Initial ideas on a handbook for students at the faculty of English – Hanoi University of Education

Abstract. When students begin to study at the university level they quickly discover that the teaching and learning methods at the tertiary level are different from those at high schools. Therefore, they need orientation as well as guidance in order to get in step with the new environment. Mindful of the needs of new students of the Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education, this study was carried out to identify the needs the students regarding their study at the university and to provide a source of information they’d find helpful in their study process in the form of a student handbook. Surveys were presented to 135 freshmen & sophomores in order to ascertain what study skills they felt were necessary as well as what information they’d like to see included in a student handbook. Based on the results of this survey, an initial handbook was designed which covers five academic issues.

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JOURNAL OF SCIENCE OF HNUE 2013, Vol. 58, No. 6B, pp. 27-32 This paper is available online at INITIAL IDEAS ON A HANDBOOK FOR STUDENTS AT THE FACULTY OF ENGLISH – HANOI UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION Nguyen Thi Hoang My and Nguyen Thi Minh Thanh Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract.When students begin to study at the university level they quickly discover that the teaching and learning methods at the tertiary level are different from those at high schools. Therefore, they need orientation as well as guidance in order to get in step with the new environment. Mindful of the needs of new students of the Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education, this study was carried out to identify the needs the students regarding their study at the university and to provide a source of information they’d find helpful in their study process in the form of a student handbook. Surveys were presented to 135 freshmen & sophomores in order to ascertain what study skills they felt were necessary as well as what information they’d like to see included in a student handbook. Based on the results of this survey, an initial handbook was designed which covers five academic issues. Keywords: Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education, handbook. 1. Introduction Diana L.V.Berkhom (2009) wrote that few university students received any advice from lecturers, tutors or counselors on what they could expect when making the transition from high school to university study. Students had learned how to cope with their previous academic environment and had adopted skills appropriate to the setting. However, to succeed at the university level, new tactics are needed. HNUE issues a free handbook to each freshman at the beginning of the year and the information provided is quite useful. However, when it comes to classroom study, students oftentimes feel disoriented and do not quickly discover a suitable study strategy to improve their performance. Feeling that it would be useful for newcomers at Faculty of English to have a handbook that was designed especially for them, the authors conducted this research in order to help them get back on track. Received July 21, 2013. Accepted September 15, 2013. Contact Nguyễn Thị HoàngMy and Nguyễn Thị Minh Thanh, e-mail address: my-nguyen3011@yahoo.com / minhthanhak9@gmail.com 27 Nguyen Thi Hoang My and Nguyen Thi Minh Thanh 2. Content 2.1. Theoretical background 2.1.1. What is a handbook? Wikipedia defines the term ‘handbook’ as ‘a type of reference work, or other collection of instructions that is intended to provide ready reference’. Handbooks may deal with one or several topics at a time, and they should be easy to consult and provide ready answers. Also, handbooks are a kind of book that provides specific insights and instructions on a specific field or subject. There are many definitions of ‘handbook’ but they all agree that a handbook should be portable and concise. 2.1.2. What is a student handbook? A ‘student handbook’ can be understood to mean a small book which includes up-to-date information about study and life at the university that is of practical use to students. 2.1.3. Use of Handbook Due to the simplistic nature of a student handbook, its not difficult to see how it should function. - First, a student handbook should provide students with information they need and would like to find quickly. - Second, a student handbook should be a ready reference tool that students can refer to when they have a question about something at the university. - Third, a student handbook should contain advice and suggestions related to study and social life. 2.1.4. Aspects covered in a student handbook As stated, a student handbook is the place where students can find instructions, information and answers to their questions. A student handbook should therefore cover a multitude of topics, all of which are closely related to students’ needs. These are as follows: - General information of the department (history, location, staff members), major courses (credit system, name of the course/class) and extra-curricular activities (department/faculty clubs, periodic activities) - Achieving academic success (Study skills, goal setting, group-work strategies, time management) - Socializing (getting to know people, living in a diverse social setting) - Aiming for lifelong success (vision, critical thinking, values) 28 Initial ideas on a handbook for students at the Faculty of English - Hanoi University of Education 2.2. The study 2.2.1. Aims Because it is felt that a handbook would be of great benefit to the students of the Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education, this study, was carried out to investigate the needs of students during their studies at the university and to make available a source of information in the form of a student handbook that would be helpful to the students in their study process. 