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Watch listen Learn: Understanding the undergraduate research process through an ethnographic lens

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For higher education students, learning can happen anytime and anywhere, however not much is known about how students actually conduct research. A User eXperience (UX) approach, which deploys an anthropological lens, has typically focussed on how library users are interacting with space and services. In this paper I will present the findings of an ethnographic study which shifted the traditional focus of UX to understand how students are engaging with the research process. Using participant observation, behavioural maps, student diaries and retrospective interviews, I was provided with unique access that enabled me to capture the behaviours of these students in their own environments. The research examined the practice of undergraduate research both inside and outside the library walls and found that the research process can be influenced by a number of factors including age, experience, work commitments, family, peer, academic and library anxiety.

I was acutely aware of my responsibility as a researcher to build trust and honesty with the students. Working so closely with them enabled me to discover patterns in their research behaviour, discuss their approach to research and identify gaps in support. This was collaborative ethnography; as I observed research practice, I was able to provide instant advice to help them improve their research skills. In addition, I have discussed my findings with academic colleagues and together we have been making improvements to undergraduate study skills modules. This paper will discuss how an ethnographic approach has informed my professional practice and ultimately improved how I deliver research skills support to undergraduate students. I will also reflect on the role ethnography can play in empowering librarians to perform a leading research role within their own institutions.

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Watch listen Learn: Understanding the undergraduate research process through an ethnographic lens

