University of Central Lancashire (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2009 Proceedings
Publication year: 2009
Pages: 6135-6146
ISBN: 978-84-613-2953-3
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 2nd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2009
Location: Madrid, Spain
In 2008 the Centre for Research-informed Teaching (based at the University of Central Lancashire) was commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Council (JISC) to conduct a short-term study of the ways in which today’s students discover, identify, access and use research content. The study was conducted through a general survey, focus groups and case studies in four UK Universities including both research-led and teaching-led universities. The report has now been published on JISC’s website:

In this paper, the main authors of the report will reflect on the implications of its findings in relation to use of the internet for the sector as a whole and will make some suggestions – and invite discussion – on how universities can manage the behaviours of students in the digital age.

One of the study’s key findings is that students’ use of the research environment is no longer framed by libraries or by course tutors. In all universities, almost all students will use the internet first before turning to library stock or recommendations on course lists. In the past, we were able to direct students’ reading in this way on the basis that any books on a course reading list, or held by the library, would be appropriate for their studies. We found that students value research content which is readily available on the internet and are reluctant to seek out printed copies when free internet access to content is not available. None of this is surprising, and much of this new behaviour has been anticipated by researchers in this area over the last decade.

However, we found that universities have consistently over-estimated students’ ability to use the internet. Most of the students we talked to are ‘low-end’ users who lack many of the skills needed to make best use of the internet. Moreover, a high proportion of them are anxious about using the content they find on the internet and still value printed works over internet publications, despite the fact that they are in most cases reluctant to seek out printed works. Many students have developed a fuzzy sense of ‘dos and don’ts’ when using the internet to research their assignments, they are overwhelmed by the amount of information available and they often find that the research content they find is written in a specialised discourse which they find difficult to understand.

This paradox – that students find the internet both irresistible and overwhelming – is a critical issue for pedagogy, curriculum development and student support in the modern age, and its implications need to be more fully understood. The traditional ways in which tutors and libraries attempt to frame students’ experience of the research content is being decisively eroded. How can we best meet this challenge and how can educators, researchers and libraries work together to ensure that students are able to make intelligent use of the internet?

The paper will begin by laying out the key issue and presenting some of the key findings of the study, including background data which did not make it into the final report. We will then open out a discussion about how best to meet this challenge and will invite audience discussion in order to explore the salience of this study for universities beyond the UK.
to enter into databases, they tend to use tutors as a back-up or last resort, disciplines vary.