Changes in engineering students' surface and deep approaches to learning in first and second-year university courses

Cristina Mio, Erzsebet Dombi

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The aim of this study is to investigate how students’ approaches to learning change during early years of university studies in classes where assessments have been designed to increase students’ engagement and ownership. The revised two-factor Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F), a self-reporting survey, was used to measure students’ deep and surface approaches. Two first-year and one second-year cohorts of engineering students completed the questionnaire at the beginning and at the end of their modules. The majority of the assessment questions activated the first three levels of Bloom’s revised taxonomy, possibly encouraging a more surface approach to learning. However, the learning environment made use of peer assessment and online quizzes to provide prompt feedback to students and opportunities for self-reflection, thus possibly inducing a deeper level of engagement with the material. Data analysis of the R-SPQ-2F questionnaire scores showed that the deep approach score did not change while the surface approach score increased. The findings align with those of previous studies: the relationship between assessment and learning is complex, and surface approaches might have to be expected and accepted in the early years at university, in preparation for deeper approaches to learning which should be developed in later university years, when the more cognitive demanding levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as evaluating and creating, are required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-137
Number of pages23
JournalOpen Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2023


  • approaches to learning
  • higher education
  • revised study process questionnaire
  • teaching and learning environemtn


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