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Academic library as a learning environment: how do students perceive it?

Palmira Juceviciene & Gintare Tautkeviciene
Kaunas University of Technology

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Hamburg, 17-20 September 2003

A contemporary approach to learning claims that learning takes place not only in classroom settings, but wherever learners have an access to information sources or means and use them for solving problems or constructing a new meaning (Barr, R.B., Tagg, J., 1995; Wilson B.G., 1996; Novak J.D.&Gowin D.B., 1984; Longworth, N., 1999; Jonassen, D.H., Land, S. M., 2000). Learning can occur outside the formal institution: in a workplace, family, museums, libraries, clubs and via mass media.

An academic library plays a significant role in the context of this new learning paradigm. According to this new understanding of learning, a university library as a subsystem of university organization has not been a division only providing services for studies and research any longer. Instead, it has become an important unit of university's information infrastructure and an active participant in the learning process of the particular study programme. Together with the university departments and teaching staff, the academic library strives to realize the study aims. The library becomes one of the potential learning environments that function at the university. It is characterized by the abundance of information sources.

However, the richness of information does not ensure the development of learning environment. Within the library space an individual has to identify an environment that helps to achieve learning goals he/she has set. Striving to find rich and empowering learning environments in the library, the educational environment has to be created in the library. The latter should meet the needs of academic study programmes, have the potential to be transformed into multifunctional learning environments as well as define the aims for developing participants' information and metalearning competence (Juceviciene, P., Tautkeviciene, G., 2002). Thus, the aims and content of academic curriculum operate in the educational environment of academic library. It means that an academic library is influenced by the content of this curriculum. The educational environment of academic library is characterized by the academic specificity (Juceviciene, P., Tautkeviciene, G., 2002):

  • It is an integral part of university's educational system;

  • It has to interact with all the educational environments of academic study programmes;

  • Its regular clients (students, teachers, researchers, administration staff) interact with each other;

  • The selectivity of academic library learning environments depends on the type of clients and the educational environment of study programme (it is important for students in particular).

The modern information and communication technologies (ICT) help the library to become not only the traditionally perceived learning environment as a physical space, but also the virtual learning environment. The possibilities of such a virtual learning environment expand the flexibility of learning environment, because it allows choosing where and when to study. The abundance of information sources and the provision with ICT are the conditions for creating the library's educational environment and, respectively, its learning environments.

The academic library learning environment is an individualised learning space and it is comprised of the library educational environment that is identified by an individual learner according to his/her experience, competence and personal learning goals. The physical and virtual library's learning environment contains the information related to learner's goal(s), the ways information is being received and perceived, the subjects (peers, librarians, etc.) and tools (Juceviciene, P., Tautkeviciene, G. 2002). Therefore, every learner identifies a learning environment of the academic library in a different way. The perception of a library as a learning environment depends at least on two factors: the educational environment that is being created by the library in accordance with study programs' educational environment and student competence which enables him/her to recognize and use learning environment, created by the library.

The transformed environment of an academic library and its roles in organizing the study process has been analysed by a number of researchers. Some authors (Hernon, R., Altman, E.; 1995 Bakewell, K.G., 1997) dedicated their efforts for analysing changes in academic libraries and the quality of services they provide. Others investigate the development of students' information culture at universities and academic libraries, the problems of developing information competence (Van Vuren, A.J., Henning J.C., 1998; Abbott, W., Peach, D., 1999; Simons, K., Young, J, Gibson, C., 2000; Rader, H.B., 1999, Kuhlthau, C.C., 1993; Candy, P, Bruce, 2000). Despite the considerable attention to the education of information literacy in the institutions and at the workplace, the research works mentioned above indicate that students lack the competence of using the created educational environment in a modern library.

Then the question arises: what educational impact is necessary for developing students' understanding of and attitudes towards the educational environment of academic library which is or, at least, should be, the component of educational environment of university organization and academic curriculum?

The search for the answer led us to the case study at the Institute of Educational Studies at Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) in Master's degree program in Educational Studies. The research aimed to reveal how students perceive library's learning environment and in what ways this understanding has been changed after the short but targeted educational impact. The changes in students' perception of library as a learning environment were explored by comparing the concept maps drawn before and after the educational impact.

The article consists of three parts: the methodology, the research design and the analysis of results. The methodological part deals with the validity of concept mapping technique for investigating learners' understanding as well as its changes after the educational impact. The second part introduces the research design and its process. The research results are presented and analysed in the third part.

