Enhancing access to core course materials: developing the functionality of the online reading list service
A collaborative project between UCL Library Services and the UCL Department of History undertook to further develop the functionality of the online reading list service. Funding from Executive Sub-Committee for Innovations in Teaching, Learning and Assessment (ESCILTA), enabled Library Services to take forward the work started in a previous collaborative project with the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies:
The project focussed on technical developments which have increased the functionality of the reading lists. These enhancements were identified by students and academics service users as being desirable during the previous project (see above). The key developments included:
- The implementation of the SFX linking software. This new service incorporated the reading lists existing ability to link to full-text of ejournals and digitised readings with the enhanced features offered by SFX, in particular the option to search other library catalogues for reading list items; thus making the lists a platform for enhanced resource discovery and delivery.
- Further exploration of the technical issues related to enabling access for academics to their own reading lists in order to make updates and maintain lists.
Other deliverables of the project included: online versions of the undergraduate core course reading lists (modules HISTOA01: From the Ancient Near East to the 21st Century and HISTOA02: Concepts, Categories and the Practice of History); an evaluation of the service with History department students; and an evaluation of internal processes for the collection and creation of online reading lists. The project also undertook to investigate the provision of digital versions of core course readings. This element of the project was intended to provide some information for service planning in advance of an anticipated change in UK blanket copyright licensing.
The project intended to provide the Library with an opportunity to develop the technical functionality of this evolving service and gain valuable feedback from both student users of the service and academic staff, which will help to inform how the service is developed and implemented.
For more information about the online reading list service see:
The main aims of the project were:
- To carry out technical enhancements of the service
- To create online versions of Department of History undergraduate core course reading lists and carry out an evaluation with students from the department.
The evaluation of the service (not yet completed) will gather important feedback from end users regarding the new technical enhancements, which will help the Library ensure further developments are driven by end user needs. The process of creating the online lists and feedback from academic staff tested the workflows in place for the management and creation of online lists and provided an opportunity for detailed discussion regarding how the creation of online reading lists (and the time needed for this) fits into the academic calendar.
The first phase of the project was to carry out technical enhancements. The major task being to enable the SFX linking software and to carry out rigorous testing of the service before the reading lists were made available to students.
The SFX linking software gives direct access from a reference, in a database or catalogue, to the full text of an electronic journal article. It can also provide other context-sensitive links to relevant electronic resources, such as a search of another library catalogue. For more information on the service see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/sfx.shtml. The reading list system is essentially a "database" and was built with to be compliant with SFX-type software.
Implementing the software involved amending the reading list system code to enable the SFX linking tool to work. Considerable time was spent testing that links to e-journals and other web-based resources worked correctly, both on and off campus. To achieve this, test (or mirror) versions of the reading list were created to avoid disruption to the actual service. Among the problems encountered at this stage were discrepancies in the information stored in the SFX database and our actual journal subscriptions (e.g. incorrect date ranges) and newly acquired titles not being SFX enabled.
Now appearing alongside each citation in an online readnig list, the SFX button provides direct access to available full-text, where journals are cited; a direct link to a website or web-based resource, where these have been cited by the reading list author; direct access to any digital version of a course reading, where these are available; or a menu with options to search other library catalogues, including the Senate House Library catalogue.
Some progress on enabling academics access to the online reading lists has been made. However, the process has been more complicated than initially anticipated and work to complete this function is still underway. Further work will be carried out during summer 2006.
Creation of online reading lists for the UCL Department of History
To enable the Library to test the technical enhancements with end users and gain more feedback to help develop the service, the project undertook to create online versions of seven undergraduate reading lists. These lists support the core courses - HISTOA01: From the Ancient Near East to the 21st Century and HISTOA02: Concepts, Categories and the Practice of History - which are taken by all first year students. This aspect of the project, unfortunately, did not proceed as smoothly as anticipated. A number of issues relating to the availability of final versions of lists and recruitment of project staff to work on these lists (these issues are expanded on below, see .Project Findings.) caused a considerable delay in the lists being made available to students. The lists were made available to students during Term 2.
