When you dig down into the real reasons for students having problems, two common themes emerge.
One is that students often don’t know how the academic system works, particularly when they make the transition from school to university, or from a taught undergraduate degree to a research degree, or from the workplace to education.
The other is that taught courses often don’t pay enough attention to craft skills, so students are unable to translate the taught content into practice. This applies both to physical craft skills and to academic craft skills of writing and research.
We’re recognised authorities in these areas. The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research is one of the classic books for PhD students, and focuses strongly on these two themes. We’ve also published peer-reviewed journal articles on our research findings in this area, and on their implications. We’ve delivered courses on these topics at a wide range of universities in the UK and elsewhere, including Cambridge University and the University of Helsinki.
We provide courses ranging from one hour to half day, on a variety of topics within these areas.
A strong cohort of mature students had been unexpectedly under-performing in written assessment. We discovered that the students were attempting to make their writing clear and readable, by leaving out the technical terms and the references which would have demonstrated their knowledge and brought them higher marks. We changed our course content to include systematic explanations of the reasons behind key features of academic writing, and the students’ performance improved dramatically, to the point where several of them produced projects that resulted in peer-reviewed journal publications.
Another case involved a high dropout rate on a course aimed at mature students returning to education. The reason was that they didn’t know the underlying principles of academic work, and were feeling lost and powerless. These gaps in knowledge weren’t confined to students new to university; for instance, we found that a high proportion of PhD students had never heard of review articles, and were unaware of how to use them in a literature review.