Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

"How Much Can One Book Do?": Exploring Perceptions of a Common Book Program for First-Year University Students

Academic journal article Journal of College Reading and Learning

"How Much Can One Book Do?": Exploring Perceptions of a Common Book Program for First-Year University Students

Article excerpt

Diversity and college common book programs (CBPs), also referred to as summer reading programs or freshman reading programs, are a fixture in many postsecondary schools in the United States. A quick internet search will yield hundreds of university and college websites dedicated to common book programs. CBPs often have all incoming first-year students read the same book prior to starting the academic year and the book is integrated into student orientation activities and sometimes into first-year courses (Ferguson, 2006; Grenier, 2007). Often, the culminating event is a campus visit and lecture by the author of the book.

CBPs are touted to promote an academic community of students, faculty members, and staff with common ground for discussion (Ferguson, 2006; Fidler, 1997). Another cited purpose of CBPs is to introduce students to university-level skills by helping set the tone for what is required for first-year students (Ferguson, 2006; Fidler, 1997). In addition, there is the belief that CBPs will improve first-year student social and academic experiences, thereby enhancing student satisfaction, which may positively impact student retention and recruitment (Ferguson, 2006; Fidler, 1997; Straus & Daley, 2002; University of Kentucky, 2009).

Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada, piloted a CBP titled "Common Book, Common Ground" during the 2010-2011 year. Despite the popularity of CBPs in the United States, to our knowledge, the CBP at Nipissing University was the first of its kind in Ontario. All first-year students entering the Faculty1 of Applied and Professional Studies (APS, which consists of Business, Criminal Justice, Nursing, and Social Welfare) at Nipissing University were asked to read the novel Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. The goals of the CBP were twofold: to foster a sense of community and belonging through a common academic experience and to introduce new students to the level of critical thinking, literacy, and analysis necessary in a university environment. Copies of the book were distributed to students, faculty members, and staff at the beginning and throughout the fall semester. A webpage and a Facebook page were created for the program. The CBP faculty member coordinator developed PowerPoint presentations and handouts for instructors on how they might incorporate the book into their curriculum, and provided relevant links, suggestions, and articles about the book and its themes on the website and on Facebook, as a resource. The coordinator also met with interested faculty members, and made visits to first-year classes to discuss the book with students and/or present associated materials dealing with the themes and events described in the novel. A screening of a film on a related topic (.Passchendaele) and a student essay contest were held as out-of-class CBP events to promote common experiences around the historical events depicted in the novel and to further engage students in developing critical analysis and writing skills.

Purpose of Our Research

Although common in practice, more scholarly research is required on CBPs to explore the impact CBPs are having on students, teaching, and learning (Grenier, 2007; Moser, 2010; Stone, Higginson, & Liljequist, 2004). Our study expands the limited available research on CBPs and fills a void in the literature by being the first of its kind to report on a Canadian CBP. We wanted to know how students and faculty members used a common book in its inaugural year and what student and faculty member perceptions of a CBP were. Thus, this study was guided by the following research questions:

1. How did students get involved with the CBP?

2. How did faculty members integrate the CBP into their courses?

3. Did the CBP meet its goals of fostering a sense of community and belonging and introducing students to the level of critical thinking, literacy, and analysis necessary in a university environment?

4. What are the perceived benefits and drawbacks of the CBP? …

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