-level. In addition, like the undergraduate students, the graduate students feel that it is the instructor's responsibility to state exactly what is important in the reading and how class material relates with the assigned material, but the instructor should not actively question the students about the assigned material during class. It appears that students do not want instructors to directly ask them about the assigned readings because they typically do not read the assigned readings. A discussion of how to address this problem at the undergraduate level needs to continue because these select graduate students' habits and attitudes mirror those of the undergraduates, and most of the graduate students are not coming to class having read the assigned material, which is similar to their undergraduate peers. One possibility may be that instructors of both undergraduate and graduate courses will need to institute quizzes on reading assignments, extra credit for reading, or using graded "focus worksheets" with comments as suggested by previous research (Burchfield & Sappington, 2000; Carkenord, 1994; Connor-Greene, 2000; Marchant, 2002; Ruscio, 2001; Ryan, 2006; Sappington, Kinsey, & Munsayac, 2002; Steuer, 1996).

References

Burchfield, C. M., & Sappington, J. (2000). Compliance with required reading assignments. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 58-60.

Carkenord, D. M. (1994). Motivating students to read journal articles. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 162-164.

Clump, M. A., Bauer, H., & Bradley, C. (2004). The extent to which psychology students read textbooks: A multiple class analysis of reading across the psychology curriculum. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31, 227-232.

Connor-Greene, P. A. (2000). Assessing and promoting student learning: Blurring the line between teaching and testing. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 84-88.

Marchant, G. T. (2002). Student reading of as signed articles: Will this be on the test?. Teaching of Psychology, 29, 49-51.

Mokhtari, K., & Sheorey, R. (1994). Reading habits of university ESL students at different levels of English proficiency and education. Journal of Research in Reading, 17, 46-61.

Ruscio, J. (2001). Administering quizzes at random to increase students' reading. Teaching of Psychology, 28, 204-206.

Ryan, T. E. (2006). Motivating novice students to read their textbooks. College Student Journal, 33, 135-140.

Sappington, J., Kinsey, K., & Munsayac, K. (2002). Two studies of reading compliance among college students. Teaching of Psychology, 29, 272-274.

Sikorski, J. F., Rich, K., Saville, B. K., Buskist, W., Drogan, O., & Davis, S. F. (2002). Student use of introductory texts: Comparative survey findings from two universities. Teaching of Psychology, 29, 312-313.

Solomon, P. R. (1979). The two-point system: A method for encouraging students to read assigned material before class. Teaching of Psychology, 6, 77-79.

Steuer, F. B. (1996). Reading in the undergraduate psychology curriculum. Teaching of Psychology, 23, 226-230.

The Teaching Professor. (200 I). Students and textbooks: Feedback can improve the relationship. The Teaching Professor, 15(7), 7-8.

Michael A. Clump, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Marymount University. Jason Doll, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Forensic Psychology, Marymount University

Correspondence concerning this article can be addressed to: Dr. Michael A. Clump, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Marymount University, 2807 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 22207; Email: michael.clump@marymount.edu
Table 1
Mean Percentages and Standard Deviations for the Different Courses with
Respect to Reading before the Course Meets

Course N M % SD

PS 500 Research and Evaluation 20 47.40 37.38
PS 507 Applied Social Psychology 18 57.39 41.32
SOC 510 Theories of Social Deviance 20 77.75 21.37
PS 517 Neuropsychological Issues, Treatments,
and Assessments 76 46.30 41.61
PS 582 Advanced Issues in Forensic Psychology 22 49.73 31.08
PS 585 Forensic Assessment 37 62.54 34.32
Total 193 54.21 37.97

Table 2
Mean Percentages and Standard Deviations for the Different Courses with
Respect to Reading before an Exam

Course N M% SD

PS 500 Research and Evaluation 20 78.00 26.13
PS 507 Applied Social Psychology 18 82.53 24.83
SOC 510 Theories of Social Deviance 20 89.00 15.69
PS 517 Neuropsychological Issues, Treatments,
and Assessments 79 88.86 24.15
PS 582 Advanced Issues in Forensic Psychology 22 82.95 20.16
PS 585 Forensic Assessment 37 76.22 33.61
Total 196 84.14 25.64
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Author:Clump, Michael A.; Doll, Jason
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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