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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Why Study Users? An Environmental Scan of Use and Users of Digital Resources in Humanities and Social Sciences Undergraduate Education


This paper presents an overview of a two-year study funded by the Andrew W. Mellon and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundations that (1) mapped the universe of digital resources available to undergraduate educators in the humanities and social sciences (H/SS) and (2) examined how a better understanding of the variation in use and users can benefit the integration of these resources into undergraduate teaching. In order to address questions around user demand and resource sustainability, we used a variety of methodologies that included an extensive literature review; discussions with and surveys of faculty from different disciplines and institutions; and discussions and interviews with site owners, use researchers, librarians, and educational technology professionals. Our results suggest that faculty use a vast array of online materials from both educational and "non-educational" sources, including their own personal collections and the ubiquitous Google-type search. Individual characteristics, including disciplinary and institutional affiliation, affected patterns of use. Many faculty, however, do not use digital resources for a host of reasons including the lack of direct relevance to their preferred pedagogical approaches and insufficient time and classroom resources. Our discussions with digital resource providers confirmed that resources created by higher education institutions will continue to proliferate despite a lack of formal knowledge about users and/or clear models for financial sustainability. A more precise understanding of the diversity of use and user behavior, and the ability to share findings from user studies, will demand that the digital resource development community make typologies, standards of data and data collection, and results more transparent.

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