2.2.2. Participants Participating in this study were 135 freshmen & sophomores. They have been studying at university for less than one or two years, which means that they may still be adapting to the university environment. It’s thought that a student handbook would be of more useful to underclassmen than upperclassmen. 2.2.3. Scope Due to the limited scope of this initial research paper and due to time constraints, the authors were unable cover every aspect of university student life and their activities at the university. We did attempt to carry out research on the following points:  Focus: Five ‘academic’ categories chosen the surveyed freshmen and sophomores at Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE).  Audience: Freshmen and sophomores at the Faculty of English, HNUE, all of whom have been lacking academic information. 2.2.4. Instruments and Procedure A survey was given to 135 freshmen and sophmores in order to ascertain their level of self-awareness regarding their personal study skills as well as what they would expect to see in a student handbook. The survey consisted of two parts. In the first part, students were asked to agree or disagree with five statements related to their study skills. In the second part, students were to choose five academic issues they would like to see thoroughly covered in a student handbook. After the students’ academic needs were assessed, the five most common were chosen to be included in the handbook. Information about these issues was then obtained from different sources. 2.3. Findings 2.3.1. Students’ self-awareness of study skills As can be seen in Figure 1, most students are not confident about their study skills with 80% of the students disagreeing with the statement “I am confident that I have good skills to be successful in my study.” However, most of the students claim that they are aware of what it is to develop 29 Nguyen Thi Hoang My and Nguyen Thi Minh Thanh Figure 1. Students’ Confidence in Study Skills Figure 2. Students’ Awareness of Developing Study Skills study skills and they know what skills they need to have in order to succeed. Figure 3. Students’ Awareness of Skills to Develop When asked whether they wanted to learn more about study skills, almost all students gave a positive response. 30 Initial ideas on a handbook for students at the Faculty of English - Hanoi University of Education Overall, the responses given in the questionnaire indicate that students feel that if there was a student handbook they would do better in their studies. 2.3.2. Academic issues to include in the handbook Figure 4. Academic Issues to Include As shown in Figure 4, the five most important issues to the students are: + Time management + Learning to learn + How to survive exams + Remembering strategies + Developing group work skill When asked whether they wanted the handbook to be in print or online, most of the students (77 The results of the questionnaire above form the basis for the next step – designing the handbook. 2.4. Result – The handbook After spending a large amount of time looking at handbooks that now exist, the authors decided that the book titled “A Student Handbook for Dummies” would be most useful because it present information on five academic issues compiled from a variety of sources such as books on study skills, handbooks of other universities and the Internet. Each issue is presented with illustrations, pictures, diagrams, or mind maps. It also proposes that the information be brief and the presentation be clear and eye-catching so that students will want to read it and find it easy to navigate. 31 Nguyen Thi Hoang My and Nguyen Thi Minh Thanh 3. Conclusion 1. Recapitulation Having investigated the use, content and scope of currently used university handbooks, the authors came to realize the importance of having a handbook that would specifically serve English major students. After analyzing the surveys and learning of the students’ wants and needs, and compiling facts along with tips from several trusted sources, the first draft of an English major handbook was established, covering the five topics thought to be most important by the students. 2. Limitations In spite of all of the efforts made, there are several limitations of this research. First, as already stated, due to time and scope limits, only the five most requested topics were included, and that is certainly not enough to present a handbook that would be able to get English major students’ studying process going well. Second, only 135 students took part in the survey and there was no teacher input. Naturally, teachers value their opinions and input quite highly, and this was not included. 3. Suggestions for further research The scope of this initial handbook is rather narrow, covering only five academic issues. Further research is needed before a more comprehensive handbook can be created. In addition, the process of designing a handbook could involve teachers and more students. It is also now a good idea to investigate students’ reactions to the use of this initial handbook in order to improve the design and application of the handbook. REFERENCES [1] Blerkom, D. L. V., 2009. College Study Skills: Becoming a Strategic Learner, 6th edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. [2] Wikipedia, retrieved [] [3] International Student Handbook (North Park University - International Office), retrieved [4] Author, 2013. Appendix 1: Questionnaire on academic needs of students at foe – HNUE; Appendix 2: student handbook (sample, clipped version). Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education 32
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