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Higher Education Study Intervention Lab 1

José Tavares, Ana Allen Gomes, Anabela Pereira, Ana Paula Cabral, Dayse Neri, José Bessa, Isabel Huet Silva
University of Aveiro, Portugal

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002


The "Higher Education Study Intervention Lab" is a project developed at the University of Aveiro (Portugal) aiming to promote the academic success in higher education through diagnosis and intervention.

This project is based on five PhD research studies developed by young researchers and is focused on four vectors: student, teacher, curriculum and institution.

The specific project deals with the students' competence skills in higher education (reading/comprehension and writing), sleep-wake habits of the students, students' self-regulation, transition to the university, curriculum and evaluation, faculty and teaching competence.


The students' dropping and failure at some subject in higher education is concerning the academic community. The achievement for quality in teaching and learning is one of the most recent issues discussed in higher education institutions. The accountability for student learning has become a major issue for Portuguese academics.

The present project intends to go on with the work carried out in the scope of the project PRAXIS XXI " Levels of Success/Failure in the first year of science and engineering courses" finished in December 2000, whose research-action was developed in two vectors and in its mutual intersection: the diagnosis and the intervention on the main levels of success/failure in higher education.

This project, without leaving aside the diagnosis on the main levels of academic success, will be mainly centred in research-action (intervention) near the students, faculty, curricula, institution and in the contexts to the level of the micro, meso , exo and macro systems.

The results from previous research reveal that academic success will have to be dealt with in a trandisciplinary and systemic perspective that does not accomplish summary and insular studies. This is the reason why the researchers from this project are developing different studies in a similar direction that, at this moment, clearly converges to strategies for the promotion of success at this level of education.

The main aim of this project is to build knowledge on the conception and development of strategies for promoting the academic success of students in a systemic perspective: students, faculty, curriculum and institution, institutional grants, organisation and management of the curriculum. This way, the objectives to be reached are:

a) the promotion of students' academic success by wider autonomy of their leaning ;
b) the promotion of students' academic success through the intervention near faculty;
c) the definition and implementation of strategies for the organization and curricular management;
d) the analysis of models and strategies of institutional and socio-political intervention to support the students.

For a better understanding of the work developed at the Higher Education Study Intervention Lab, we will briefly describe the five lines of study:

Line 1

Reading, Comprehension and Writing and Academic Success

Ana Paula Cabral

The skills students must have in order to achieve in Higher Education have to do with their ability to access, assimilate and transmit information associated with their learning tasks. From these skills we emphasize the role of Reading, Comprehension and Writing as basic skills for the students' daily performance and academic achievement. In fact, as it was stated by McWhorter (2000), learning large amounts of information is no guarantee of a high grade in a course and success. Exams are mainly concerned with the students' ability to see how facts and ideas fit together or to evaluate ideas, make comparisons and recognize trends. Moreover, the development of essential intellectual and study skills (reading, writing and reasoning) are stated to be the basics for the success of any college student.

Especially at the start students may find it difficult to accomplish all tasks while perhaps studying three or four different subjects at the same time and may also find that they are working inefficiently or spending too much time on reading only marginally relevant books and taking inadequate notes. Essay writing is another major problem: students are expected to be relevant in the selection of the topics, with a clear focus, make use of written sources and present a reasoned argument in a formal way (grammar, spelling, referencing and quoting). This study was specially conducted with first-year lecturers mainly because when entering the university students are immediately faced with a multi-faceted task of learning new contents, learning new ways of understanding, interpreting and organizing the new knowledge and learning new ways of writing their knowledge (Levin 2000).

In fact, at-risk college freshmen also have difficulty in reading expository material at a level of proficiency necessary for understanding and integrating information from their textbooks. College freshmen with low literacy skills are thought to be unprepared to meet challenges because they have few strategies and poor flexibility, are unable to self regulate one's learning Therefore, the student must develop techniques for reading, understanding and remembering what was read, using concentration to deal with all types of reading assignments.

With this project we aim to make a diagnosis of competence levels, applied strategies, difficulties, opinions and perceptions of the students using a 1,000 sample questionnaire (freshman students from four of the main Portuguese state universities).

