Implementing student journal clubs

Kerr and Frese (2016) have suggested that only 20-30% of undergraduate students complete required reading as set by their programme and that this lack of reading can be associated with a decline in academic performance. A variety of reasons have been reported for this lack of engagement with academic reading but Walker (2008) has suggested that students need to be supported throughout their higher education journey to ‘develop the habit’ of reading. The use of journal clubs has been well documented within postgraduate medical education (Lucia and Swanberg, 2018) where they have been shown to be an effective way of consolidating learning that is gained via more traditional teaching, whilst also encouraging active engagement with course content and providing indirect support to students who find self-directed study challenging (Scourfield and Taylor, 2013).

After receiving disappointing results to the NSS question ‘I feel part of a community of staff and students’ Jo Thomas programme leader for the FdSc Applied Health and Social Care drew on her background in Nursing and implemented a journal club with her level 5 students. The journal club has been pencilled into an extra-curricular slot, and whilst it has been a non-mandatory session attendance has been maintained at a remarkable 100%. The basic structure involves Jo facilitating a session where students review, discuss and analyse programme related literature to enhance understanding, knowledge and dissemination of key terminologies and promote independent study.

The previously mentioned use of engaging students in academic reading not withstanding Jo’s major aim with this initiative was to foster a community spirit within the group where there is no hierarchy of control meaning that students and staff operate on the same level. Alongside the academic journals textbooks and newspaper articles that students bring to discuss each is also required to bake a cake and bring it to the sessions, regardless of the level of success experienced! Jo reports that this addition and discussion around the trials and tribulations of baking helps to develop the sort of openness and transparency that will be required of these students once they progress into employment within the field of Health and Social care.

The evidence base found within the literature suggests a range of potential benefits for students who engage in these journal clubs with enhancements reported in research skills, independent study skills, literature review and understanding (critical appraisal), communication and awareness of core texts. (Scourfield & Taylor, 2013, Abdulla, 2016, Lucia and Swanberg, 2018). Whilst these sorts of developments may take time to manifest Level 5 achievement currently sits at 100% and the feedback reported from Jo and her learners, and the level of engagement observed thus far has certainly pointed towards the implementation of the journal club being a transformative experience. In line with this the School of Health Care and Public Services decided to trial the initiative across its other foundation degree provision; the FdA Public and Community Services and the FdA Childhood Studies and Professional Practice.

Whilst following the same basic formula the two newest journal clubs are being ran in manners bespoke to their specific student populations and subject areas. The hope, however, is to evaluate the experiences of all cohorts and along with reference to Deenadayalan et al’s (2008) characteristics of successful journal clubs produce guidance that could support all curriculum area to launch their own journal clubs.

For further information:

Jo Thomas, Programme Leader FdSc Applied Health and Social Care, New College Durham.

Phil Miller, HE Scholarship Manger, New College Durham.


Abdulla, A. (2016) Journal Clubs as Teaching Tools for Geriatric Medicine: An Investigative Study. Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine. 2: 1–7

Deenadayalan, Y. grimmer-Somers, K. Priot, M. & Kumar, S. (2008) How to run an effective journal club: a systematic review. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice. 14(5) 898-911.

Kerr, M.M. & Frese, K.M. (2016) Reading to Learn or Learning to Read? Engaging College Students in Course Readings. College Teaching. 65(1) 28-31.

Lucia, V.C. & Swanberg, S.M. (2018) Utilizing journal club to facilitate critical thinking in pre-clinical medical students. International Journal of Medical Education. 9 7-8.

Scourfield, J. & Taylor A. (2013) Using a Book Group to Facilitate Student Learning About Social Work. Social Work Education. 33(4) 533-538

Walker, H. (2008). Studying for your social work degree. Exeter: Learning Matters