19 September 2013

Community Engagement Assessment - Guide

1. User Community – Higher Degree Research Student Community

The purpose of the community is primarily institutional support for students undertaking degrees by research, however this community could potentially foster peer-to-peer support. A ‘community’ site (Blackboard term for a type of site, ie not a subject site) has been established in the learning management system with initial objectives of collating critical information for HDR students in one place, and for communication amongst HDR students, supervisors and administrators.  It includes administrative forms, procedures, contact information within faculties and within the Research Office.

The types of communications in the online space are currently announcements from the Research Office, HDR Research Committee and Faculties about key dates, and events relevant for higher degree research students. In these early days, it is unclear that students are fully aware of the community site and its possibilities.

The kinds of conversations that happen between HDR students (not limited to the online community space) are largely unknown to us, but we suppose that conversations would be about their candidature, progress reports, research methods, literature reviews, resources, services, programs and training available to them. As well as topics entirely unrelated to research but focused on social matters and personal interests.

These students commence studies throughout the year, out of sequence with coursework students, so there are less opportunities for group forming that typically arise in orientation week activities. Many of these students are employed and most are not on-campus frequently or at regular times, unless their employment is at the University.

HDR students do meet face to face at events such as:

  • Training & workshops on research skills, presentation skills

  • Research events eg. Research Week poster competitions, 3 minute thesis competition

2. Analysis

HDR students generally are keen library users due to their need for access to academic information resources. After staff, they are the 2nd largest group of requesters for document delivery services. In recent times a new program has been implemented by the Library to ensure that Faculty Librarians meet with all new HDR students within a few weeks of them commencing. A recent roundtable meeting between Library staff and some HDR students it became clear that many of the students were still unaware of some services available to them from the Library. Feedback from surveys has indicated that supervisors are also unaware that the Library can help students with literature reviews.

Stronger ties between faculty librarians and supervisors could be forged to be sure that supervisors know when they should recommend their student to take advantage of a service the Library can provide.

As librarians we can bring to this community:

  • a sizeable portion of goodwill and trust

  • highly relevant skills and advice to share

  • content to contribute to a training/seminar series being developed for HDR students

  • delivery of some training/seminar events

3. Plan

The Research Office is newly co-located with Library Services so conversations between these two areas are continuous and collaborative. It is important to maintain this relationship. The officer who does most of the updates to the community site, and organises the information in that site is located in the Research Office. Liaising with this person will be critical for implementing some of these ideas.

Gaining support from the Chair of the Higher Degree Research Committee will be invaluable for implementing practices that require more resourcing, and more persuasion for other community members. A conversation with the Chair to suggest the following ideas for the Library’s participation in the community site is the first step.

  • Promoting the online community site to HDR students using Library services eg. blog post about the community site and how librarians will be able to answer questions in that space, brochures in the Library, mentioning the site in any research-related workshops that librarians are running, article in the library newsletter

  • Using this channel to promote relevant Library workshops and training

  • Participating in forums, answering questions

  • Collaborate/contribute to training program designed for HDR students. This may take the form of short videos on information literacy, research skills, search strategies, electronic thesis preparation for repository, hosting webinars on similar topics.

  • Develop additional research themed library guides eg. Resources for developing skills in research supervision

  • Build blackboard module to plug in library services in the community site

  • Faculty librarians could attend regular supervision meetings – to form part of the supervision ‘team’

  • Adapting “The Research Game” a one-off event into a gamified orientation activity for new HDR students

The Chair is already a close associate, so initiating this kind of meeting is not likely to require a formal request. We would offer to prepare a presentation to the Committee if that would be helpful, although I suspect that many of these ideas fit with the goals of the site, and could be adopted relatively quickly. We should seek advice from the Chair on how to proceed with specific ideas, in particular those that involve a greater degree of change in practice of other community members. For example, including faculty librarians as part of a supervision team may not be well-accepted by all supervisors, and may have to be introduced as a trial initially, or perhaps only with those who consider this favourably.

The key message is that the Library is able to form a partnership with academics and the Research Office to provide the best support framework possible to our HDR students to improve completions, and ensure these students leave the University with an experience they want to share.

A third contact to meet with is  the  HDR student representatives annually to gather feedback on their experience of library services and better understand the issues that they are facing. Report back to them on strategies adopted to address concerns they raise. These meetings should begin with a short presentation by the Library, but for the most part be conversational. A series of topic ideas might be prepared to encourage discussion.