The undergrads are coming, the undergrads are coming! Managing large-scalestudent research projects. I chose this title because I think it accurately captures both the excitement and terror that comes with working with large groups of undergrads. I’m going to talk about the reasons why our project was both exciting and terrifying, and some of the tools and strategies that make a project like this doable with a small staff.
For their final project, students in an undergraduate history of technology course researched a technology at Drexel—past topics included transportation around campus, classroom technology, and technology in the dorms—and put together a digital exhibition of their findings.
Students created digital exhibitions using Omeka, which is open source exhibition creation software, and if you want to know more about it you can come to my presentation at MARAC this fall
We’re all busy archivists—why take on another big project? Some of these reasons are things we came up with after the fact.Opportunity for outreach both to students and to departments (e.g. Engineer’s Day photos). Since we host the exhibits on our website, the exhibits are also a form of outreach.And, through helping the students and reading their exhibits, we learn new things about our collections—we don’t have time to do research in all our collections, so it’s great when someone comes in to do it for usWe’re part of the university library, and part of the library’s mission is to support research conducted at the university. Anything we can do to contribute to that mission is good for us and good for the library.Students are future alumni—they ask for photos/info from the Archives, and they donate to the universityStress test—you get to find out if you procedures will still work when you get up to…
90+ researchers, working on 9 group projects, during a 10-week quarterTwo full-time staff is small enough that having 90 researchers is overwhelming, but big enough that you need procedures for tracking reference information
Research progress—topic changes, collections used, collections/archives prep needed for next visitSchedules for all three are related: it’s hard to supervise interns while manning the reading room, and student workers do scanning, so it’s helpful schedule researchers around them
We still use most of these solutions, even though HIST285 is over
Bug-tracking software. If you’ve ever seen the Archivists’ Toolkit bug list, that’s JIRA.We did all the customization ourselves, through the admin interface—no coding requiredCan assign reference questions to other usersWe have a folder in our email—any messages copied to that folder get turned into JIRA Important!: only Archives staff have access. JIRA can have an end-user interface, like the AT site uses, but we don’t have one.
If your reference question was created from email, replies to the original email will be added as comments, and files attached to emails will be added under Attachments. You can also add comments and attachments manually, to track your progress on a question.
When there’s no more work to do on a reference question, you can indicate if the question is done, if you found the information, or if you’re just waiting for the patron to get back to you. Again, these are all custom types that we came up with.
You can keyword search the whole site, or filter and sort by fields, including the fields you created.
As you can see from the calendar, we have lots of people in the archives: red is for student workers and interns, purple is for researchers, and blue is for when archives or reading room is closed. The purple up top is a HIST285 deadline, because we expect lots of students near deadlines.
We don’t have a lot of off-site storage requests, which is why we didn’t have a system for tracking them before this project, but we get few enough that a spreadsheet is sufficient
Sign-in sheet—important for peer reviews, so students can see how much time individual group members have spent on researchHaving the scan request form in paper means students can’t request any more scans than there’s room for on the form. We store folders on-site, so paper materials don’t get lost and all students in each group have access
What’s next for us and HIST285? What’s in your future if you start a project like ours?
