Book Review: Study Skills for Science Technology and Engineering Students

This review was written for the HEA Physical Sciences Centre Reviews publication, Vol 20, No. 1. The entire issue can be downloaded from their website, and my review is posted below.

This book presents the topic of study skills to both students and tutors in science and engineering topics. Students are encouraged to interact with the material by considering their own personal development, which is a nice approach. There are lots of start and end of chapter activities encouraging students to think about their current approach, but future editions might benefit from a format encouraging periodic review of these questions and activities, which would stimulate reflection during and after learning process, consistent with good practice of personal development plans. In addition, the personal development is very piecemeal, and one doesn’t get the sense of developing a portfolio or compilation of skills, which students could subsequently use in their search for employment. The companion website, whose content is poor, could easily contain compiled templates for the areas students are asked to consider their skills, along with prompts for periodic review. The book is very text heavy, diagram light. It is crammed full of materials and suggestions but it is visually not engaging. It would benefit from incorporation of more activities where students can consider their own experience, and replacing a lot of text with diagrams. Some text is just unnecessary. For example, the section on solving by design is dominated with a discussion on programming, whereas a much more beneficial process would be the scaffolding of a design process, which is afforded only a few pages. It would be difficult for a student to filter out particular strategies and techniques that would be immediately useful and applicable. For example, in a section on extracting useful text and keywords from a lecture, it would be a more useful activity to provide structure for students to extract information from one of their actual lectures, rather than a hypothetical one.

There is a lot of material for tutors to incorporate into professional development aspects of modules. As well as generic information on managing time and learning in a lecture-based environment, the book devotes three sections to applying skills (e.g. working in the laboratory), developing technical writing and solving mathematical problems. There are useful sections on poster presentations and oral presentations, although incorporation of a peer/mentor feedback form would be useful for students to elicit feedback in their real scenario. The chapter on writing process, one of the most difficult areas for science and engineering students could benefit from much more interactive, structured activities from the outset, although the chapter does provide a good overview of the writing process, if students are willing to read it. The section on technical writing is again very text heavy – the sub-section on diagrams would have benefited enormously from examples of different types of diagrams! For the purposes of this book, it isn’t clear why the writing and technical writing sections are in different chapters. The final section on mathematical skills is useful, although I am not sure of its direct relevance in this book – students will probably prefer to use a dedicated book on that topic.

The companion website is advertised throughout the book and on the first page. On viewing this (April 2010), I found very little of the content directly related to the book, with nothing on technical writing, laboratory skills, and so on. The personal development logs are very basic, and again do not relate to the content in the book. As mentioned above, this would have been the ideal space to host personal development plan templates to encourage students who wished to reflect on their development of the various skills as they progressed through their college programme.

In summary, this book has a lot of useful content, but this is lost in a sea of unnecessary, text heavy material. The extent and amount of diagrams in the text is poor with little visual engagement compared to, for example, The Study Skills Handbook, by Stella Cottrell, from the same publisher which uses extensive diagrams to represent the material in a way that is more useful and accessible for both student and tutor. The concept if incorporating a personal development process is useful, but could be very much improved upon by allowing students to pull together the various elements of their development records and allow for a periodic review of these skills throughout their learning. The companion website is very poor, providing no added benefit.