Skip to Content

Promoting the Internet to Staff at a UK University

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend to friendSend to friend

Paul Hollands is the human part of a project to promote the use of Internet based information services among teaching and research staff at the university; in his own words, this is how the project has progressed to date.

I, along with the team of stakeholders whom I report to, have been running this project for ten months now, and we have reached a point where it would be useful to sit back and reflect on what we have achieved thus far and where we go from here.

One of the most important aspects of the job in this first year has been to determine the levels of Internet service use among University staff. Therefore, the first task I had was to survey levels of use of Internet based information sources.

I have had several inquiries about how the post is developing here at Loughborough from people trying to set up similar roles within other academic institutions. Therefore I thought that it might be helpful to share the requirements we discovered with you and to explain how we have attempted to meet those needs.

First though a brief explanation of the projects aims:

The post is intended as a 'pump priming' exercise to raise the profile of Internet use for information access, and also to determine the future focus of training in the use of the Internet as an information resource.

This is a joint project managed by the Library, Computing Services, and the Department of Information and Library Studies.

The aims of the Internet Information Officer project are as follows:

1. Promotion of information services

Every member of staff at the University involved in teaching and research has access to a desktop computer connected to the campus network and hence to the networked resources available via JANET.

These services offer access to a wealth of information available to each member of staff from their desk.

The purpose of the post is to raise awareness of the availability of these services among academic staff and to encourage effective use of them.

2. Training to raise awareness and increase levels of effective use

Training is inextricably tied up with the promotion of services. Even though it is understood that use of Internet services is reasonably intuitive and that most people with some level of computer literacy can teach themselves the basics, training and support are needed to ensure that they progress and become effective users.

Due to their nature, Internet services can be very frustrating to use. This means that unless promotion is coupled with training and support, new users tend to reach a certain level of skill, come up against the usual inherent problems (access speed, difficulty of searching) and become disheartened. If the initial experience of new users is negative then it is very much more difficult to revive interest later on.

3. Authoring training materials for the Information Gateway

The Web provides an ideal medium for dissemination of information and training materials to support the training programme. The aim is to produce a body of such materials on the Information Gateway.

 

As I have already stated, the first task undertaken was a survey of Internet service use among teaching and research staff within the University.

I produced a paper based questionnaire which was distributed to 1117 members of University staff. We decided on a paper based form rather than an electronic means of collecting the information as this would have excluded those with little or no experience of using electronic media and we needed responses from these people too.

One of the main purposes of the survey, was to test the assumption that there is a large contingent of University staff who are interested in, and even enthusiastic about, Internet based services but who lack the skills and background knowledge to become effective users.

574 responses were received. This represented 51% of those surveyed. An excellent response rate for this type of survey.

The aims were:

 

  1. To determine the groups to be targeted for training.
  2. To identify their training needs.
  3. To identify departments / sectors of the University which are infrequent users of Internet resources.

The results may be summarized as follows:

1. The Internet Information Officer Target Group

The target group of the project comprises those that have an interest in the Internet services available to them but who also have limited familiarity or experience.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (76%) have positive feelings about the services, but only half of these are effective users.

2. Training requirements

Services such as email and the Information Gateway seem to be heavily used by most respondents.

Services like Email Discussion Lists, Usenet News and Subject Guides have low levels of familiarity and use at present

It was also very clear that the majority of respondents had difficulty searching for and retrieving relevant information from Internet resources. This was clearly an area where training should be targeted.

3. Deficit Departments / Sectors

Departments with below average levels of use were determined along with those in our target group ie., the majority of respondents had positive feelings about services but levels of use were low.

A fuller report detailing all the survey results is available on the Web [1] .

In addition to the survey I have been visiting departments and collecting information about the general levels of use and training requirements in each.

 

Responding to user requirements - The Internet & Information Training Stream

Prior to my arrival at Loughborough University members of the Library and Computing Services had been running a stream of courses for University staff entitled Internet & Information. This covered electronic information sources such as CD-ROM databases and online services like BIDS and OCLC FirstSearch as well as Internet based services.

Many of these courses were also run under the umbrella of the University Staff Development programme [2] .

As a result of the Internet and Information Survey we were able to focus our efforts even more closely to staff requirements and this year we have increased the number of courses in this stream by a third [3] . At the same time (though unrelated to the survey) it was decided that the entire stream of courses should be run under the Staff Development umbrella and this has meant the development of a very close working relationship between these three elements of the University.