We instruct students on how to use the software to build exhibits, but not really on exhibit content or structure—what makes an interesting, well-organized exhibitWe have a blog for the Archives, and we’d like students to write posts about the research process, and anything interesting they’ve foundDrexel has an archives program, so we have many students interested in interning. Reference internships can be tough to plan because reference is unpredictable—we should take more advantage of the fact that we can expect a large number of researchers within a specified time period
No time in a 10 week quarter to find viable topics and do the research for them.Maintain contact: Know who’s in which group, get everyone’s email address, and send regular updates about deadlines, changes in hours, etc.Students do everything at the last minute. Whenever you set a deadline, you’ll have a busy period the couple of days before. Having more deadlines helps—less to do before the deadline.Group projects—sometimes students drop the class halfway through the quarter, or don’t do their fair share of the work. It is easier on the archives, though—there’s no way we could have supported 90 individual projects.Manage expectations: Lower when necessary: make sure students are aware of your limitations. Raise when necessary: make sure they’re aware of all the ways you can help them, and all the things they can’t find or access on their ownManage expectations of students—our students were all engineering majors, they’ve never done archives research before, this is just one class of many they have assignments for. We know this project won’t always be their priority, and they may not put in the time to do it well.Don’t expect students to do anything that doesn’t count towards their grade. If you want them to find a certain number of primary sources, or look through a certain number of collections, make sure that goes in the assignment. I would also definitely recommend assigning part of the grade for the project—you have a better sense than the professor does of how much effort students put into the research componentBe a partner in the research process. You aren’t just providing materials, and don’t work with any professor who thinks otherwise. Our professor was AWESOME about working with us. Maintain a balance between creating a realistic research experience for students and working within the constraints of grades and the academic calendar. Think about what you want students to get out of the project, but also what the Archives gets out of it.
And what do students get out of it?All said archives research was at least “sort of fun.”All said research took as much time or less time than they expected—this one really surprised me.Most common favorite part: seeing old documents and photographsUsed to keyword searching, and would have preferred to have more content available online—oh, wouldn’t we all…
My favorite survey comment, from someone who said doing research in the archives was extremely fun:“I'm a nerd and felt like Batman when I was doing it.”
The undergrads are coming, the undergrads are coming! Managing large-scale student research projects
The undergrads are coming, the undergrads are coming! Managing large-scale student research projects<br />Rebecca Goldman<br />Drexel University Archives<br />August 14, 2010<br />
Our HIST285 project<br />Research a technology at Drexel <br />Develop a thesis, and find supporting material in the Archives<br />Create a digital exhibition of findings on the Archives website<br />
Why collaborate with an undergraduate class?<br />opportunity for outreach<br />learn new things about our collections<br />support Library's mission<br />students are future alumni<br />stress test for our procedures<br />
HIST285 by the numbers, Fall 2009<br />90+ student researchers<br />9 group projects<br />10-week quarter<br />And…2 full-time Archives staff<br />
Challenges in Fall 2009<br />tracking team research progress<br />scheduling researchers, interns and student workers<br />tracking offsite storage requests<br />tracking scan requests<br />
Managing the hordes:Solutions for Spring 2010<br />
JIRA<br />Bug-tracking software customized for tracking reference questions<br />
You can assign and schedule reference questions…<br />
Google Calendar<br />Track researcher appointments, student and intern schedules, and archives closures on the same calendar<br />
Google Spreadsheets<br />Track requests from off-site storage (on a small scale)<br />
Paper files<br />Folder for each group<br />Sign-in sheet to track when groups come, which members come, and what Archives staff need to do before the next visit<br />Scan request form <br />Paper materials generated during research (research notes, photocopies of materials, printouts of search results)<br />
Future plans for HIST285<br />More instruction on exhibition design<br />Have students blog about their experiences<br />Find ways to involve interns in the process<br />
Thinking about working with an undergraduate class?<br />Recommend good research topics<br />Maintain contact with students<br />Set multiple deadlines<br />Group projects suck<br />Manage expectations of the Archives<br />Manage your own expectations of students<br />Participate in creating assignments and grading<br />Be a partner in the research process<br />
What do students think? Some survey responses<br />All said archives research was at least “sort of fun.”<br />All said research took as much time or less time than they expected<br />Most common favorite part: seeing old documents and photographs<br />Used to keyword searching, and would have preferred to have more content available online<br />
“I'm a nerd and felt like Batman when I was doing it.”<br />
Contact info<br />Rebecca Goldman<br /> Digital Archives Technician, <br />Drexel University Archives<br />RebeccaGoldman@drexel.edu<br />http://www.library.drexel.edu/archives<br />
Thanks<br />Photo credit: Drexel University Archives<br />Drexel University Libraries<br />Dr. Erik Rau<br />Laurie Rizzo<br />Rob Sieczkiewicz<br />