The collected data indicated that the majority of the students have an intermediate level of competence in both activities. However, the students consider that they have a slightly better performance in Reading/ Comprehension than in Writing. In fact, the majority of consider both Reading/Comprehension and Writing very important skills for their academic success ( only about 1.4% of the subjects in Reading/Comprehension and 4.5% in Writing think that these skills are not important enough for their achievement) although Reading/comprehension seems to be considered slightly more important than Writing. The majority of the subjects have difficulties in both activities "sometimes". About 11% of the subjects have difficulties" very often" or "always" in both skills and the rest of the subjects have difficulties only "rarely" .Data also indicate that subjects consider that they have a better performance in Writing.

Approximately the same number of subjects (the majority) wanted to participate in support programmes although reading/comprehension has a little higher scope of the results.

This project also consists precisely on an intervention program based on a workshop with freshman students which aimed to identify the strategies/techniques used by the students in their reading, Comprehension and Writing activities, point out their main difficulties; develop students' skills awareness, promote autonomy and identify intervention levels.

Participants could experience a whole set of activities: brainstorming, key word detection, quotation, sense inference, note taking, cloze testing, summarizing, outlining and test taking techniques. The use of pre/post testing allowed the evaluation of the intervention rates and the effectiveness of this type of initiatives. Results indicate that intervention workshop can make a difference and that the higher their level of success is, the higher their level of performance in these skills seems to be.

Line 2

Teaching and Academic Success. Teaching and learning Programming on the first- year Undergraduate Courses. Comparative study between the Universities of Aveiro and Strathclyde

Isabel Huet e Silva

Studies of teacher thinking and beliefs at the pre-college level indicate that teachers develop and hold implicit theories about their students, about the subject matter that they teach, about their roles and responsibilities, and about how they should act (Clark 1988). On the other hand, few studies have been developed in higher education regarding this subject. Studies developed by Trigwell, Prosser and Taylor (1994) contributed to better understand the first- year physics and chemistry teachers' approaches to teaching and their intentions associated with strategies. Teachers' views and beliefs are described in the context of three progressively theories about teaching: a) teaching as telling, b) teaching as organizing student activity and c) teaching as making learning possible (Ramsden, 1992).

Research on organization, clarity in teaching and degree of interactiveness reveals a direct impact on the type of instruction delivered and a consequent satisfaction of the student regarding the teaching practise (Hativa, 1998; Feldman 1984,1989).

Following this theoretical framework, the understanding of the students' learning process and motivation is not only important for the student himself but also to academics. It is critical that educators are aware of the nature of students' conceptions of learning, since students' epistemological positions will influence the way they go about learning (Marshall et All). Ramsden (1992), Trigwell, Prosser and Taylor (1994), Trigwell and Prosser (1996) and Marshall et all (1999) refer the importance of understanding the students' conception of learning as developing important implications for teaching and curriculum design. The intentions and strategies of lecturers need to be studied and then addressed before substantial improvements in approaches to teaching can be expected (Trigwell, Prosser and Taylor, 1994).

This project aims to compare and contrast the teaching and learning of a first- year Programming subject at the Universities of Aveiro and Strathclyde. It is also intended from the results of the study to improve the teaching methods and the academic success of the students in the subject area.

The study follows the case-study method. The data will be collected through questionnaires, interviews and course documentation and will be analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively.

The Teaching and Academic Success Questionnaire (TASQ), based on the Ramsden Course Experience Questionnaire and the Marsh Students' Evaluations of Educational Quality was used to measure the students' perception of the teacher and the teaching practice, as well as the students' perception of their learning motivation.

The semi-structured interviews, based on the Trigwell and Prosser Approaches to Teaching Inventory, aimed to identify the lecturers approach to teaching and the perception faculty have about the students' learning process, motivation and academic achievement. The questionnaire administration occurred during May-2001 at the University of Aveiro and April-2002 at the University of Strathclyde.

The data collected in both institutions were discussed and analysed with the lecturers. Several problems were identified as contributing to the motivation and success/failure of the students.

At the University of Aveiro there are 19 lecturers involved in the study out of a total of 22 that teach the subject of Programming and 492 students out of a total of 1637 registered students in the 2000/01 academic year. At the University of Strathclyde there are two lecturers that teach the subject of Programming both of which are involved in the study in the 2001/02 academic year. In addition, at the University of Strathclyde there are also 7 assistants that support the students in the labs involved in the study. 101 students delivered the questionnaire out of a total of 295 registered students.