We have been able to extend the range of courses to target individual requirements specifically.

For example, we noted during courses about the Web and departmental visits that questions about managing Netscape bookmarks cropped up regularly. We have been able to respond to this by running one hour lunch time courses about bookmarks. To supplement this [4] and other courses I have also developed Web based training materials [5] .

These materials allow people to refresh their memories after the course and practice what they have been taught, both during hands on sessions and after the course has finished. Also, we can include further information in the materials which we might not have time to cover during the course and to point people to other web based resources and examples via hypertext links.

They have proven extremely popular and are especially useful to staff who are unable to attend the course itself but are interested in the topic. They are intended as a supplement to the courses and not a substitute however.

Wherever possible I have tried to link to existing materials (e.g. TONIC [6] and Sink or Swim [7] ) rather than develop my own and duplicate work. Duplication of effort is one of the banes of the Web. I have always attempted to make it clear where the material comes from if I do link to sections of other people's work.

In addition to course materials I have also developed documentation about Usenet News [8] and Email Discussion lists [9] as the survey indicated relatively low levels of awareness for these services. We have also given these services a special focus in the Internet & Information Stream.

A list of the courses in the Internet and Information stream [10] is available on the LU Information Gateway.

As a part of an ongoing effort to decentralize responsibility for maintenance of areas of the Information Gateway [11] the library has taken over responsibility for the Information Sources [12] cluster of pages.

These pages have been revamped over the Summer in response to requirements highlighted by the survey. Again use has been made of existing web based sources such as Ross Tyner's Sink or Swim (we are now a UK mirror of this site.)

In addition to all of this I have been ideally placed to be able to produce 'bespoke' courses for individual departments [13] . These have proven popular precisely because we are able to use key resources in areas of special interest as examples, and to introduce staff to key sources they might not be aware of.

 

Plans for year 2

We are hoping to receive confirmation soon that we have funding until February 1998. This second year would mean we could complete our plans for several projects we have run out of time for in year one.

We can finish our programme of bespoke courses for individual departments, which is crucial. We also have plans to run Internet Clinics for members of staff on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and we can continue to develop and improve the courses and materials for the Internet & Information stream.

We are also in the early stages of implementing a service which would allow campus wide sharing of bookmarks and references to useful Internet Information sources using local Usenet Newsgroups. Heavily used web documents could also be archived on the news server for easy access by being posted as attachments using Netscape's Mail Document... function. They would then appear as full blown hypertext documents in the Netscape News window.

This would be done as part of a larger 'limited access local newsgroup' programme being implemented by Computing Services.

We intend to pilot this service in individual departments initially, but it could then easily be scaled up to a faculty level.

In summary then, we have tried to ensure that every activity we have undertaken or plan to undertake is in response to a specific requirement expressed by staff within the University. This has ensured that what we have done thus far has been successful and that we have had positive responses from members of University staff. We appreciate how valuable and scarce time is to them in the present climate and we have tried to respond accordingly.

 

Further information about the Internet Information Officer project [14] is available on the LU Information Gateway.

References

[1] Fuller version of the report this article summarises,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/report/

[2] University Staff Development Programme,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/service/std /

[3] Staff development workshop details,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/service/std/WORKSHOPS/I&I.html

[4] Details of course on bookmarks,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/bmcourse.htm

[5] Web based course training materials,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/#training

[6] TONIC training course (produced by Netskills),
http://www.netskills.ac.uk/TONIC/

[7] Ross Tyners "Sink or Swim",
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/sink.htm

[8] Usenet News documentation
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/news.htm

[9] Email discussion list documentation,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/email_lists.htm

[10] Courses in the Internet and Information stream,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/service/std/WORKSHOPS/I&I.html

[11] Loughborough Information Gateway,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/

[12] Loughborough Information Sources Web pages,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/

[13] Information on courses for individual departments,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/#depts

[14] Internet Information Officer Project information,
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/info/training/

Author Details

Paul Hollands is the Internet Information Officer at the University of Loughborough
Email: p.j.hollands@lboro.ac.uk

Date published: 
19 January 1997

This article has been published under copyright; please see our access terms and copyright guidance regarding use of content from this article. See also our explanations of how to cite Ariadne articles for examples of bibliographic format.

How to cite this article

Paul Hollands. "Promoting the Internet to Staff at a UK University". January 1997, Ariadne Issue 7 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue7/loughborough/


article | about seo