University of Strathclyde



This paper discusses a coursework initiative that required 1st year civil engineering students (n=162) to undertake regular reading of UK newspapers as a means to find articles that they believed were relevant to their studies. In small groups (4-5) the students were tasked to produce a collage from their newspaper cuttings and a fictitious front page newspaper poster. The results show that ‘on large’ the students found the coursework to be interesting and enjoyable and that it allowed them to demonstrate initiative and creative thinking. Consultation of broadsheet newspapers was most prevalent and 67% agreed/ strongly-agreed that the articles that they found enhanced the image of civil engineering and 82% agreed/ strongly-agreed that weekday newspapers should carry more stories about this industry sector. The results suggest that the initiative can be easily replicated and that it can act as a catalyst to encourage engineering students to become more regular and critical readers of news media throughout their studies.

Newspaper image by Silke Remmery, Flickr CC-BY-2.0


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

Faculty of Engineering

Contact Details

Dr Michael Murray




A coursework assessment contributing 15% weighting towards a 20 credit module (CL120 Construction & the Environment). The coursework constitutes an ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) to support and promote learning (see McDowell, 2014).

Reading newspapers can assist undergraduate university students to become accustomed with the social, political and economic issues related to their studies. For civil engineering students specifically, newspapers can aid the introduction of a liberal education through the presentation of engineering endeavours as societal achievements. In particular, fresher civil engineers tend to conceptualise their studies and future careers as being dominated by computational analysis. Entry to university studies is dictated by their performance in mathematics and science and they have an overwhelming preference for dominant left-brain learning. ‘Reading’ and essay format coursework tends to be associated with the study of English and moves towards right-brain learning.

  • McDowell L (2014) Assessment for Learning, Chapter 6, In: Lynn Clouder, Christine Broughan, Steve Jewell and Graham Steventon (Eds.) Improving student engagement and development through assessment, Special Indian Edition, India, Routledge, India, pp73-85


Please see the attached document for a full report of the coursework & results.

86% (N=139) of students agreed / strongly agreed that the newspaper coursework had provided useful knowledge about the role of civil engineering in society.

88% (N=143) agreed / strongly agreed that researching & writing the fictitious stories for the newspaper front cover involved the group undertaking creative thinking.

71% (N=115) of students agreed / strongly agreed would that the news coursework was suitable for use with the following 1st year cohort of students.

It was really helpful to underline the many ways that civil engineering helps society through reading real stories about civil engineering in newspapers and it has also encouraged me to continue to read more about civil engineering, much like the book review coursework did.

I felt that having to go out of my way to actually find civil engineering articles and stories really made a positive impact on my views as to what civil engineering is about.

Along the way, we (the group) definitely got to relate, and have a few laughs, with each other. It was really fun, and has got me excited for the rest of the year.

The fictitious article encouraged creative thinking I really enjoyed working with people to come up with a creative fictitious article.

Lessons Learnt

One of the aims of this coursework was to help students establish communications with peers and ideally to provide a bridge to establishing friendships during weeks 1-12 of semester one. Both cohorts of students (sessions 2013-14 & 2014-15) already had laboratory groups with designated members. The newspaper coursework required the students to assemble in new groups with different members so as to introduce them to other peers. It transpired that a sizeable number of students found this socialisation process stressful and awkward.

Introduce and reinforce the concepts of  industry practice whereby most graduates will be employed in teams that  are multidisciplinary and inter-organisational. Reinforce why soft skills / attributes such as communication / emotional intelligence are important to employers.

Discuss the outline theoretical aspects of group and team formation (Tuckman-forming-storming-norming-performing & Belbin team roles) and touch on how conflict is managed.


Some groups found it problematic to establish and / or maintain group relations that would demonstrate satisfactory performance:

Even though there was two months to complete the task there was an extreme lack of communication in the group which has led to me just completing my own side of the work in an attempt to at least hand in something for the group. I am at fault as much as everyone else but I still wanted to submit something.


This coursework was used with groups (N=85 average) and is unsuitable for larger or small groups.

Suggestions for Transferability

This initiative can be used with students enrolled on any course of study and it is particularly suitable with 1st year students as a means to introduce the scope of their chosen degree studies and to assist transition to HE studies through introducing peers to each other.

The results are being used in the preparation of a journal paper and the review of literature suggests that the use of newspapers as an aid to teaching and learning has some pedigree in secondary school education (see Jarman and Mcclune 2002; Oliveras et-al 2013) but appears less widespread in higher education. However, in relation to civil engineering students, Jennings and Ferguson (1995) secured assistance from two newspaper personnel to assist their students participating in a mock inquiry and Bather (2011) employed an article from the Daily Mirror as a means to prompt students in discussions about the future skill needs of municipal engineers. Outwith the civil engineering discipline Norris et al (2003) employed newspapers and news magazines with university students enrolled on science courses and Elliott (2006) used newspapers with student teachers as a means to enhance their scientific literacy.

  • Bather M (2011) Students’ views on their education and the future, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Municipal Engineer, 164 (4):209-219.
  • Elliott, P (2006) Reviewing Newspaper Articles as a Technique for Enhancing
  • the Scientific Literacy of Student‐teachers, International Journal of Science Education, 28:11, 1245-1265, DOI: 10.1080/10670560500438420
  • Jarman, R and Mcclune, B (2002) A survey of the use of newspapers in science instruction by secondary teachers in Northern Ireland, International Journal of Science Education, 24:10, 997-1020, DOI: 10.1080/09500690210095311.
  • Jennings A and Ferguson J D(1995) Focusing on communication skills in engineering education, Studies in Higher Education, 20 (3): 305-314
  • Norris, S.P, Phillips, L.M and Korpan, C.A  (2003) University students’ interpretation of media reports of science and its relationship to background knowledge, interest, and reading difficulty, Public Understanding of Science, 12:123-145
  • Oliveras, B, Márquez, C and Sanmartí, N (2013) The Use of Newspaper Articles as a Tool to Develop Critical Thinking in Science Classes, International Journal of Science Education, 35:6, 885-905, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2011.586736


Attached Document: MM 1st year News Results 2013-2015