Charlotte Malcolm on student-led study groups, and Sharron Hinchcliff on the importance of consulting original sources.

Student-led study groups

Charlotte Malcolm writes. 

DO you ever wish that you had more opportunity to discuss the stimulating areas in psychology? Would you like to have a say in how you learn? I hope to encourage readers to consider the benefits of student-led study groups, by presenting my trial-and-error experience in organising them.
In the first year of my psychology degree, student support tutors arranged regular support sessions for research methods modules, demystifying some of the daunting statistical analyses. However, this facility was not available for second-year students. Furthermore, our weekly seminars would become fortnightly. I had appreciated these opportunities to discuss issues covered in lectures and hoped to experience this in my second year.
After listening to students complain that they did not benefit from the format of the compulsory seminars, I decided to arrange a weekly two-hour student-led study group. A major aim of the study group was to facilitate a democratic learning environment, run by the students for the students, to discuss issues raised in each module. Each week a member could chair a session in a format they found useful for learning, such as debate, discussion questions, quizzes or article reviews.
The support and encouragement received from the teaching staff was phenomenal. My personal tutor printed posters and leaflets about the session, and forwarded a weekly e-mail about the study groups to the whole year. The head of school directly encouraged people to attend, and a friend who helped with the sessions plucked up the courage to inform a lecture hall full of students about the study groups.
I must admit, participation rates were not as high as hoped, and sometimes only three people attended. I decided to ask students what might inhibit attendance. The study group session was held on a Wednesday afternoon when there was no teaching. This originally appeared beneficial, however, as there were no lectures or seminars on this day, it transpired that students did not feel inclined to travel to the university for a two-hour voluntary seminar. Also, Wednesday afternoons at Keele are set aside for sporting activities, thus anyone in a sports club would not be able to attend the sessions. Some students also viewed a two-hour session as too long, especially if they only wanted to discuss a single module.
I took these views on board and, despite low turnout last semester, decided to offer the opportunity of a revised student-led study group this semester. Instead of a Wednesday afternoon, the study group sessions have been shifted to two separate hour-long slots on a Tuesday and Thursday during the lunch hour, so as not to coincide with lectures. Each hour session would allow discussion of a separate module on days when students would be on site for lectures. This new arrangement will hopefully rectify the issues raised last semester.
My overall experience of running these sessions has been positive. Even on the weeks with the lowest turn out, I valued the opportunity to discuss lecture material with others. I also appreciate the Keele School of Psychology allowing me to gain experience in planning and group work, essential to postgraduate careers and study. I remain optimistic about the use of student-led study groups, and urge students at any university to try them for themselves as, even if they don’t work out, you are still left with a beneficial experience.

- Charlotte Malcolm is an undergraduate at Keele University. E-mail: [email protected].

Original sources

A major part of an undergraduate psychology degree is learning how to critically discuss theories and the studies upon which they are based. Early on we are told that if we want to evaluate studies accurately we must turn to the original (or primary) data source. I think this is one of the most valuable lessons a student can learn: we simply cannot evaluate a study without consulting the original source, and here are a few reasons why.
Relying on another person’s evaluation of a study can be problematic. They may have misinterpreted the findings, made assumptions about issues that have not been explicitly stated in the original piece without trying to find out if their assumptions were right or wrong, or even not having consulted the original document themselves. Furthermore, upon reading the original you may find that you disagree with the interpretation offered up by the authors.
If you do evaluate a study in this way and get it wrong, for example writing that the authors did something which they did not, then this can not only be embarrassing for yourself, it may also discredit your status as a researcher or psychologist. This is especially the case if your work gets into the public domain. It can be incredibly frustrating for the authors of the original study too, when their research is misreported by a fellow psychologist.
So how do we access primary sources? The library at your place of study might have subscriptions to the relevant documents where the primary sources have been published. If your library is not so well subscribed you can use its Inter Library Loan service. The British Library online ( is another, faster,
way of getting primary sources but can be costly. Another option is to contact the author of the study.
Finally, although it may seem ‘easier’ to copy from secondary sources, it is not reliable and certainly not professional. An added benefit to consulting the original source is that the authors might have identified the weaknesses and strengths of their study themselves. This will help you in your evaluation, although it is important to reference
the authors and not pass it off as your own as that would count as plagiarism. As a professional it is important that you can argue your point with certainty – something you cannot do if haven’t read the original document.
Dr Sharron Hinchliff, University of Sheffield
E-mail: [email protected]

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