Higher education as we know it is changing and universities in the UK are in the process of being reshaped. Institutions must now contend with international competition for students, academics and funding streams as well as much greater scrutiny on the value for money they deliver. In turn, students want to ensure that the skills they acquire at university will ensure future employability.
As demands on the modern university continue to evolve, so too are the opportunities for the academic librarian. In this article, we are exploring some of the fundamental shifts as they affect librarians, as well as areas in which VitalSource can provide insight and progression for institutions.
The new multifaceted role of the librarian
Traditionally the role of the librarian has been twofold: as a guide for students accessing the library and as the curators of the materials within them. This fundamental aspect of the role remains unchanged. However, the librarian of today has evolved into one of the most multifaceted jobs on a university campus. From subject matter literary expert to technology consultant, the librarian’s knowledge today can extend far beyond the library itself.
Understanding the needs of the digital native
One of the key things librarians contribute to today’s university is an intimate understanding of the student and what materials they need to learn. Today, as most librarians will know, the intake of universities is almost exclusively made up of ‘digital natives’, students that grew up with technology already part of their lives. In line with this, one of the key differentiators that the digital student of today looks for is an institution that deploys digital technology effectively. The ability to access learning cost-effectively and at their convenience is paramount.
Digital course content such as eTextbooks, play a key role in this respect, providing students and lecturers with interactive textbook tools on their devices 24/7. They cut down on heavy books to lug around and increase availability of key texts in a cost-effective way. eTextbooks also present new potential business models for institutions. Libraries can go beyond the traditional 1:1 model of providing one eTextbook per student, per course to more flexible models like an annual leasing model where students can still access content via a virtual learning environment. Concurrency and subscription models are also supported with eTextbooks.
Contributions to the Teaching Excellence Framework
The far-reaching requirements of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is a highly prominent challenge for any further education institution. Its aim is to help students make the right choice when it comes to the university application process and improve the overall quality of universities by scrutinising performance. In order to do this, one of the areas TEF measures is Learning Gain or ‘distance travelled’ by students. It puts in place a practical methodological measurement of student progress and outcomes, while avoiding losing sight of higher education’s philosophical purpose.
As the TEF becomes more sophisticated and embedded in the culture of universities, the role of the librarian within its framework should expand. If a key part of the TEF is to understand and assess student progress, eTextbooks can provide valuable insight, creating a unique window through which the institution can understand how the student is performing and deliver them a tailored education in response to their needs.
Analytics tools provided by VitalSource for instance, embedded into course material can alert lecturers to low interaction with course materials. Lecturers can also set student quizzes to ascertain what they have understood from the texts and can highlight key sections of importance or leave notes for the student to indicate areas where special attention is required. Librarians will also have access a more macro view engagement dashboard, allowing administrators to see the high level uptake of content.
An expanding role for librarians
The changes taking place within universities are being driven by more scrutiny, international competition and the uptake of digital technology. As opposed to weakening the role of the librarian, these changes will instead both shift and expand it as librarians consult with the teaching and learning teams to best meet the needs of the students they serve. As well as playing a crucial role in the TEF, as the guardians of access to course materials, librarians can deliver essential insights into student engagement, need and well-being. This will help universities achieve their fundamental purpose: delivering their students the best possible education.
With VitalSource Analytics, you can:
Receive data on student engagement, including how long has been spent in a study session and how many pages have been read, in real-time
Take a deeper look at the devices used for study, taking note of the number of annotations made per study session and other key stats
Intervene where necessary and prevent struggling students from slipping through the net
Set short quizzes to test and embed knowledge at suitable points
Highlight key passages for special attention