August 21, 2012

Embedding LibGuides into Course Management Systems

My getting-ready-for-school tasks include creating library course guides for each class I plan to talk to about using library resources. Last academic year, I taught 54 groups, including "one-shot" instruction sessions, orientations for new & prospective students, and non-course workshops.  I created 31 course guides in support of these sessions, including the ever-popular page for Penny Abernathy's Digital Media Economics and Behavior, Barbara Friedman's Women and Mass Communication, and Dave Cupp's History of Broadcasting. These three pages were among the top 10 visited pages of the whole Park Library website last year. 

Whoo! those pages are popular! I have long known that, as a student of website analytics.  A recent article in Reference Services Review provides another level of support for this assertion.

Aaron Bowen, reference librarian at the University of California, Chico, conducted a small study of students' use of LibGuides (software for creating library course guides) in Blackboard, a course / learning management system. The LibGuides were embedded in CSU Chico's Blackboard sites, much as UNC library course guides are embedded in our Blackboard / Sakai course management systems. Bowen queried students about their use of resources used to conduct research for their Communication 131 class.

The results were striking: Of the "57 valid responses, 36 students (63.16 percent) responded they did not use any internet resources, other than the Guide, to complete their assignment." In my words: wow! 63% of students who responded to the survey only used library-sanctioned resources to do research required for their assignment. Those students did not use Google or Wikipedia (or they didn't admit to having done so), while 30% used Google and 16% used Google Scholar in addition to the Guide (9% admitted to having used Wikipedia).

Lots of research indicates that students use Google or other resources on the free Internet to research for their courses. Bowen's research is more consistent with Alison Head's 2007 research described in First Monday that only about 10% of students use Google and other free websites to start their research for courses.

So, good news broadly for student research: there are cases when students are more likely to use library resources to complete their assignments. And good news more specifically for me & my UNC colleagues: embedding library guides into course management systems improves students' use of our resources.
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August 07, 2012

Mining User Data: E-Books & E-Journals

I've been meaning to blog about the recent Wall Street Journal article "Your E-Book Is Reading You" and now there's a companion post to write: "Mendeley Injects Some Pace into Academia with Fast, Big Data" (reporting by GigaOM).

Both talk about mining user data generated from use of a product. Alexandra Alter reported in the June 29, 2012 print edition of the Wall Street Journal (online July 19, 2012) that e-book vendors (specifically Nook and Kindle) have data "revealing not only how many people buy particular books, but how intensely they read them." The data "focuses on groups of readers, not individuals," and leads Amazon to identify popular passages of books (by looking at the most underlined sentences in books downloaded to their Kindle device). This is moderately interesting: the most underlined is a passage from the Hunger Games trilogy, followed by the first sentence of Pride & Prejudice (see for yourself on Project Gutenburg).

E-book vendors are starting to share data with publishers, "to help them create books that better hold people's attention." (according to Alter's interview with Jim Hilt, Barnes & Noble's vice president of e-books). ACK! Writers may start to use metrics to determine the outcome of their novels, or to shape their nonfiction. As a fiction reader, I would much rather that my authors construct the entire novel from their imagination instead of relying on a reader, or worse, the lowest common denominator of readers, to help guide the novel's conclusion. That's why I read fiction: because I want to inhabit the writer's world. Not the writer's world heavily influenced by my fellow readers' opinions.

Further, as a librarian, I'm very wary of the assertion that the data "focuses on groups of readers, not individuals." That may be true today, but will it be ever thus? Can I opt out of having an e-book reader report back what I am reading? Apparently not. I still read my fiction the old-fashioned way, so no one knows what I read. In fact, since most of my fiction is borrowed from the library, the only one who tracks what I read is me (via Goodreads). Most libraries actively do not keep data on what books patrons read, because we believe so strongly in a reader's right to privacy.  Alter quotes security expert Bruce Schneier, who "worries that readers may steer clear of digital books on sensitive subjects such as health, sexuality and security—including his own works—out of fear that their reading is being tracked."

I'm definitely not a fan of e-book vendors tracking my reading habits on a Nook, Kindle, or any other device.

And yet, I cheer at the prospect of "reference manager and PDF organizer" Mendeley offering me data on journals faculty are reading or not reading. TheNextWeb reports that "Users can gain insight into how academic research is consumed, discussed and annotated with social metrics in granular detail" through Mendeley Institutional Edition ("powered by Swets").  Dutch library subscriptions agent Swets says this would offer "real-time visibility into the usage of your library content," but it is not clear how this data would be shared, or at what level.  For instance, would we see only a list of the most and least popular journals? The most and least popular journal articles? Would we see this by discipline? By university? By university and discipline? The more granular the data goes, of course, the greater the chance for veering into user privacy issues noted above.

  • Then again, if I as a librarian who pays a lot of money for academic journals could see which articles or which journals are most and least popular with journalism faculty, or neuro-marketing researchers, I could make better financial decisions about journal subscriptions.
  • Then again, if I ceased to purchase journals because they were not popular, I might enhance a journal's demise by not making it available ... which veers towards the idea that the way e-books are consumed might influence the way fiction is written.
  • Then again, this seems to offer a viable alternative to the slow-moving and proprietary journal assessment tool offered by ISI's Journal Impact Factor.

I'm definitely conflicted on Mendeley's International Edition, but I look forward to hearing more. I'm not conflicted about e-book vendors keeping statistics on what I read, so I'll continue to use the library for my fiction fix.

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