1. Research Methodology

Concept maps

According to constructivist approach, learning is not perceived as a simple memorization of facts and concepts, instead, it is considered to be an assimilation of new information into individual's existing knowledge structure. Each learner has a different competence and experience, so their present knowledge differs a great deal. Ausubel, (1968) who articulated the theory of meaningful learning, asserts that learning occurs through incorporating new concepts into the existing knowledge structure. According to this theory, Novak&Gowin (1984) proposed a new teaching, learning and evaluation technique called concept mapping. When drawing concept maps, learners use cross links and connect one concept to another one and in that way visualize their understanding about particular object or event in a diagram form (Novak & Gowin, 1984).

Concept map is a general research method similar to interviewing or surveys. Concept maps can register and express everything that is submitted in a written form or orally. It is always possible to transform a text into concept maps and vice versa. While using common research and evaluation methods such as open and closed questionnaires, the researcher applies targeted questions and finds out the specific domain of the respondent's knowledge. The answers received hardly reveal a holistic picture about the way respondent understands a phenomenon in question and the way his/her knowledge is organized into the structure. Meanwhile, concept maps reveal the human understanding on events and phenomena as well as respondent's knowledge structure. In the concept map a person arranges the knowledge in the order he/she perceives them. The visual representation of one's own understanding shows how learner relates concepts in a certain knowledge domain, what is still unknown to him/her or what is understood improperly. Therefore, concept maps are an excellent diagnostic tool that helps to identify learner's knowledge and the conceptual changes in his/her understanding over the period of time (Novak&Gowin, 1984; Marchand et al, 2002, West at al, 2002).

Novak and Gowin (1984), Trochim, W. justify the concept mapping from the viewpoints of psychology and philosophy of science. Many researchers (West et al., 2002; Marchand et al, 2002) claim that concept mapping in research provide more information on students' knowledge and its inner relationship than the traditional evaluation methods. So, the concept maps are the main research tools in the research that follows.

Analysis of concept maps

The analysis of concept maps was based on qualitative and quantitative research methods. While evaluating students' knowledge in a particular knowledge domain before and after the educational impact, the analysis of these parameters was carried out:

- the quantity of cognitive propositions (based on Marchand et al., 2002);

- the structural analysis of concept maps. The latter analysis was adapted according to the instructions made by Novak&Gowin (1994). Their methods were used by a number of researchers (McClure, Sonak, Suen, 1999; Marchand, D'Ivernois, Assal, Slama, Hivon, 2002; West, Park, Pomeroy, Sandoval, 2002).

1 picture. Scoring criteria for concept maps.

First, the quantity of propositions, hierarchical levels, cross-links and examples is calculated. Then the number is multiplied by the correspondent score indicated in picture 1. The values are added together to get a total score of a concept map. The total scores of concept maps before and after the educational impact are compared.

The structural evaluation of concept maps indicates the qualitative changes in students' knowledge. However, they do not reveal the content of these changes. The latter are disclosed by using qualitative research methods, namely content analysis. The analysis of concepts that illustrate the main elements of academic library as a learning environment was carried out. We investigated what concepts were included and what concepts were missed in the concept maps before and after the educational impact.

The main concepts of academic library as a learning environment were identified by means of research literature analysis and according to the definition of academic library as a learning environment (Jucevicienė, Tautkeviciene, 2002). This definition served as a basis for extracting the main categories and subcategories as well as for selecting the level of coding. While making a content analysis, the existence or missing of different concepts was chosen for identification. Before starting analysing we decided to classify the concepts with the same meaning into one category or subcategory despite the different wording that was used to describe these concepts.

The concepts discerned were presented to the experts who supplemented them, corrected and submitted the explanations of their meanings. According to the meanings of the main concepts the identical and similar concepts were identified. The following concepts were discerned: users, information, place/space, equipment and technologies, activities (teaching, learning, communication, and collaboration).

2. Research design

Research question: Does the minor (small scale) educational intervention, i.e. a several hour the presentation of library and its activity, change the students' understanding about the library as a learning environment, and in what ways does this change occur?

Sampling

The research was carried out at Kaunas University of Technology, the Faculty of Social Sciences. The research sample is targeted.

Three groups of students were involved:

The first group was made of 20 students who study for Master's degree in Educational Studies. The average age in this group is 26,7 (the youngest person is 22 years old; the oldest one is 43 years old). There were 18 women and 2 men. Most of the respondents received their Bachelor's degree several years ago and have been working as teachers in preschool, general education and vocational education institutions in Kaunas city or Kaunas region. Many of them obtained a pedagogical qualification during the Bachelor level studies. At the start of the research their skills to use information technologies, Internet, e-resources were scarce and their knowledge of foreign language was good and average.