Delivery of digital course readings via the online reading lists
The online reading lists provide a ideal platform for the delivery of all course reading materials. The implementation of the SFX linking software greatly enhanced access to the digital collections to which UCL Library Services subscribes (e.g. e-journals). The project also considered how this technical enhancement might enable the delivery of digital versions of printed course readings. During the testing of the SFX linking, considerable time was spent on refining the links to digital versions (essentially PDF files) that had been created within the Teaching & Learning Support Service (TLSS).
Digitisation of course readings has been slow to develop due to the often prohibitive permission charges levied by publishers. The Copyright Licensing Agency spent several years negotiating an extension of the existing Higher Education Blanket Photocopying Licence to include digitisation. In anticipation of this licence becoming available, the project undertook to assess what percentage of the reading materials recommended for the courses mentioned above it would be possible to digitise, and how paper and digital readings could best be integrated to create a hybrid course support service. The sudden availablility of the blanket Licence in September 2006 removed the need to pay any permission fees for UK published mateiral and, more significantly, has allowed the TLSS to develop a course reading service that has already expanded beyond the scope of this project. The data collected during this project has been essential to the planning and development of the new Course Reading Services (for further information on this service see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/readings.shtml).
Evaluation the online reading list service
The evaluation of the online reading list service has been postponed until November 2006. This will allow the new intake of History undergraduates to use the service before the the online survey is launched in November. The survey will remain open for two weeks and all History undergraduate students will be invited to take part by email. The online survey will be followed by a focus group in early December. This will give an opportunity to discuss in more detail with the students any issues highlighted by the online survey. A detailed report and analysis of the feedback will be available here in December 2006 once the survey has been completed.
The online survey form has been planned and is available to view here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/tlsurvey2005.shtml
Please note that the survey is not currently active. Once it is made live students will submit their form electronically. All students participating in the survey will be invited to enter a prize draw to win book tokens.
As with the previous project, a great deal of useful information regarding the practical process of creating lists within the online service was produced. The issues highlighted are similar to those of the previous project, the most significant are:
-- The timing of requests to academic staff for reading lists
-- Ensuring staff resources are available to coincide with academics providing their final versions of reading lists
-- Duplication of work in instances where departments maintain reading lists on a departmental website
-- Time required for updating and checking lists
These findings have already had an impact on TLSS service developments, in particular the new Course Reading Service (launched in March 2006). This service will be underpinned by the online reading lists so the feedback gathered has been vital in determining deadlines and planning resources for this service.
The opportunity to consult in more detail with staff regarding their requirements of the service has been invaluable. The timing for submitting new and updated lists to be added to the service was raised by SLAIS staff. This was discussed at some length with History department staff during the planning of the project. The History department already have an established mechanism for making copies of course readings lists available to students online (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/history/students/currentcourses.htm). The lists available here are simply MS Word documents posted onto a website; they do not have any of the dynamic functions of the online reading list service. However, the speed with which these documents can be posted on the Web means that departmental teaching staff only have to submit lists a few days before teaching to ensure they will be available. The work involved in creating a reading list within the online system is considerably more (staff typically input citations at a rate of 20 per hour) and so requires lists to be available some time in advance of teaching.
The project has demonstrated very clearly that the Library needs to ensure adequate staffing resources are available to work on lists at crucial times and that deadlines remain realistic, but also that there needs to be flexibility amongst academic staff. If students are to benefit from the enhanced service available, cooperation and forward planning are required on both sides to ensure that reading lists are available in advance of teaching. As part of the Course Reading Service the TLSS have now implemented a 6 week deadline for reading list submissions.
In terms of resource needs, one of the very beneficial "side-effects" of the difficulties encountered in creating the History reading lists on time has been the creation of a part-time post to work solely on reading list creation.
- Enabling academic staff access to individual lists is essential to the service. Work to complete this has been timetabled for Summer 2006.
- Further consultation with academic staff is desirable to resolve issues relating reading lists available on course or departmental websites.
- The TLSS need to keep under review the current reading list service in light of the project findings, in particular the timing for the collection of reading lists and communication with academic staff.
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Last modified 10 April 2006