Assessment 360: Mapping Undergraduates and the Library at the University of Connecticut
Susanna M. Cowan
Undergraduate Education Team Leader University of Connecticut Libraries
CLIR (Council on Library on Information Resources)
From the Executive Summary
In January 2009, two members of the brand-‐new Undergraduate Education Team at the University of Connecticut Libraries attended Nancy Fried Foster’s CLIR-‐sponsored Faculty Research Behavior Workshop at NYU. By the close of that workshop, the outline of an ambitious multi-part study of undergraduates at the University of Connecticut had been drafted; it was formally launched in January 2010 as a four-‐part study called Assessment 360. The study’s intent was to map where undergraduates were in terms of technology use, their academic study habits, and their use of space. With those positions, or coordinates, captured—if only fleetingly—the library could then assess its current position in relation to undergraduates’ habits, needs, and wishes in order to make immediate changes and outline future work.
This obvious finding really brought home the extent to which library staff were rarely in the building when the bulk of the academic work we talk so much about was actually taking place. The other greatest take-‐away from the focus groups was that, beyond the universal cry for more power outlets, students had quite reasonable desires; none of our magic-‐wand questions turned up unexpected or pie-‐ in-‐the-‐sky requests (e.g., tiki lounges or retractable ceilings).
The technology provided great baseline data. Half of our undergraduates said they spent 25-‐ 50% of their time online doing academic work and over a quarter of our students told us 75% of that time online was spent doing such work. Corroborating the 2010 Pew Internet findings that a significant percentage of smartphone owners were not using those phones to access the Web, only 33% of our students were doing so at the time of the study. Although 75% of students that spring were sending texts with their phones, 37% of them said they’d be “extremely unlikely” to send a text to a librarian if they needed help. Although neutral about the idea of library-‐created browser extensions (52% said “maybe” they’d use one), 41% said they’d be “fairly likely” to “extremely likely” to use a chat widget embedded in the university’s courseware.
The richest results came out of the filmed Work-‐Space Monologues, in which we asked students to film spaces they frequented to do academic work while narrating responses to questions about the space (When did they go? Why did they like the space? What would they improve? Etc.). Beyond the more predictable (but useful to confirm) facts—e.g., students find studying in their dorm/bedrooms comfortable—we got some really useful information about how students judge spaces both within and outside the library. Book stacks take up valuable study space, proximity to food is essential, and social interaction is important—although maintaining distinct “social” and “alone” spaces is also important. Students like control over their spaces, and if others are nearby, they still want autonomy within whatever private (or alone-‐in-‐a-‐crowd) space they have carved out.