The second group was formed by 9 students from the Master's level in Educational Technologies. Most of them work as teachers in Informatics. The age average is 26.6 (the youngest person is 23 years old; the oldest one is 29 years old). Seven women and two men had no pedagogical education background. They were very skilled at using information technologies and Internet. Their knowledge of foreign language was good and satisfactory.

The research on the first and second group was conducted during the module "Learning in knowledge and information society". The students were introduced to the new teaching and learning methods and technologies, including concept mapping for teaching, learning and evaluation.

The third group students studied in Master's level programme in Social Education. Most of them work as teachers and social teachers in small towns of different Lithuanian regions. The age average is 34.3 (the youngest person is 26 years old, the oldest - 45 years old). There were 14 women and 1 man in this group. The research was carried out during their research work. The module aimed at searching for the information and making the analysis of research literature necessary for student's final Master's degree thesis. Most of the students had no pedagogical education; they were not skilled at using computers, information technologies and Internet. Their knowledge in foreign language was very poor. Most of them did not have a possibility to use computer or Internet at workplace and at home.

44 students in total participated in this research: 39 women and 5 men. Their age average is 30 years. During the module all the students were introduced to the concept mapping technique.

The Educational Environment of the Library at Kaunas University of Technology

The Library of Kaunas University of Technology is one of the largest in Lithuania; it stores and regularly replenishes one of the richest collections of books and periodicals on science, engineering and technologies in Lithuanian and foreign languages; it provides access to e-resources. The library has about 2 million volumes in stock and the annual acquisitions make about 15 - 17 thousand of new items. This academic library provides services to 21 thousand of clients who borrow over 1 million volumes a year. It employs 75 people. Services to users are provided in seven lending departments, ten reading-rooms (with 500 workplaces), and three computer centres.

The mission of the Library is to satisfy the information users' needs in a variety of ways. This user-centred approach encompasses all the main functions of the Library: acquisition, cataloguing, circulation, reference work, information services, education of users. While striving for this mission, the Library sets the following priorities:

The integral library information system ALEPH 500 is accessible in the Library. It is possible to use different types of search, to make hold requests for books and serials in computer catalogue, to define display options for information output, to print, to store retrieved information on disk, to send it by e-mail, to view search history and user's data, to modify, edit, filter and otherwise process the results of search. The Library catalogue and the DB "Publikacijos" (scientific publications by the University staff) are accessible on the Internet through http://ktu.library.lt.

The users' needs for information are satisfied by employing the information sources stored in the Library and on Internet, local and foreign databases that are subscribed according to the research and study areas at the University. The Library subscribes to the following foreign and Lithuanian databases: ISI Web of Science, EBSCO Publishing, Springer LINK, ScienceDirect, Litlex-Internet, Bibliographical database of the Lithuanian periodical publications. The website of the Library contains the information about the possibilities to use online databases and the research on users' needs. The website provides the training for using the databases.

Aiming to improve the access to worldwide information sources and to satisfy the users' needs for information, the computer workplaces for Internet search, individual and group activities were established in the central academic library and the libraries of faculties. The module for educating students' information literacy was prepared in Lithuanian and English languages. It is accessible via Internet. Students can receive individual consultations on the search issues in computer catalogue, databases and Internet.

Research process

At the beginning of the research students were provided with the blank sheets of paper and were asked to draw the concept map on the academic library. It was explained that a concept map should represent their perception on what a university's library is from their personal (as students) point of view, what its mission is, what purpose stimulates students to attend the library, what they find in the library. The students received the only general concept "Academic library'. They had freedom to choose other concepts and links between them. The concepts that define an academic library were not presented in advance, because we wished to avoid the impact influencing the concept mapping process. In such a way students had to rely on their own understanding, the knowledge and experience they had. 30 minutes were devoted to concept mapping activity.

The next stage of the research differed for each group. The first and the second group had 4-6 hours long lectures on library, its mission, the services it provides and the information sources it offers. Students were introduced to the accessible databases in the library, the possibilities of searching information, the main principles for information request. They were trained to make an information search in library catalogue and the subscribed databases.

After the lectures students constructed new concept maps and represented their new understanding about academic library. The research process is shown in 2 picture.

