Category Archives: Information

Are these the journal articles you’re looking for?

Getting to journals and journal articles is still more difficult than it should be – how are online services trying to help students and academics get to the latest research?

Journal Stacks (Serials)

TechCrunch reports that has launched a directory of 12,500 academic journals as part of their website. The idea seems to be that by using your social network of connections, recommended readings will come to you, rather than having to seek them out yourself.

The journal directory has a simple keyword search interface and you can also browse by topics – such as history, economics or chemistry. Titles are not ranked according to their impact factors, perceived authority or other qualitative measures, but according to how many followers they have amongst the community.

This is certainly a competitive area with a number of other key services working on this and other journal related issues – some favourites services of mine are:

JournalTOCs a free and searchable collection of scholarly journal Tables of Contents (TOCs). It contains TOCs for nearly 15000 journals collected from over 600 publishers. By registering, users can get email alerts about new TOCs and save their list of TOCs online.

The Directory of Open Access Journals covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals, across all subjects and languages. Almost 6000 journals are listed in the directory and nearly 2500 journals are searchable at article level, providing access to close to half a million articles.

Jurn is a curated academic search-engine, indexing 3,692 free ejournals in the arts and humanities. It includes “online academic or art-world/literary publications displaying i) clear editorial control and ii) offering at least some substantial free content.”

The key issue that these services are trying to address is solving the conundrum of getting academics and students to relevant individual articles when they are spread all over the Web, as in the case of Open Access titles or behind the paywalls of a myriad of commercial publishers.

It’s a subject that we address in all of our Virtual Training Suite tutorials:

However, it’s clearly an evolving area and it will be interesting to see whether can succeed in using these social networks to help students and academics find their way through the journal article maze.

Picture credit: Dentistry Library: Journals stacks (serials) from rosefirerising on Flickr.

When did search become research?

Typing a few keywords into Google isn’t research, yet the words search and research are often bandied about as though they were interchangeable – but is this a new problem? Surprisingly, no.

The notion that the word research is used when we really mean search, is a topic that I’ve meant to look into for quite a while. It’s something that I feel a tad guilty about, after all we use the tagline – Developing Internet research skills – for the Virtual Training Suite.

I set out to do a bit of preliminary Internet searching expecting to be swamped by news stories chastising students for being too reliant on Google or Wikipedia and opinion pieces saying that the Internet is making us stupid or enhancing our brains in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Instead, I was drawn to an article on PubMed Central from the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association – When does search become research? by Edith Dernehl, read at the 43d Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association at Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 29 … in 1941.

She starts by neatly outlining the problem, in terms that ring true nearly 70 years later.

“Research has as its object the exploration of uncharted fields, while search leads only into domains previously explored. We all know that many a search wrongly assumes the name of research, when the work reported has hardly shown evidence of even a thorough survey of a subject, and has no trace of the original thought so essential to any project dignified by the name research.”

But the student or academic should be just as careful as the commentator in their choice of words to describe their work.

“No matter in what field he chooses to work, he must bring originality of thought or of approach to the task. Without these attributes or without new truth, his work can at best be called a library search and should never be classed as research work.”

However, the librarian must treat the searcher and researcher equally.

“One of the qualities most necessary for a librarian, therefore, is vision; she must show judgment, guided by imagination, in her decisions, and she must cultivate an understanding for the needs of the searcher and the researcher alike.”

She concludes by saying that:

“A search will often be rewarded with useful information; if not, then even a small problem, solved by a live intelligence, may well be called a bit of research well done.”

Suitably chastised that there really isn’t anything new under the sun, I’ve discovered that search became conflated with research at least as far back as 1941 and probably a lot earlier! And perhaps I won’t feel so bad about saying research when I mean search – as it’s clearly not something that has come about purely since the invention of the Internet.

Students expectations of technology

Two recent studies looking at student attitudes to technology have found similar themes, despite being conducted on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010 is the annual survey of US undergraduate students that looks at their ownership, use and perceptions of technology both inside and outside the classroom.

Student Perspectives on Technology – demand, perceptions and training needs is a report from the NUS undertaken as part of the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force. It took a more qualitative approach using consultation events, online discussions and an online survey of FE students.

So what did they discover …

Searching skills

Both studies show that students think that they are good online searchers.

88.6% agree that they were effective online researchers. (NUS / HEFCE)

Eight out of ten (81%) students considered themselves expert or very skilled in searching the Internet effectively and efficiently. (ECAR)

Information literacy training

However, both studies also reveal that students have concerns about how to use the information they find online for academic purposes.

There was a common request for more skills training, particularly around how to effectively research and reference reliable online resources in the NUS / HEFCE study.

Student ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of online information and understand ethical / legal issues was lower than their assessment of how effective they are in searching the Internet in the ECAR study.

