Doctoral dilemmas, digital
Research Librarian at City, University of London
■ Recent MA in Academic Practice research topic: Which factors may
influence the digital literacy skills of research students?
■ Rationale, research methodology and aims.
■ Defining digital literacy and challenges.
■ Using frameworks (eg Jisc) and student feedback to inform digital
■ Research findings and some outputs.
■ Recommendations and future research.
■Doctoral students have the greatest information literacy
needs of all students (Barry, 1997).
■They are not always heavily researched or understood
(Dowling & Wilson, 2015).
■Informal conversations with students on digital literacy.
■Exploring demographic factors (eg. discipline, age, gender)
compared to digital literacy factors.
■Evidence based practice and experience as a researcher
in supporting interdisciplinary PhD students and staff.
■Literature review to understand context of digital literacy.
■Jisc researcher profile (2015).
■Survey of sample of 27 doctoral students at City, designed
on Survey Monkey (Dec 2015- Jan 2016).
■Qualitative interviews with 8 of the survey respondents.
■Dissertation synthesising the literature review, survey and
Aims of research
■ To analyse definitions of the concept of digital literacy and identify a
selection of digital tools and skills used by research students.
■ To investigate in the literature factors which may lead to differences in
the digital literacy skills of research students.
■ Survey and interview a sample of research students.
■ Synthesise the literature, survey and interview data and draw
conclusions about factors which may influence the digital literacy skills of
■ To explore any possible practical applications in supporting research
students with their digital skills.
■History and definitions of digital literacy.
■Overview of digital skills and tools used by research
■Factors which may influence researchers’ digital literacy
skills (eg. discipline, age, digital skills and tools).
■Frameworks: Vitae, Jisc Researcher profile, SCONUL
Defining digital literacy
■“.. the ability to understand and use information in multiple
formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented
via computers” (Gilster, 1997, p. 1).
■“..the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to
appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify,
access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyze and synthesize
digital resources …” (Martin, 2006, p. 151).
■“We define digital literacies as the capabilities which fit
someone for living, learning and working in a digital
society (Jisc, 2015)”.
Developing students' digital literacy (Jisc, 2015)
Areas of Jisc researcher profile used
■Information and communications technology (ICT).
■Information, digital and media literacy skills.
■ Online communication skills (online research
Digital literacy challenges
■Digital literacy is difficult to define and understand.
■Ongoing necessity to keep digital skills up to date.
■Lack of training at the point of need in research process.
■Huge increase in amount of electronic information:
databases, journals and books etc.
■Changing technologies, obsolence and data security.
■Nature of specialised and interdisciplinary research.
Training preferences (survey data)
Building an online
research profile (50%)
Using social media tools
Using apps in your
Using mobile database
Data analysis tools (50%)
Sources of digital literacy help (survey data)
Your Department (22.2%)
Library Services (63%)
IT Services (44.4%)
Graduate School (11.1%)
Learning Enhancement &
Development Team (14.8%)
Fellow students (77.8% )
Self taught (85.2%)
Other universities (14.8% )
Interviews: some literal comments
“PhD students, we
have no time at all”.
“I think the support I have
had from the Library has
been very good”.
“I don’t really like social
media. I am not out
there in social media,
“I would say if you’re able
to use all the tools that
are potentially helping or
“The thing is
technology is good
if it’s kind of time
“My feeling is that
I am largely self-
“Yes, the discipline does
actually affect things”.
“I think that digital literacy
is like an evolvement from
what I know more
traditionally as media
Some research findings
■Not possible to identify all factors influencing the digital
literacy skills of research students.
■Self teaching and peer learning very important.
■Lack of training (eg. research methods, data analysis).
■Disciplinary or cross-disciplinary practices may influence the
■Factors such as ICT skills to manage the research and
information, data and media literacy seemed more influential
than demographic factors such as age and gender.
■Attitudes to social media use very polarised.
■1. How can we practically assist research/ postgraduate
students with their digital literacy and skills?
■2. To what extent can frameworks (eg. Jisc, ANCIL,
SCONUL 7 pillars, Vitae Researcher Development
Programme) be used to help design Information/ Digital
Literacy training and support?
■3. Any successes as or ideas for being a practitioner
researcher in Information/ Digital Literacy?
Output: Research impact guide
Output: IL Researcher workshops
Recommendations and future research
■Key message: Research enhanced practice.
■A university doctoral training programme or an inter-
university doctoral training centre would be beneficial.
■Different approaches such as individual appointments,
workshops and use of technology such as Skype to assist
■Offer research impact and digital social media workshops
online and create new online research guides.
■Raise awareness of doctoral needs through conferences and
■Future research across universities to facilitate possible
digital skills collaborations.
■ Barry, C. (1997) ‘Information skills for an electronic world: training doctoral research
students’, Journal of Information Science 23 (3), pp. 225-238. Available at: http://0-
jis.sagepub.com.wam.city.ac.uk/content/23/3/225.full.pdf+html (Accessed: 09/10/2015).
■ Dowling, R. and Wilson, M. (2015) ‘Digital doctorates? An exploratory study of PhD
candidates’ use of online tools’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 2015
■ Available at: http://0- Available at: http://0-
■ Gilster, P. (1997) Digital literacy. New York; Chichester, John Wiley.
■ Jisc (2015) Developing students’ digital literacy. Available at:
https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy (Accessed: 18/01/2016).
■ Jisc (2016) Building digital capability. Example researcher profile. Available at:
■ Martin, A. (2006) ‘A European framework for digital literacy’, Nordic Journal of Digital
Literacy 2 (1), pp. 151-161. Available at:
Thank you for participating
Any questions or discussion points?
■Research Library guide:
■Research Impact guide:
■IL workshop booking website: http://libcal.city.ac.uk
■Diane Bell email@example.com @dianelouisebell