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'I Came in Thinking There Was One Right Practice': Exploring How to Help Graduate Students Learn to Read Academic Research

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Professional Skills for Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Wendy Roldan University of Washington

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Wendy is a first-year PhD student in Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.

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Jennifer A. Turns University of Washington

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Jennifer Turns is a Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She is interested in all aspects of engineering education, including how to support engineering students in reflecting on experience, how to help engineering educators make effective teaching decisions, and the application of ideas from complexity science to the challenges of engineering education.

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Reading published scholarly work is a central activity in academic life. While educators recognize reading is challenging and are helping students practice reading, there is relatively limited knowledge about the specific challenges students have when learning to read academic research. There is opportunity to identify and explore novel ways to help students advance their reading practice.

The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the body of scholarship on graduate education by adding to what is known about helping graduate students learn to read academic research. This paper explores: What did a novel set of instructional activities, designed to support learning to read academic work, reveal about trajectories of learning when learning to read published academic research and the conditions that support the development of effective reading practices.

This work stems from a graduate-level course in which students are helped to explore approaches to reading and develop their own scholarly reading practice. The two authors of this paper represent the instructor and a first year graduate student from the course. In the course, student analyze disciplinary “best papers” in terms of dimensions important for reading (e.g., citation practices, argument, use of theory, implications for practice), document their “findings” in “handouts” to share, and then discuss their findings with their peers in class. The two authors journaled on their respective insights as the term progressed, and thematic analyses of the journal entries forms the basis of this paper.

An emerging theme related to trajectory is the experience of the student, who came into the program assuming there was one best way to read research papers. She thought “maybe reading the introduction and the conclusion quickly” would always give you the best analysis of the paper meaning. This notion of trajectory, the initial idea that there might be one best way to read papers led her to think now about the many ways to read scholarly research and begin to recognize the circumstances under which a reading practice might be best for that particular paper.

An emerging theme related to conditions is revealed through analysis of the design of the learning experience (represented by the instructor’s perspective) and the experience of the student (represented by the student’s perspective). The analysis reveals an instructional tension--a tension between helping students practice reading published research from different perspectives, providing sufficient time for students to appreciate what they are learning through the process, and recognizing that the value of what they are learning will be realized over time (as they move into other aspects of academic life where they benefit from the insights made possible by reading from different dimensions).

The full paper will address the range of insights related to trajectories, challenges, and conditions suggested by the insights captured through journaling. The results of this work suggest the complexity of helping graduate students learn to read published academic work. The results of this study should be helpful to those in the community entrusted with helping graduate student gain this critical skill.

Roldan, W., & Turns, J. A. (2018, June), 'I Came in Thinking There Was One Right Practice': Exploring How to Help Graduate Students Learn to Read Academic Research Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29645

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