  1. 1. Image source: https://flic.kr/p/qHpEnS
  2. 2. Overview • Rationale for this research • Literature review & methodology • Professional challenges • Recommendations and future research • Reflections on ethnography
  3. 3. Rationale • Primary research requirement: MSc Education & Training Leadership • To capture the student voice - very little prior knowledge of the undergraduate research process • To advance a prior study on first year undergraduate research behaviour (Dunne & Sheridan, 2012) • ‘Library as lab’ - a natural habitat for observing research behaviour
  4. 4. User Experience web metrics usability testing surveys focus groups learning analytics ethnography
  5. 5. The Ethnographer “participates, overtly or covertly, in people's daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, and/or asking questions through informal and formal interviews, collecting documents and artefacts - in fact, gathering whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the emerging focus of inquiry” (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007)
  6. 6. Library Anxiety 1. Fear of the library as a place, often described by its impressive size 2. Not knowing where to find information, nor how it's organised 3. Lack of self-confidence concerning how to conduct a search 4. Fear of library staff resulting in an inability to ask for help 5. Feeling like they're the only one not to understand how the library works 6. Feeling of paralysis when starting an information search Source: Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, A. Jiao, Q. and Bostick, S. 2004 . Library Anxiety: Theory, Research, and Applications
  7. 7. The Participants • 5 final year undergraduate students: 3 Communications + 2 Intercultural Studies 3 Generation X + 2 Millennial • Recruited through lecture call; follow on emails & flyers • Incentivised participation through offer of dedicated consultation & on the fly advice • 6 week ethnographic study
  8. 8. Methodology • Study approved by DCU Research Ethics Committee: students received outline of research, plain language statement & informed consent • Data collection: 2 X 1 hour observation sessions Maintain a student diary 1 X retrospective interview • Data triangulation: validated by cross referencing observation data & diary data • Data analysis: colour coding & assignment of broad themes
  9. 9. Emergent Themes • Time and space for research • Research behaviour • Uncertainty about the research process • Harnessing social media • Support networks • Organising research
  10. 10. Time & Space “Finished analysing five articles. Went home and examined work on bus”
  11. 11. Time & Space “Went for a run – thought about my dissertation and how I would approach it. Began breaking it down into its constituent parts”
  12. 12. Millennial Student Behavioural Map
  13. 13. Generation X Student Behavioural Map
  14. 14. Research behaviours “What I have been doing up till this point is taking notes as I read. I mark the page numbers and either quote or summarize the passages. I intend to use what I write as an index of the main ideas. While taking these notes I’ve been mindful of writing in an academic fashion, as I believe I may be able to cut and paste some of what I’ve written directly into my dissertation” (diary entry - millennial student) Research Behaviour
  15. 15. Extract from my field notes (millennial student) 12.37 Opens article, takes notes in spiral bound notebook Opens tab containing Word document Flicks to another tab 12.39 Opens a different tab containing another article, this time from acadmia.edu. Reads some text from it Picks up phone to respond to Facebook message Returns to Word and types text 12.41 Repeats this. Checks word count and records in notebook Opens up text book, scans index Looks up body of text Continues to flick between index and text.
  16. 16. 12.42 Places book back on desk and opens Google Opens library catalogue and enters search Moves to Advanced catalogue search Scans results and opens book record 12.44 Opens tab containing Google Book search Scans table of contents 12.45 Opens tab with ‘different’ journal article Scans first page Returns to Word doc Flips to Google results tab Returns to Word doc and types for a minute 12.47 Returns to article Returns to Word doc and types for another minute Scrolls through Word doc (finger on screen) this lasts for about a minute
  17. 17. Uncertainty about the Research Process Lecturer’s Advice “The research process is non linear – each step can influence subsequent and previous steps” Student’s Reality “Today I’m starting my methodology chapter, I’ve no idea how to do it. I have to get it done today”
  18. 18. Source Evaluation Millennial Student “While waiting on articles to load, I begin to examine other ones I already have open. There is a slight problem in that I’ve found articles covering [blank] and [blank] and [blank] but none covering all three”. Generation X Student “So it’s looking at the value of things, it’s looking at the whole thing. It’s not looking at the title and going ‘that title doesn’t match what I need’. And I think a lot of people do that, they look at it and go I don’t know, this isn’t what I’m looking for”
  19. 19. Crowdsourcing research advice “there was one girl who went on [Facebook ] & said: ‘I’m doing this all wrong’ and eight or nine hours later said ‘I’m doing it this way anyway’. Even though there was people who said you are doing it wrong... so you have this kind of rationalisation, they all picked each other up...I wanted to go on and say just take your finger out, you still have three days, just do it, you can still salvage it. But all there was was no, its gonna be ok cos everyone here has said so” [Generation X student]
  20. 20. Support Networks “it’s easier to ask classmates because they’re my peers, we’re in the same boat. We often share assignments with one another if we’re stuck. A gang of us work together in the same group study room. That way then we can study independently but collaborate if we need advice” (Generation X student)
  21. 21. Organising Research “Still in the coffee shop, checking two references on my phone but I can’t find them. I’m sure I have written them down somewhere but I have too many little notes. I’m so disorganised this semester. I don’t know what’s going on with me” (Generation X student)
  22. 22. Key Learning Moments • Increased student diversity brings new challenges for intercultural communication: cultural library anxiety means some students avoid seeking the help they require • Issues of trust and the co-production of knowledge: as co creators of data, this was collaborative ethnography • Ethnographic approach uncovers information difficult to elicit by other means and complements traditional feedback mechanisms such as The National Survey of Student Engagement • Students strongly desire extra supports to teach them research skills
  23. 23. Sharing findings with students & staff (academic; student support; teaching enhancement) Longitudinal study - different disciplines A study of faculty understanding of UG research process A life logging study? Actions & Future Research
  24. 24. Professional Challenges • Knowing when to wear the most appropriate hat: student | participant| observer|librarian • Capturing genuine research behaviour & mitigating against participants telling me what I wanted to hear • Ensuring participants didn’t feel like objects of external scrutiny but rather partners & co producers of data
  25. 25. References • Asher, A., and Miller, S. 2011. So You Want to Do Anthropology in Your Library? or A Practical Guide to Ethnographic Research in Academic Libraries. [Online] Available from: http://www.erialproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Toolkit-3.22.11.pdf • Dunne, S. 2016. How Do They Research? An Ethnographic Study of Final Year Undergraduate Research Behaviour in an Irish University. New Review of Academic Librarianship. [Online] Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13614533.2016.1168747#.V1GW1vkrLcs • Dunne, S. and Sheridan, V. 2012. The bigger picture: undergraduate voices reflecting on academic transition in an Irish university. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 49(3), pp. 237-247. [Online] Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14703297.2012.703019#abstract • Fried Foster, N. and Gibbons, S. 2007. Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester. [Online] Available from: http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/publications/booksanddigitalresourc es/digital/Foster-Gibbons_cmpd.pdf • Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. 2007. Ethnography: principles in practice. London: Routledge. • Healey, M. and Jenkins, A. 2009. Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. [Online] Available from: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/developingundergraduate_final.pdf • Lanclos, D. 2015. Ethnographic Techniques and New Visions for Libraries, in Library Analytics and Metrics: Using Data to Drive Decisions and Services. Ed. Ben Showers. London: Facet Publishing, pp. 96-107. • Priestner, A. and Borg, M. 2016. User Experience in Libraries: Applying Ethnography and User Centred Design. London: Routledge.
  26. 26. Questions? siobhan.dunne@dcu.ie @dunnesiobhan

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