Hands across the sea : UK/USA collaboration on common reading

Baverstock, Alison, Morris, Wendy, Bannerhan, Leslie, Knight, Dewey and Dennis, Melissa (2018) Hands across the sea : UK/USA collaboration on common reading. In: 37th Annual Conference on The First-Year Experience; 10-13 February 2018, San Antonio, TX, USA. (Unpublished)


Why common reading? These programs are based on two strands of research – firstly that reading for pleasure correlates with significant life-long benefits and secondly that early welcome activities can create a community before students arrive and ease their university transition. A staff-student research project at Kingston University London based on a representative sample of first years (Baverstock, 2016) established that pre-arrival shared reading would be likely to benefit not only students identified as not traditionally thriving at University but would also promote a more unified academic community as a whole. What did the programs include? Both universities choose one book each year which is delivered to all new students prior to enrolment as a gift. Selection criteria include a living author, less than 400 pages, accessible to all students, and published in the last 5 years. Students are then encouraged to join in campus activities including author visits, reading groups and themed events. Aspects of the book are also embedded in academic teaching in the first weeks of the semester. The typical impact is that the whole community feels connected with a surprising level of involvement from staff – both academic and support. Students report feeling 'welcomed' and 'less anxious' and part of their new community even before they arrive. How did we collaborate? University of Mississippi and Kingston University London have worked together sharing best practice, swapping ideas and learning from diverse experiences with differing student cohorts. There are many areas of crossover – the pivotal role of librarians from both institutions for example - but numerous ways in which the approaches diverge. Postal versus personal delivery, the fees paid to authors to speak and book selection procedures are all areas where alternative practices have been shared and evaluated. As a direct result, inspired by UoM, Kingston University have introduced a permanent steering committee for the project with a rolling membership, a comprehensive resource guide for staff, online library guides and targeted alumni activities. Similarly, following the Kingston University lead on work in the community – particularly with mental health projects and hostels for the homeless (Morris, 2016) – UoM have added more outreach into their program, including public libraries and other local special groups. Changes may also be introduced to their book selection process to guarantee commitment from publishers prior to a book being featured on the shortlist. The impact of both projects has been significantly enhanced by the links fostered by the collaboration.

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