Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Should Universities Monitor Students' Time in the Stacks?

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Should Universities Monitor Students' Time in the Stacks?

Article excerpt

Jack Grove asks whether links between library visits and higher grades should prompt data collection

Admitting he was "not a regular attender of libraries" while at university, the Duke of Cambridge's recent comments about his student days will have struck a chord with many undergraduates.

For every bookworm holed up in the university library until closing time, there are doubtless many more like Prince William - who made his revelation to students during a visit to Magdalen College, Oxford in May - who are only occasional visitors to the hushed aisles of the campus library. Some even claim to have hardly stepped foot inside the library during their studies, choosing instead to access e-books and other online study materials.

But the days of students steering clear of the library may be numbered, with a growing number of universities tracking how often students make a visit, withdraw a book or use online resources.

While some academics might view this monitoring of students' whereabouts as intrusive, new evidence suggests that encouraging library use in this way leads to lower dropout rates and better grades.

According to a new study of the University of Wollongong's use of library data in its learning analytics programme, there is a "positive and persistent correlation in student use of library information resources and improved academic performance outcomes as evidenced in their grades".

That clear link between time spent in the library and degree classifications led Wollongong teaching staff to ask for information on real-time library usage by students. Coupled with attendance data, it allowed them to see how well students were engaging with their studies, says the report, What Role for Libraries in Learning Analytics?, written by Margie Jantti, the university's director of library services, and Jennifer Heath, director of student support and education analytics, and published last month in the journal Performance Measurements and Metrics.

While several UK universities use swipe card information from library entrances as part of student engagement measures, the prospect of institutions monitoring the hours spent in the library remains some way off.

Excessive monitoring for library use may do little to increase the time students devote to private study, said Ed Foster, student engagement manager at Nottingham Trent University, whose acclaimed learning analytics system tracks library resource use, door swipes and access of the virtual learning environment (VLE) to give staff and students an overall "engagement score". …

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