Meredith, W., & Mussell, J. (2014). Amazed, appreciative, or ambivalent? Student and faculty perceptions of librarians embedded in online courses. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 19(2), 89-112. doi:10.1080/10875301.2014.917756
The authors of this article conducted a survey to determine the effectiveness of a librarian embedding program at Royal Roads University, an institution that offers undergraduate and graduate courses in a cohort model that blends distance learning with on-campus residencies. The researchers conducted a survey of students and faculty who participated in courses with an embedded librarian to see if they perceived an improvement in their research techniques.
The librarian embedding program at RRU is primarily used for research intensive courses for a period of five days during which the embedded academic librarian posts to the class discussion page, provides links to resources, and answers students’ questions. These five days were typically scheduled during the literature review portion of each course.
Students at RRU attend an on-campus residency at the beginning of their degree granting programs that includes a mandatory 90-minute library instruction session, and in 2011, the academic librarians began embedding in online courses for five days of the course, posting information on different research strategies every day and participating in an “ask a librarian” discussion forum on the Moodle learning management system. The librarians saved their posts in a communal folder, so that other librarians could repurpose them as needed.
The researchers posted the link to their online survey in the discussion forum after the completion of the five embedded days. The survey used with students included four demographic questions and seven questions about the information literacy instruction. The faculty survey included three demographic questions and nine questions about whether the embedding program met their expectations.
The response rate among students was low—only 12%—so the researchers acknowledged that it was not statistically significant, but nevertheless they used it to give them some insight into whether or not the program was helping students improve their research skills. 93% of students who responded said that having the embedded librarian improved their ability to research. In particular, students noted that the librarians helped them review and learn new search strategies that they could use right away and gave them the opportunity to learn deeper search strategies that they might not have sought out on their own.
The researchers also analyzed the percentage of students who accessed the online “ask a librarian” discussion forum and found that in most of the courses more than 50% of students accessed the forum during the days that the librarian was available.
Of the faculty who taught the courses with embedded librarians, 42% (five faculty members) participated in the online survey. All answered that the librarians had met their expectations, and their comments particularly focused on how the librarians had helped increase student involvement and made themselves approachable to students. Four out of five respondents rated the librarians’ involvement “essential” while one rated it “helpful”. All the faculty respondents said that they would invite a librarian to participate in their courses again. The only negative comment they received was about the timing of the librarian’s participation. They wanted the librarian to assist in the course for up to ten days instead of the current five.
On the whole, the survey results were overwhelmingly positive, but the researchers were careful to acknowledge that, with such a small percentage of student respondents, their data “cannot be generalized to all online students,” but they hoped it would help make the case for the value of embedding librarians to administrators and would give other academic libraries encouragement in establishing similar programs.
I thought that the researchers were deliberate in acknowledging the limitations of their survey results and thoughtful in interpreting the data they collected.