Google generation: student expectations around access to content
Our agile team lead, Luke Taylor, discusses student expectations around accessing content and why user experience needs to come first.
A clash of expectations
Universities expect their students to be independent learners, proactively researching their academic interests. To facilitate self-study, universities spend millions on carefully curated journal subscriptions relevant to their student communities and faculty staff. They offer associated services to encourage students to find what they need. These services include: reading lists, library search portals, access to subject librarians, and advice about how to conduct research from trusted information resources. Open Access content (pay to publish, as opposed to the dominant pay to read model) is gradually increasing. But most peer-reviewed research still resides behind a paywall.
Despite the availability of modern access management technologies (SAML, OpenID Connect etc), most publishers still use archaic methods such as IP number range restriction to attempt to secure access. IP-based access provides a poor user experience for students. This is particularly true when trying to find and access pay-walled research from outside their university’s data network.
IP-based access is also relatively easy to bypass. Publisher content can become compromised and hosted on illegal sites, such as Sci-Hub.
Students have grown-up with Google which has influenced their expectations of their online experience. It's speed and convenience has led students expectation to conduct their scholarly research in the same way they might buy a new smartphone.
University investment and support services for student research, along with the antiquated access management methods still deployed by many publishers, is at odds with the Google generation.
Thanks largely to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year, we're all more aware of the value of our identity and profile information.
Currently, our private, personal information is held by a huge number of service providers, there to be analysed and monetised. A decentralised web could release the grip these titans have on our personal information. Unlike the central servers of internet giants, a decentralised web provides peer-to-peer information reliant on trust-based identity.
Student expectations: fast-forward to the future
Students rightly expect to find and access trusted information as easily as if with a Google search.
Initiatives such as Resource Access for the 21st century (RA21), are helping to align and simplify pathways to subscribed content. But will this go far enough? How can universities and research organizations use their collective power to work with content providers and meet student experience expectations?
In the distant future, advanced technologies such as Blockchain (beyond its use for cryptocurrency) and the decentralized web may give us potential for taking control of our personal data. And, rather like when the Internet first came into being, we'll use the Internet to discover knowledge we can trust.
Until then, we rely on the whole scholarly community to collaborate, remove barriers to knowledge and connect people to information.
How do we remove barriers to knowledge?
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that remote access is integral to our future. But publishers face an uphill battle when it comes to access to content, usability and user experience. We discuss what needs to change to create seamless access in an online world full of obstacles.