The dialogue with peers from the University of Aveiro and also the exchanges of ideas and strategies with peers from the University of Strathclyde will create the development of learning communities. It is a fact that we are not going to prove in the near future the advantages of this intervention near the lecturers but it is also a fact that as one lecturer mentioned, "it was the first time we had access to this data and the possibility to reflect about our teaching practice". The time spend in researching is, in most of the cases, higher than the preparation of the lectures and the reflection on the best strategies to implement in the lectures or the labs. The time for discussion is, in this perspective, essential to the change of attitudes and beliefs towards teaching.

Line 3

Levels of failure and success of Science and Engineering courses: Curriculum and Evaluation Transition Differences

Dayse Neri de Souza

Recent studies show the necessity and the importance to analyse the curriculum organisation. The curriculum structure and organisation is extremely important to adjust the work reality and to the subject content of each needs course. There is a conflict between the scientific knowledge, logic and illuminist, and the nom-academic knowledge related to the experience, emotion and comum-sense.

Beane (1995) defends that the students' perception about the curriculum is confused and difficult to understand its meaning and organisation. There is the necessity to build a coherent curriculum to respond to the work reality and the students' needs. The clarity in the curriculum organisation and structure is crucial to define and guide the students' experiences though their academic life.

Our research line aims to study the students' academic: background in the secondary schools and the transition year to the university. It is important to analyze the students' grades, the curriculum and the assessment to prove if it influences the students' academic failure or success in higher education.

The study aims to: a) analyze the impact of the secondary school background of first-year students in their academic performance; b) study the higher education curriculum by analyzing the contribution of the secondary school curriculum and assessment processes regarding the several factors associated with first year academic failure and success; c) to study the impact of the assessment differences, between the secondary and higher education systems, in the first-year students' performance; d) to determine if there is a correlation between the students' grades in secondary school and their academic performance as first-year students.

The sample is constituted by students from science and engineering courses who applied for the first semester for Calculus I and Physics Elements of 2001-2002 academic year. The students still have considerable failure rates at these subjects. The high level of failure is concerning the academic community who are decided to analyze the factors that contribute for such reality.

The quantitative method, we used in this study was a questionnaire directed to the students. The questionnaire had 2 parts. In the first, the subjects referred to their experience in secondary school, their teachers, their courses syllabus, the classes, the evaluation and knowledge acquired in the personal, social and physical, intellectual and vocation fields. In the second part, students referred to their university, to their courses options their classes, content courses, the evaluation rules and lectures.

The qualitative method applied was based on interviews directed to 09 students that had had approximately the same average in the two courses, under the mean average or reaching a positive average.

We will interview secondary teachers of Mathematics and Physics and lecturers of Calculus I and Physics Elements from the University of Aveiro.

The social sciences statistical package will be used to analyze the quantitative data. The interviews will be analyzed though content analysis.

From the data it is possible to reveal that the curriculum studied by Beane (1995) is being developed as being the one that has the contents each course syllabus, and the institutions in a disconnected, fragmented and distinguished way with one learning oriented to be divided into different compartments in the youngsters minds, where they must think about the subjects and act separately, this is to say, the thinking on one way and the courses syllabus emotions on the other way as if their multidimensional roles in life could be disconnected, and cause the students' failure.

The young people understand and raise questions about the reason for the differences between school and life a lot of, which they experience in a disconnected and fragmented way in the disciplines, programmes, exams, and that do not have any use or sense for their lives.

As Beane (1995) we state that the curriculum must have connection, relevance and pertinence in its content. The aims are broad, enthusiastic, make a connection with the daily school activities and the educational experience of the youngsters. This way, the student amplifies knowledge itself and the world.

Line 4

Discontinuities in the students´ transition to the University: The effects of the personal and contextual experiences of learning among first-year students on academic self-regulation and performance

J. Bessa Oliveira

The main objective of this research is to take an active part in the present discussion and reflection about the quality of the learning and the teaching processes on higher education.

Research on transition to the university contexts is extensive. Research studies and applications based on different theoretical models can be found in education, psychology, sociology, statistics and overall literature. Much of this research has been based on particular theoretical models, such as those of Tinto (1993), Spady (1970), Bean (1985), and on their empirical validation by Terenzini, Pascarella and others (e.g.,Terenzini& Pascarella, 1991), both generally, and in particular contexts (Mc.Innis& James, 1995).