2 picture. The scheme of research in the 1st and 2nd respondent groups.

The third group of students also had theoretical lectures on academic library, the services it provides and the information search. Moreover, they were involved into practical activities that took 4 hours. Students practiced to search for the information in the library catalogue and the subscribed database. During the module studied (5 months period) they had a possibility to get counselling on information search. At the end of the module students had to deliver the course paper for evaluation. In this course paper they evaluated information search and data retrieval ways and tools, made the analysis, description and evaluation of the information sources on the particular topic. Students constructed their concept maps about academic library. The research scheme is presented in picture 3.

3 picture. The scheme of the research in the 3rd group.

3. Results and Discussion

The research results show the changes in concept maps cognitive propositions (2 table) and structural analysis (3 table) in all three respondents' groups under the research. The data was tested by Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. The changes identified are statistically significant and reliable (1 table).1 table

 

Correlation

Sig.

Mean

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

1 group

0,223

0,346

-8,0

-6,14

19

0,000

2 group

0,594

0,092

-7,4

-3,33

8

0,010

3 group

0,446

0,096

-4,1

-3,39

14

0,004

Total 

0,335

0,026

-6,6

-7,47

43

0,000

The analysis of research results revealed that before the educational event the average of concept maps cognitive propositions in separate respondent groups were 12,0; 15,1 and 14,4. After the educational impact (and in the third group after the practical activity) the quantity of cognitive propositions in each respondent group increased by 8; 7,4 and 4,1. So, the students increased their knowledge on university library.

According to the structural analysis of students' concept maps before the educational event, the score average for each group is respectively 41,0; 58,3 and 54,9. After the educational event the score average increased by 36,0; 30,2 and 14,8. Thus, the understanding about academic library, its mission, the services provided, the information sources, technical-technological tools for retrieving information and learning means has increased.

Having evaluated the changes in score sums of structural analysis and changes in cognitive propositions quantities, the scale of changes in the first and the second group is similar (8,0 and 7,4; 36,0 and 30,2), while the changes in the third group are smaller (4,1 and 14,8). The age difference between respondents in separate groups could influence the differences in change scales: the age average in the first and the second group are 27,6 and 26,6 years, while the age average in the third group is 34,3 years. So, the assumption could be made that the elder persons not so easily accept the innovations related to information technologies, electronic information, and the changes of traditional learning methods. Moreover, the electronic information on Internet and the databases is presented in foreign language. So, the foreign language knowledge is necessary, that is why the third group misses the opportunity to use the services of virtual library. It means that the library's educational environment, which is identified by the third group, has fewer elements.

The changes of cognitive propositions in concept maps before and after educational event
2 table

 

1 group

2 group

3 group

All tree groups

Before educational event

After educational event

Before educational event

After educational event

Before educational event

After educational event

Before educational event

After educational event

N

20

20

9

9

15

15

44

44

Mean

11,95

19,95

15,11

22,56

14,40

18,47

13,43

19,98

SE

0,60

1,30

0,93

2,66

1,19

1,09

0,55

0,89

Me

12

19

14

24

14

18

13

19

Mo

14

17

18

12

10

24

12

15

SD

2,68

5,81

2,80

7,99

4,60

4,22

3,67

5,90

Min.

7

12

12

12

7

12

7

12

Max.

18

33

18

33

25

24

25

33

Structural analysis of concept maps before and after educational event
3 table

 

1 group

2 group

3 group

All tree groups

Before educational event

After educational event

Before educational event

After educational event

Before educational event

After educational event

Before educational event

After educational event

N

20

20

9

9

15

15

44

44

Mean

41,00

77,00

58,33

88,56

54,93

69,73

49,30

76,89

SE

3,56

6,14

7,39

10,37

5,67

7,81

3,09

4,42

Me

35,5

77,5

57,0

98,0

51,0

70,0

45,0

78,5

Mo

28

21

24

98

27

27

27

57

SD

15,94

27,48

22,16

31,11

21,96

30,24

20,51

29,29

Min.

23

21

24

43

27

27

23

21

Max.

73

126

96

141

94

128

96

141

The results obviously show the quantitative changes in students' understanding about the library. The qualitative changes in students' understanding and the new knowledge they gained and incorporated into their existing knowledge structure were analysed by employing the content analysis method.

The qualitative analysis of concepts

The analysis of students' concept maps and the concepts they used for describing an academic library revealed how their understanding about an academic library had developed. Moreover, results pointed out to the impact of education about the library, its activity, information sources (especially electronic sources), the search for information, etc.

