Tech-savvy doctoral students increasingly look to open web technologies – JISC report

The following is a summary of the report: ‘Researchers of Tomorrow: A three year (BL/JISC) study tracking the research behaviour of ‘Generation Y’ doctoral students’.                                                                                       

To download a copy of the report, please see:

  • The title of this blog post is the title given on JISC’s website which I actually find a little misleading.  The findings of the report suggest that although doctoral students are increasingly using open web and Web 2.0 technologies, they are:
  • often passive users, not active contributors
  • unconvinced of the academic value or credibility of these technologies
  • confused about what open access and self-archiving is and how it works.


The report is part of a three year study which measures both quantitative data (gathered from responses to questionnaires from thousands of doctoral students) supplemented by qualitative data (gathered from a longitudinal study of 47 doctoral students). 

Generation Y students are defined as those born between 1982 and 1994.  These doctoral students are not ‘digital natives’ unlike the Google Generation (defined as those born after 1993).  These students ‘were educated at least up to secondary school with only limited access to computers and the internet’ (p. 17). 

A previous study on the Google Generation (The Google Generation Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future research (CIBER, 2008)) concluded that overall information literacy skills have not improved with increased access to information.  One of the assumptions of this report was that Generation Y doctoral researchers would have information-seeking skills independent of Google and that this would impact on their research and time as doctoral researchers. 

The overall aim of the Researchers of Tomorrow study is ‘to establish a benchmark against which subsequent generations of scholars can be measured’ (p. 17). 

Findings on student behaviours 

  • 72% of doctoral researchers reported used institutional technologies, particularly referencing software.
  • A far greater proportion (92%) use open web / Web 2.0 technologies.
  • Much of this is passive use (i.e. reading not contributing) rather than active.  Only 29% of Gen Y doctoral researchers were active users of web 2.0 technologies, e.g. by blogging.  In the older sample group, only 23% were active users of Web 2.0.
  • However, most were users of Facebook although doctoral researchers tended to perceive this as a strictly social use of Web 2.0.  There was an increase in use of academic networking sites such as, Graduate Junction ( and Mendeley ( amongst Gen Y respondents which they use to follow up contacts made at conferences, organise academic events and share research.  Several also use Twitter to this end. 

Training experience and implications 

  • Institutions offer training on the technologies they offer.  However the relatively lower usage of these (72% vs the 92% using open web), suggests that either a) the technologies offered are inappropriate to student needs or b) that the training is inadequate or otherwise ineffective. 
  • Doctoral researchers tend to ask their peers for advice on open web technologies rather than turning to librarians, information professionals or their supervisors.
  • Institutional engagement with Web 2.0 is often not sufficiently evident or pro-active to convince Gen Y of the credibility of using these applications in a research setting. 
  • However, institutional lack of support does not appear to affect competence in using these technologies.
  • Doctoral researchers also often express reservations about sharing their work prematurely and often feel more confident in doing so in the final years of their research degree. 

Open access

  • Generally, there is lots of confusion over what open access is and how it works.  There is a general misconception that open access means not peer-reviewed.  Other recurring concerns were over payment, and copyright/IP implications.
  • In several cases, doctoral researchers expressed confusion over open access and social media / Web 2.0. 

My thoughts

There are some clear training implications here. 

Firstly, there’s obviously a greater need for clarity about open access although the report did note that the 2010 findings showed a greater level of understanding than in 2009.

Secondly, I’m not sure we can, or indeed should, train anyone on open web / Web 2.0.  It’s very much a personal choice and doctoral researchers (especially Gen Y) are mostly turning to peers for support in these areas.  What we can do, I think, is legitimise open web and social media technologies within the research environment.  This is also going to be a training issue for supervisors. 

As I posted recently in my report back from Helen Partridge’s excellent seminar, we’re living in a constantly changing and complex information environment.  One of our responsibilities – as I see it anyway – is to help doctoral researchers (and library users more generally) become confident and critical users of this information.  How we go about doing this is, of course, another question…

Post by: Sarah Pittaway

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