The quality and quantity of research sources appears to impact on dissertation marks.
Julia Sherrington, Academic Liaison Librarian for Art, recently undertook some investigations into the types of sources being used in dissertations within the School of Arts. She looked at the bibliographies in 43 dissertations from the 2017/18 cohort and mapped them against their dissertation mark.
What it showed was that students, gaining a mark of 60 and above, evidenced the use of more sources on average.
The range of sources mostly included books, journal articles, websites, research papers, and video.
The quality of sources also showed a correlation between marks. The average use of scholarly books and journals was higher with those gaining higher marks. A total of 273 scholarly books and 83 scholarly journals were referenced.
Whilst this was a small study, it does hint at a relationship between the two. It would be useful to undertake a more extensive study and widen this out for more meaningful results.
She also wanted to look at any impact the College Library may have on dissertation marks. The starting point, was to look at the print books used to see if any were borrowed from the library; with journal articles it was whether the article was in stock in print in the library or available to view online through our electronic resources.
Out of all the sources in quoted 43 dissertations, 150 print books were borrowed from the library and 107 were scholarly in nature – although if we looked at journal articles the picture was less promising. Out of 151 articles that could be found via the library only 35 were scholarly. So what does this tell us? Two things… that our students are finding and using a lot of lot of non-scholarly material though the library and that they are finding open access material to support their research.
What else can we take from this? Are our students using the library electronic resources effectively, do they know how to evaluate the quality of source, and in some cases are they using google and finding scholarly articles that have paywalls and viewing the abstract rather than the whole article?
Another interesting fact is that our requests for Inter-library Loans from the British Library had reduced drastically over the last 5 years. There will be many books and journal articles that could be available and very relevant to students doing their research. Why do students not want to request Inter Library loans anymore? This is a question that we should be asking both ourselves and students; and if students will rely more and more on Open Access research, how to they easily find it?
The findings from this study have been forwarded to the relevant academic staff within Arts for further discussion. One thing we have learned is that the library has an important role to play in helping students find the right scholarly sources. We want to give students the best chance of success whether it is research for dissertations or essays.