The qualitative analysis of concepts was carried out in 5 categories: place or space (physical and virtual), actors in the library (students, teachers, librarians, other visitors), information sources (printed, electronic), activities (information search, work with computer, communication/collaboration, learning/studying), equipment and technologies (computers, coping machine, Internet).

3 Picture. The main elements of learning environment analysis

Each category is presented in detail:

The qualitative analysis of concepts related to the category of participants in academic library's learning environment
2 table

Category

Subcategory

Examples of concepts

Before educational event

After educational event

Participants of learning environment

Teachers

Teachers teach, teachers work

24

33

Students

Study, students learn

32

35

Others

Other persons, users, deans, vice-deans, researchers, technical staff, administration staff, society

12

25

Librarians

Service staff, library staff, personnel, library employees, consultants

10

35

 

78

128

Under the impact of educational event the student understanding about the subjects in the library environment has changed. A bigger number of students have acknowledged that the library is not only the information storage place. Instead, they perceived that the main elements were people: teachers, librarians, students and other persons. Thus, after the educational impact the academic library is perceived as a human then technical space.

The qualitative analysis of concepts related to the category of activities in academic library's learning environment
3 table

Category

Subcategory

Examples of concepts

Before educational event

After educational event

Activities

Work with computer

Use computers

21

25

Information search and retrieval

Search on Internet, search for websites, information search, document search, information retrieval

3

15

Learning and studying

Prepare course papers, term papers, self-directed studies, preparing handouts, preparing for lectures, doing homework, learning, to learn, prepare for exams.

29

34

Communication/ collaboration

Communicate with other students, teachers; round table, chat on Internet, spend free time.

10

19

 

63

93

After the educational impact the students gained an understanding that the academic library is suitable not only for borrowing a necessary book or reading a newspaper, but it is open for working, communicating and collaborating with other people. Although the quantity of "learning" and "studying" concepts has hardly increased, the propositions they formed differed considerably. The analysis unfolds that before the educational event students tend to relate "teaching" and "learning" to teachers or university. After the educational event a bigger number of students attributed "communication", "collaboration", "support" and "learning" to the library environment.

The qualitative analysis of concepts related to the category of information sources in academic library's learning environment
4 table

Category

Subcategory

Examples of concepts

Before educational event

After educational event

Information sources

Electronic information sources

Internet, e-mail, databases, computer material, computer information, e-information, e-journals.

12

93

Printed information sources

Handbooks, teaching material, books, periodicals/magazines, scarce edition, other publications, research publications, fiction, newspapers, information booklets, new information, press, printed documents, daily news, articles, poetry

79

110

 

93

203

The analysis suggests that after the educational event the concept of information sources became double what it was. In the earlier concept maps the following information sources were mentioned: a book (30), a handbook (11), and press (11). The databases as information source were mentioned only in 9 concept maps. After the educational event the most frequent concepts appeared: databases (29), foreign databases (18), Lithuanian databases (17), university's databases (13), research literature (15) and periodicals (19).

The qualitative analysis of concepts related to the category of place or space in academic library's learning environment
5 table

Category

Subcategory

Examples of concepts

Before educational event

After educational event

Place or space

Physical place

Facilities, departments, reading room, computer room/class, lending department, archive, information centre, environment for storage, collegial environment, real environment, learning environment

69

97

Virtual space

Virtual environment, cybernetic space, databases, library website, computer catalogue

10

34

79

131

After the educational impact a bigger number of students understood that the library is not a physical place only, the library services can be accessible from workplaces and at home. This understanding expands the potential of the library as learning environment.

The qualitative analysis of concepts related to the category of equipment and technologies in academic library's learning environment
6 table

Category

Subcategory

Examples of concepts

Before educational event

After educational event

Equipment and technologies 

Computer hardware and software

Computers, computerization

21

22

Technologies

New technologies, information technologies, Internet, Intranet, search system

19

29

Equipment

Audio, video equipment, coping facilities, technical means

4

4

44

53

Students' knowledge on the equipment in the library has changed slightly, their knowledge on information technologies, however, has considerably improved. This could be explained by the fact that in the course of education event the information technologies received a great attention. The students were taught about information technologies and their application for information retrieval, transmission, databases and e-resources. The databases and e-resources were attributed to information sources in this research; they are not identified with the technologies. Therefore, the understanding about technologies is more elaborated than the category implies.

Conclusions:

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 21 October 2003