Amount of technology used in teaching

Both studies show that students are cautious about the amount of technology used in teaching and prefer a blended approach of technological and traditional teaching methods.

The NUS / HEFCE study shows that students prefer a choice in how they learn and that opinions are fundamentally divided over e-learning. It was recognised that not every area of study needed e-learning and that is would be more effective if it was an option, not an obligation.

The ECAR study has consistently found that students only want a “moderate” amount of technology in their courses, although the definition of what a moderate amount is, is probably very different now than it was five years ago.

Other issues

Perhaps the most important findings to bear in mind, come at the end of the ECAR study which concludes that “many student technology adoption patterns are surprisingly stable,” but that “there is no stereotypical student when it comes to technology”.

Automatic attribution for images, audio and video

Xpert Attribution is a new tool from the University of Nottingham that can help you credit your sources when using images, audio and video.

Much attention has been focused on citation and plagiarism advice about the correct use of textual material, but it is increasingly important to do the same when working with other types of media.

The tool searches open media (images, sound and video) from Flickr and Wikimedia and aims to automatically attribute the appropriate license.

Find out more about how to find, evaluate and use images, audio and video in this series of Virtual Training Suite tutorials produced in partnership with JISC Digital Media.

Internet for audio resources
Internet for image searching
Internet for video & moving images

Outstanding ICT initiative contenders

The shortlisted candidates for the Times Higher Education Awards 2010 have been unveiled for various categories including the Outstanding ICT Initiative that will be judged by JISC.

If you have not heard about all the six contenders, they are listed below with a few words on some of the innovative work that they have been doing.

Chemlabs logo

The University of Bristol ChemLabS is a CETL that also provides e-learning tools for chemistry and science subjects. They produce resources for individuals, schools and universities, via their LabSkills software and Dynamic Laboratory Manual.

iSpot logo

The Open University iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature. You can add an observation to the website and suggest an identification yourself or see if anyone else can identify it for you, as explained by Chris Packham.

Open Fields logo

The Harper Adams University College Open Fields site is an internet library designed “to meet practitioner and student demand for knowledge that supports and stimulates the development of land-based industries”.

The University of the West of England SHE (Simulations in Higher Education) initiative enables students to experience simulations of events and situations that are difficult or impossible to organise, before they put their skills into practice in the real world, by using Second Life.


The University of Ulster SLOODLE initiative is an Open Source project which integrates the multi-user virtual environment of Second Life with the Moodle learning-management system. It connects the two environments via chatrooms, quizzes, voting mechanisms, note writing tools and presentations.

Media Zoo screenshot

The University of Leicester Media Zoo is a research dissemination forum and a supportive, experimental environment for staff to understand the design of learning activities using learning technologies. It has physical, online and 3D manifestations, as well as someone with a very cool job title.

Good luck to all the nominated initiatives for awards night!

Tweaching with Twitter

Last week the Virtual Training Suite team attended the Economics Network e-learning symposium.

Among a series of presentations on how economics lecturers were using technology, Paul Latreille of Swansea University spoke about “Tweaching for Economists“.

Paul emphasised the thought process that he had gone through before using Twitter in his teaching. Economics Network surveys have highlighted the absence of a shared responsibility in learning and a desire amongst students to have a more active role in their learning.

Paul was looking for a way of encouraging greater student engagement to produce learning via interaction, but it was important not to use a tool just for the sake of it – technology last, not first.

He recounted a number of ways in which Twitter can be used to enhance teaching:

  • By using course codes or a course based accounts you can Tweet interesting websites / readings to students.
  • You can contribute items of more than 140 characters in length by using TwitLonger.
  • Add pictures, images and graphs by using TwitPic.
  • Manage personal, professional or course based accounts in one place via HootSuite with the added bonus of being able to schedule Tweets e.g. reminders about assignment deadlines or lecture times.
  • As an alternative to PRS (Personal Response Systems) or clickers by using TwtPoll.
  • And he heard about all these possibilities, just by following people on Twitter.

Or to put it more formally, you could see some suggestions for Tweaching via this Framework for Teaching with Twitter (Rick Reo, adapted by Mark Sample).

Twitter is a difficult service to recommend within a Virtual Training Suite tutorial as students are often reluctant to engage with Social Media for educational purposes, but it is refreshing to see such innovation in teaching that encourages more active learning.

More top tips and links to websites are available by following @VTStutorials on Twitter.

Search results in an Instant

Google Instant provides search results as you type, but is this necessarily a good thing?

The latest search innovation from Google is to provide search results as you type. It aims to deliver faster searches, smarter predictions and instant results.

However, this appears to be at the expense of some key features that savvy searchers may have come to depend upon over the years.