In general, these studies suggest that transition and persistence are related to background characteristics, disposition on entry, goal commitment, experiences after entry (including academic and social integration) and external and institutional factors.

So, we are especially interested in studying the effects of personal and contextual experiences on academic self-regulation and performances in the transition to the university.

Methodological issues arise as to how these can be measured and tested. Research indicates significant differences in the sources and frequency of difficulties in different groups of students, depending on factors such as their academic and social background, personal and personality characteristics. Students' directed questionnaires will be adapted and developed to access changes on students' conceptions and perceptions of learning and to analyse data about expectations, study orientations, approaches and academic adjustment.

Other factors involve the nature of the institution--its residential character, size, and selection policies--as well as the type and nature of the course and discipline area. Then, we'll also ask professorship about their learning approaches, their (mis)conceptions and other meaningful questions related to the first year experience and the academic transition. And, we'll observe the undergraduate policies of some H.E. institutions to understanding how they organize and leads with the first year experience.

We wish this knowledge will help us increase the transition and academic processes of development of the new students at the university and promote learning and teaching success in our campuses.

Line 5

Sleep wake patterns, circadian rhythm characteristics and academic success in university students

Ana Allen Gomes

Vast literature reports the influence of sleep on performance and on higher cognitive processes. However, it seems that the study of the relationships between sleep-wake patterns, circadian rhythms and academic performance, in particular, assessed in natural educational environments, has received little attention by practitioners and researchers in the field of education. According to a literature review presented elsewhere (cf. Gomes, Tavares & Azevedo, 2002), research about the subject in university students is still reduced, but results are promising indicating that academic functioning of undergraduates is in part associated with sleep-wake patterns.

The entrance at the university is accompanied by many factors that may lead to changes of the sleep-wake cycle, such as new social opportunities, academic demands, change in sleeping circumstances, diminution of parental guidance (cf. Carskadon & Davis, 1989). It is then understandable that many university students may develop inadequate sleep patterns, such as later bedtime and rise times (e.g., Carskadon & Davis, 1989; Lack, 1986), irregular sleep-wake schedules (e.g., Manber et al., 1996; Medeiros et al., 2001) and insufficient sleep duration (Hicks et al., 1989; Hicks & Pellegrini, 1991). As indicated by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (DCSC, 1990), such sleep-wake patterns are usually accompanied by undesirable daytime consequences: decrease levels of motivation, performance, concentration, attention, and humour, as well as increase fatigue and somnolence. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that those university students that develop such sleep patterns may suffer consequences over their academic functioning.

The main theoretical hypotheses of this research are that: [1] university students may be more prone than others students to develop inadequate sleep-wake patterns or even sleep difficulties (e.g., irregular sleep-wake schedules; later bedtimes and rise times; insufficient sleep duration), and these may have important implications over their academic functioning; [2] additionally, since individual differences and preferences associated to circadian rhythms (e.g., morningness-eveningness) may be incongruent with instructional and examination schedules, externally imposed (usually in the morning), thus circadian rhythms characteristics of students may also influence their academic functioning.

The main aims of this research line are: [1] to describe sleep-wake patterns and individual characteristics associated to the circadian rhythms in Portuguese undergraduate students; [2] to find whether relationships exist between them and the academic outcomes (e.g., university grades) and other aspects (e.g., attention, concentration, motivation) of academic functioning. [3] We also hope to contribute with recommendations to improve and complement interventions designed for the promotion of the academic success of the university student.

Data were collected during the academic year 2001/2002, and we now are starting data analyses. The methodology was set according to similar studies on sleep with large samples. Subjects were about 1700 undergraduates of the University of Aveiro - Portugal, first to third years, distributed across several undergraduate courses (sciences, engineering, arts/languages and education) - this sample comprised about 50% of the undergraduate courses of the university. A sub-sample of third-year students participated in the study on a second occasion. With regard to the instruments: two self-response questionnaires were specially developed for the research, to measure sleep-wake habits and daytime functioning variables in undergraduates (one of them concerned school days during the semester; the other one concerned the examinations period at the end of the semester); specific self-response scales were used to measure individual characteristics associated with the circadian rhythms; university grades were consulted as measures of academic performance. Data analysis is quantitative, using descriptive and inferential statistics, through statistical software adequate to our data.

