More Professors Say Undergraduates Need to Hone Research Abilities, Survey Finds

Report: “Ithaka S+R US Faculty Survey”

Authors: Christine Wolff, Alisa B. Rod, and Roger C. Schonfeld; Ms. Wolff and Mr. Schonfeld are at Ithaka S+R, the consulting-and-research arm of the nonprofit group Ithaka, which focuses on technology in academe; Ms. Rod is associate director of the Empirical Reasoning Center at Barnard College

Summary: This latest edition of a survey that is conducted every three years found an uptick in faculty members who believe undergraduate students are arriving at college with inadequate research skills. Many faculty members believe their institution’s library plays a critical role in helping students develop those skills. Scholars increasingly see it as their responsibility to support their undergraduate students, with an emphasis on competencies and learning outcomes.

Now in its sixth cycle, the survey included more than 9,000 scholars in the fall of 2015 at four-year institutions in the United States, and found, among other things, that:

  • Fifty-four percent “strongly agreed” that their undergraduate students have “poor skills related to locating and evaluating scholarly information,” up from 47 percent in 2012.

  • The share of scholars who think libraries help students “develop research, critical-analysis, and information-literacy skills” is up 20 percentage points from 2012.

  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents “strongly agree” they would be OK with journals publishing in electronic-only formats.

  • Scholars prefer tools that allow them to manage and preserve their own data, as opposed to using outside entities. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they organize data on their own computers.

  • About half of faculty members said they either have previously received or are now receiving funding for research from a public or government grant organization.

  • Ninety-one percent of respondents said they had been published in a peer-reviewed journal in the last five years. Forty percent said they had published journal articles that are freely available online.

Bottom Line: Faculty members are more willing than ever to publish their research as free and open access online, and more than half agree they would support journals trading in their traditional print edition for electronic-only editions. When it comes to undergraduate students, the professors are more concerned than ever about students’ inability to conduct research adequately.

Correction (4/4/2016, 5:11 p.m.): This post originally gave an incorrect affiliation for one author of the report. Alisa B. Rod is associate director of the Empirical Reasoning Center at Barnard College. She is not at Ithaka S+R. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.

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