Alex Chitu over at Google Operating System has highlighted some of the features that are no longer available in instant search mode, including the fact that it only returns results 10 at a time and that it stops users from searching within a set up results.

But it certainly does appear to save time as Lifehacker has tried to show …

What effect will this have?

The race to the top of the Google Rankings may become even more fierce, as sites compete to become the first predicted result for each letter of the alphabet.

People will become used to this level of speed and responsiveness from search products and will come to expect it elsewhere.

But will it help searchers to get to the right answer or just to get to an answer a little bit quicker?

At least, it has lead to some creative videos showing how it works …

On a purely personal note, my preference to see 100 search results per page when I query Google means that for now I’ll be turning off Google Instant.

Anatomy of a scholarly article

Each Virtual Training Suite tutorial tells students about the scholarly publication process, points them to key journals in their field and refers them to key databases where they can find more articles, but what happens after they have found a relevant scholarly article?

Anatomy of a scholarly article

Understanding the anatomy of a scholarly article can be difficult for new students. Fortunately, a number of library and information professionals have produced great online guides to help them.

Capella University has a comprehensive Roadmap to Information Literacy that includes a chapter on Reading for Results. Their Anatomy of a Scholarly Article guide breaks down a typical academic paper.

The Anatomy of a Scholarly Article tutorial from NCSU Libraries is a nice interactive animation that shows parts of a journal paper and describes their function.

For more information on how to critically engage with the contents of academic papers, the tutorial on the Anatomy of a Scholarly Research Article in the Health Sciences from the University of Vermont has a step-by-step guide to the various components of a scholarly research article. Although it is designed for the health sciences, much of the advice will be useful to students in other subjects.

Video tutorials on evaluating websites

Evaluating websites is an important part of becoming information literate, but can videos help to get the message across to students?

There are quite a few videos on YouTube about evaluating websites and luckily some of them are from libraries and academic establishments.

Here’s a selection of some of the better ones …

Info Literacy 10. Evaluating Information Sources is part of the excellent series of Information Literacy tutorials from Bob Baker of Pima Community College.

It covers the criteria that you need to apply to evaluating both traditional and open web resources, including authority, timeliness, bias and accuracy/credibility of content.

Mainly a talking head interspersed with screen shots, tips to take away and occasional web search examples, plus a list of cited resources, suggested readings and further details.

Top notch content delivered in a traditional manner.

Evaluating Websites from the Oklahoma City Community College Library is part of a series of screencasts available via their YouTube channel.

This tutorial looks at domain names and introduces the ABC and D of website evaluation (Authority, Bias, Currency and Documentation) to get students looking behind an online resource to see what is really there.

Evaluating Websites from the David L. Rice Library is one of a number of screencasts and library specific guides on their channel.

This tutorial illustrates the use of the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When, and Why to evaluate websites.

Using humour is always risky but some have tried and whether it is the Library Fairy, Elvis Presley or even a Randy Weasel there appears to be an eclectic cast of characters out there that can help you evaluate websites – happy viewing!

By the book, the e-book

building made from books

Some might say that the recent installation by Slovakian artist Matej Kren at the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna composed of thousands upon thousands of books, shows the importance of books as building blocks of knowledge.

However, the rise of the e-book has caused some to question the role of libraries, despite the fact that a growing number of e-books are being downloaded from libraries, although you may still be in need of some tips for a better e-book reading experience.

In terms of Internet research skills, making students aware of the e-books available to them is increasingly important. Some of the tutorials in the Virtual Training Suite have collected together key texts for various academic subjects:

However this is a fast moving field, for example, just today an email alerted us that there are more than 200 free scientific books to download from on topics including electrical engineering, robotics and materials science.

But there’s more potential to e-books – students are getting used to searching Google Books for snippets from textbooks when they aren’t readily available via their library – using them to look up references, get to key quotes or read chapters when physical libraries are shut.

We recently learnt that the Virtual Training Suite had been recommended to students in a couple of academic textbooks and thanks to the availability of e-books, it’s now possible to check what people have been saying about us:

The Handbook of Literary Research edited by Delia da Sousa Correa and W. R. Owens says on p.22 “If you complete the online tutorial and answer the tour quiz at the end of it, you will have gained an excellent overview of planning and conducting searches and evaluating data” in the chapter on Using online and printed sources by Shafquat Towheed (lecturer in English at The Open University).

Study Skills for Social Workers by Chris Stogdon and Robin Kiteley says on p.67 chapter on Learning Online “helps you hone your web-searching skills … encourages you to be more critical and discerning in respect of online information”.

So e-books are readily available as online replacements for textbooks, as places where people may be talking about you and as pointers to other resources – but you won’t be able to use them as building blocks for a new house and that’s probably a good thing.