As expected results, students with poor sleep-wake behaviours, and with sleep-wake preferences less adjusted to morning schedules, are expected to have worse daytime and academic functioning. More specifically, later bedtimes and wake-times, more irregular sleep-wake habits, shorter sleep duration during the week, and eveningness orientation, may be associated with decreased academic results and other undesirable consequences in daytime functioning.

In general, we hope to contribute with recommendations to improve and complement interventions designed for the promotion of the academic success of the student at the university. Finally, we hope to increase awareness of investigators and professionals in the areas of education, psychology, and health, about the importance of considering sleep-wake knowledge to better understand and help students in their learning, development, and well being. References

Line 1

Creme, P (2000) Writing at University: a guide for students. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Fairbairn, G. & Winch,C.(1996). Reading, Writing and Reasoning. Buckingham: Open University Press

McWhorter, K. (2001). College reading and study skills (8th ed.), London: Longman Publishers.

Levin, E. (2000) Making expectations explicit. Proceedings of the 1st year in Higher Education Conference, 2000, Brisbane, Australia.: Longman Cheshire, 1993.Open University Press, 1997

Line 2

Biggs, J . (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. In Higher education, 32, pp. 347-364

Clark, C. ( 1988). Asking the right questions about teacher preparation: contributions of research on teacher thinking. In Educational Researcher 17:2, pp. 5-12.

Feldman, K.A. (1989). The association between student ratings of specific instructional dimensions and student achievement. In Research in higher Education, 30:6, pp. 583-645.

Hativa, N. (1998). Lack of clarity in university teaching: a case-study. In Higher Education, 36, pp. 353-381.

Marshall, D., Summers, M; Woolnough (1999). Students' conceptions of learning in an engineering context. In Higher Education, 38, pp. 291-309.

Prosser, Michael, Trigwell, Keith, Taylor, Philip. (1994). Qualitative differences in approaches to teaching first year university science. In Higher Education, 27, pp. 75-84.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. Routledge.

Line 3

BEANE, J. A. (1995) Toward a coherent curriculum. Virgínia: ASCD

MAIA, E. & CARNEIRO, M.(2000) A reforma do ensino médio em questão. São Paulo: Editora Biruta. Brasil.

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RODRIGUES, M. J. (1999). Novas competências para a sociedade do futuro. Fórum Escola, Diversidade, Currículo. Instituto de Inovação Educacional, pp 69-77.

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Line 4

Bean, J.P. 1985, 'Interaction effects based on class level in an exploratory model of college student dropout syndrome', American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 22, pp. 35-64.

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Pascarella, E.T. & Terenzini, P.T. 1991, How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research, San Francisco, Josey-Bass.


Spady, W.D. 1970, 'Dropouts for Higher Education: Towards an Empirical Model', Interchange, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 38-62

Tinto, V. 1993, Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. (Second Edition) The University of Chicago Press.

Line 5

Carskadon, M. A., & Davis, S. S. (1989). Sleep-wake patterns in the high-school-to-college transition: preliminary data. Sleep Research, 18, 113.

DCSC - Diagnostic Classification Steering Commitee (1990). The International Classification of Sleep Disorders. Diagnostic and Coding Manual. American Sleep Disorders Association. Kansa: Allen Press.

Gomes, A. A., Tavares, J. & Azevedo, M. H. (2002). Sleep-wake patterns and academic performance in university students. Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002. Education-Line. [On-line. URL: ]

Hicks, R. A., Mistry, R., Lucero, K., Lee, L., & Pellegrini, R. (1989). The sleep duration and sleep satisfaction of college students: striking changes over the last decade (1978-1988). Perceptual and Motor Skills, 68 (3 Pt 1), 806.

Hicks, R. A., & Pellegrini, R. J. (1991). The changing sleep patterns of college students. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 72 (3 Pt 2), 1106.

Manber, R., Bootzin, R. R., Acebo, C., & Carskadon, M. (1996). The effects of regularizating sleep-wake schedules on daytime sleepiness. Sleep, 19 (5), 432-441.

Medeiros, A. L. D., Mendes, D. B. F., Lima, P. F., & Araujo, J. F. (2001). The relationships between sleep-wake cycle and academic performance in medical students. Biological Rhythm Research, 32 (2), 263-270.


1. Project LEIES supported by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, CCPSF Research Unit and FCT

This document was added to the Education-line database on 05 November 2002