What do postgraduate students want? Highlights from a focus group

SAGE was recently involved in the launch of Shift Learning’s new Viewing Studio. Associate Director for Books, Kiren Shoman, attended a postgraduate student focus group consisting of 6 postgraduate students from around the UK, three studying Medicine, one Law, one English and one Communication Studies. Here are some of her highlights:

On University Choice and Experience

  • Addressing the question of the impact of the current economic climate on attitudes to studies, students were very keen to emphasize they saw their decision as an investment in their future, and that they were perceiving increasing student demands and expectations.  They mentioned some examples of points of pressure being put upon the lecturer or institution: contact time with lecturers, changing reading lists (for example, the English student was angry that the reading list posted on website had been changed and thus this affected books bought as well as their attraction to the course), and resources including speed of internet connectivity. They acknowledged that they see universities as currently caught in a double bind regarding their role and responsibilities to students: furthering their education, or furthering their career?

On Resources and Modes of Delivery

  • The English student rolled off a number of online resources that she had already used – including JSTOR and Project Muse. Others mentioned Athens and Google Scholar. All agreed that Wikipedia was a useful starter to get a basic sense of a question, but they knew they should not reference it, and so would ensure they used sources referenced by Wikipedia if need be.
  • When asked to reflect on the future of the university experience, students agreed on the following words: expensive, less to choose, more specializing/competition of universities, remote learning (universities pushing more learning/teaching online, although the students suggested they prefer face to face), more iPads and tablet computers, more mobile apps. The Communications student was aware that there were 20 in her class and worried that the number of students will impact whether a course has a future as universities are concerned with financing their courses.

On Print vs Digital

  • These students were not huge book buyers (except for the English student who bought all 45 novels suggested for her course up front!). Most had bought two or three books. A couple had experienced packages for print and electronic combined with the electronic code sold as part of the book bundle. The students reacted strongly against buying e-books in their own right (i.e. not as part of a bundle), saying they like paper, print familiarity, exchangeability. However they acknowledged it is useful to have E for travel or moving about, if their texts were heavy or bulky.
  • With regards advantages of having access to electronic texts, they mentioned that the visuals were good for grabbing and including in their essays. They also commented on their use of electronic media in the library, mentioning it had the value of enabling them to do quicker searches for keywords and find relevant information fast. Some mentioned using Google Books as a way of seeing abstracts for book and searching by keywords.
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