Having just celebrated my final exam, now is a great time to look back over my fourth year which has shot past. It only seems like it was the other day that I was having to get back into academic life following my placement. As Sussex business students are able to choose whether to undertake a dissertation or not. I decided instead to take on extra modules which meant that I did not have one final piece of work to mark the completion of my time as an undergraduate. However, I have enjoyed undertaking a wider rage of modules instead, all of which have been equally weighted. In this blog post I will review the five key challenges that I have faced and any possible solutions that could help in dealing with these.
One of the greatest challenges I have found when carrying out my coursework is managing my reading. Lecturers want to see extended reading around the topic, many suggesting specific numbers of references, sometimes upwards of 50 for a 2000-word piece of work. A significant amount of reading is therefore needed and it can be a challenge keeping track of all these. It is easy to forget about interesting points that you have read at the beginning of the research process. Over the course of the year I have tried to develop processes and use tools to support this.
Another issue is managing group work. A large proportion of coursework is carried out in groups ranging from 3 to 5 people. When working in a group it is very difficult to coordinate what reading has been done and by whom, as well as identifying the key points that will be useful for our piece of work. Referencing can also be particularly challenging as it is very important to ensure that everyone has properly cited the sections that they are undertaking. One module this term has sought to deal with some of the challenges associated with group work through the use of technology. All students were required to use Google Sheets, Slides and Docs. This meant that not only was it possible for our class tutor to monitor participation, but each member of the group could see changes that had been made. Although not perfect, this did support the collaboration process and enhanced the accountability of each member.
A key challenge that starts from lecture one is getting hold of printed books needed for our coursework. For many of the modules this year, lecturers have been far more specific in stating what extra material to read beyond the textbook. There always tends to be a rush to collect books as many are very expensive to buy. I have found that if you are able to get hold of a book after the first couple of weeks there is a lull, until deadlines begin to loom and people want to catch up on there reading. A solution for this is having the books available online. When this has been the case there has been far less pressure on the printed ones.
By the time you reach your final year all tutors expect to see a significant level of criticality in your work. This is something that most people on my course say that they struggle with as in order to be critical, wider reading is necessary and many people seem to have difficulty in knowing where to start. For pieces of work I would tend to use library search or Google Scholar to find other books or articles that had been written on the wider topic. These could then be used to back up any critical points.
This term my modules where far more heavily weighted towards the exam, something which is becoming more common as it allows issues of plagiarism to be avoided. Each exam has different requirements, but it is common for lecturers to want to see extra reading and some also expect in-text citations. A challenge is managing your revision throughout the term along with other coursework. It can be difficult to keep track of extra readings and examples to use in the exams. Most people start the term with good intentions, but not many manage to keep this up.
Overall most of these challenges can be solved to a certain extent by having good practices in place and with technology. Over the course of the year I tried to experiment and find new tools and techniques to improve my work. However, I am sure that there is still much more to learn and if I had another year to go I would find other possible solutions.