Developing students’ academic skills online: the Library’s ‘Info tips’ by Erika Delbecque

illustration for info tips blogpost

Library Info tips have been a feature of our website since 2009 but how well-known and used are they? Which are the most popular? These bite-sized articles, which are aimed at developing students’ academic and research skills, cover topics that are relevant to all students, such as:

  • Referencing
  • Finding specific types of materials such as statistics, images and maps
  • Using Endnote
  • Accessing and using e-books
  • Using the internet for academic study

The Info tips are advertised by a banner on the Library homepage, and a new tip is published every two weeks. They are often written jointly by Liaison Librarians and Study Advisers, and they usually tie in with specific periods in the academic year. For example,

the Info tips that we published this summer on reading around a subject and keeping records are aimed at students working on their dissertations, and in October, Info tips on using the Library catalogue and understanding reading lists can help new students find their feet.

Through the use of Google Analytics, we have been able to ascertain the popularity of the Info tips.  Each Info tip is visited by hundreds of students. Top of the chart with over 500 views is ‘Study advice for exam success’, which points students towards useful books on exam revision, makes them aware of workshops organised by the Study Advice team, and gives a few helpful tips on how to revise effectively. Two other timely Info tips, ‘Develop your research skills’ and ‘Using the internet for academic study’, complete the top three.

Through our Info tips feature, we are able to encourage students to develop their academic skills by providing targeted information at the time when they most need it. Please help promote them by alerting your students to relevant Info tips. You can sign up for an RSS feed from our Library news blog to get alerted to new Info tips as they are added. In this way, you can help us make the Info tips reach an even wider audience.

Students like live lectures (and online ones as backup) by Rebecca Reynolds

Amy with pots 3
Dr Amy Smith, Ure Museum curator

Every year, students on the first year Analysing Museum Displays optional module have a talk from Dr Amy Smith at the Ure Museum, looking at the display there about the Greek symposium. This year I put the lecture online along with a transcript, photographs of the display, and a worksheet. I told them to use the materials instead of attending the weekly lecture that week.

Eighteen students filled in a questionnaire the following week giving responses to the lecture and saying whether they preferred it online, live or both. Nine students would prefer both, eight would prefer the live lecture only, and one student preferred the online lecture only.

Students liked the interactivity of live lectures, so the lecturer can go off script, students can ask questions and also learn from their peers. Students also preferred being in the actual museum, with four students saying this made the lecture more memorable. Two students said that they paid tuition fees for more than online learning. The main advantage of the online lecture was its usefulness for revision and its controllability.

In other words, what students valued was not the lecture format per se but the fact that they were with a real person in a real learning environment. Affective aspects connected with students’ reason for liking the live lecture could include some less easy to define such as the passion for their discipline shown by the lecturer, the fruitful discoveries and moments of realisation which can occur in a learning environment but which may be unconnected with the main topic of the session, and approaches to the subject shown by other students.

Recommendations are to make lectures as interactive as possible, and use online resources as backup. Tutors might also wish to ask students to listen to online lectures in their own time and save contact time for more interactive sessions – however, this holds practical challenges.

The online resource was developed as part of a JISC-funded digitisation project called OBL4HE (Object-based Learning for Higher Education), a partnership between UoR, University College London and the Collections Trust. The Reading side is based at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL).

The full report is here response to educational resources

Project blog:

Other resources developed as part of the project are available here (scroll to the bottom of the page):

Contact: Rebecca Reynolds –

Reading’s museum collections online by Rebecca Reynolds

Museum ethics, display design and object-based research are some of the areas for which online resources are being developed in a JISC-funded project between the University of Reading, University College London and the Collections Trust.

The project, called Object-Based Learning for Higher Education, prioritises usability and aims to make the resources part of syllabuses. On the Reading side the resources are primarily designed for the new Museum Studies joint honours due to start at Reading in October 2013, based at the Museum of English Rural Life.

human skeleton, Cole Museum

The skeleton in the picture on the left is from the collection at the Cole Museum of Zoology part of a resource on display ethics, looking at how museums make decisions about displaying human and animal remains.

In February 2012 we carried out a small-scale research study into students’ preferences regarding online learning, which found that the most important consideration for students was that online learning resources are relevant to course tasks. The report is here online learning preferences research report.

In addition, as part of the project many collections at the University’s museums are being digitised, adding images of objects and documents to the museums’ online databases.

For more information, visit the project blog at or contact Rebecca Reynolds.