Digital Resource Study

Understanding the Use of Digital Resources in Humanities and Social Science Undergraduate Education

A research project studying the use of digital resources in undergraduate education in the humanities and social sciences.

The Higher Education in the Digital Age Project has completed a three-year research project investigating the use of digital collections in undergraduate humanities and social science education.

Generous funding was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the Hewlett-Packard Company. Our partners in this endeavor were the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the California Digital Library (CDL).

Principal Investigator: Diane Harley, Ph.D.

Project Reports and Publications

Why Understanding the Use and Users of Open Education Matters.” Diane Harley. (Forthcoming Summer 2008). In Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, edited by Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

Toward an Effective Understanding of Website Users. Diane Harley and Jonathan Henke. D-Lib Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 3/4 (March/April 2007)

Use and Users of Digital Resources: A survey explored scholar's attitudes about educational technology environments in the humanities. Diane Harley. EDUCAUSE Quarterly 4, (2007).

Why Study Users? An Environmental Scan of Use and Users of Digital Resources in Humanities and Social Sciences Undergraduate Educationby Diane Harley. First Monday, volume 12, number 1 (January 2007)

Final Report: Use and Users of Digital Resources: A Focus on Undergraduate Education in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Diane Harley, Jonathan Henke, Shannon Lawrence, et al. CSHE.11.06. (April 2006)

Presentations and Press

Why Study Users? An Environmental Scan of Use and Users in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) 2007 Annual Meeting, Creating a Successful Learning Culture: Connecting Learners, Communities, and Information, Atlanta, GA. January 23, 2007.

Moving Beyond the Innovators: Expanding the Use of Digital Resources in Undergraduate Education. The Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications WCET 18th Annual Conference, Portland, OR. November 3, 2006.

If you build it, will they come? Citris Newsletter, April 2005.

CSHE Publishes Preliminary Results of Digital Resources Study. Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center, November 2004.

How are digital resources being used in undergraduate teaching and learning in the humanities and social sciences?

Project Overview

The Center for Studies in Higher Education received grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to investigate the use of digital resources in humanities and social science undergraduate education. Additional funding was provided by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), the Hewlett-Packard Company, the California Digital Library (CDL), and the Vice Chancellor of Research, UC Berkeley.

Our purpose was to map the universe of digital resources available to undergraduate educators in the humanities and social sciences (H/SS), and to examine how understanding use and users can benefit the integration of those resources into undergraduate teaching.

Our definition of digital resources was intentionally broad and included rich media objects (e.g., maps, video, images, etc), as well as text. These digital resources may reside in or outside of digital libraries, and include those developed by individual scholars as well as other entities.

Our methods includde discussion groups and surveys of faculty, graduate students, librarians, site owners and educational technology professionals. We also employed online surveys and transaction log analysis on select local collections. Specific activities are described in more detail below.

Rationale: Why Study Users?

Why study users? There are myriad reasons cited for undertaking and conducting user studies. They may range from product design and usability testing, to policing web sites, to facilitating policy and investment decisions. For our purposes there were three interrelated rationales for conducting the present research: (1) addressing questions of strategic planning and investments in digital resource provision and use, (2) identifying the special needs of the humanities and social sciences, particularly as they relate to the future of liberal education in a digital age, and (3) sharing effective strategies for understanding the array of uses and users across a wide variety of educational digital resource initiatives.


Our specific approach emploedy multiple methods and empirical data to determine the outlines of how and if available digital resources are being used in undergraduate teaching environments. Activities included:

  • Ongoing discussion among faculty, librarians, educational technology professionals, and collection/site owners across different higher education institutions.
  • Creating a useful map of the range of digital resources available to and used by undergraduate educators.
  • Consolidating, through a literature review, existing knowledge about use and users of digital resources in humanities/social science undergraduate teaching contexts.
  • Surveying site owners about how and why they employ user studies.
  • Sampling faculty opinion through a survey focused on what digital resources H/SS faculty actually use, how they use them in their teaching, and what barriers exist to their successful use of digital resources. Our target population for the survey was a random stratified sample of faculty at select University of California campuses, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges in California. We also surveyed faculty in other populations.
  • Understanding the perspective of diverse users through analysis of survey and discussion group data along disciplinary, institutional, and other axes.
  • Testing the efficacy and efficiency of methods of transaction log analysis and online surveys on select local collections.
  • Convening collection owners, funders, and use researchers to facilitate the future coordination of comparative use data across a range of humanities/social science (H/SS) digital resources.

More detailed descriptions of some of these activities and our project findings can be found in the project Final Report.

Diane Harley, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

David Nasatir, Ph.D.
Research Consultant

Irene Perciali, Ph.D.
Staff Researcher

Jonathan Henke 
Staff Researcher

Judy Lien
Undergraduate Student Research Assistant


This project depends on the advice and assistance of many. Thanks to UCB Professors Charles Faulhaber, Lewis Lancaster, Rick Rinehart, Sheldon Rothblatt, and Ruzena Bajcsy; Daniel Greenstein, Laine Farley, Roy Tennant, and Rosalie Lack of the California Digital Library; Merilee Proffitt, Arnold Arcolio, and Günter Waibel at the Research Libraries Group; Elizabeth Losh, UCI; Glen Worthey, Stanford University; Flora McMartin, MERLOT; Clarice Stasz, SSU; Barbara Sommer, UCD; Richard Flacks, UCSB; Julie Gordon and Paula Murphy, UCOP; Michael Hardie and Mara Hancock, Educational Technology Services, UCB; Maryly Snow and Susan Stone, SPIRO, UCB; Pat Maughan and Giulia Hill, UCB Library; and others at UCB who have provided us with valuable feedback, assistance, and ideas in meetings and informal conversations.

Special thanks to researchers Sarah Ellinger, Xi Sheng, Susannah Paletz, Jing Guo, Ian Miller, Charis Kaskiris, and Cara Bautista for their work on earlier phases of the project and to research assistants Belinda Chin, Nicole Christensen, and Hau Yeung for their tireless attention to detail. Finally, our thanks to those anonymous participants in our discussion groups and to those who contributed their valuable time and opinions to our survey.

Use and Users of Digital Resources: A Focus on Undergraduate Education in the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Diane Harley, Ph.D., Principal Investigator
Jonathan Henke, Shannon Lawrence, Ian Miller, Irene Perciali, Ph.D., and David Nasatir, Ph.D. With contributions from Charis Kaskiris and Cara Bautista

April 5, 2006; Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley

Executive Summary (PDF, 161 kB)

Complete Report (including Appendices) (PDF, 2.2 MB)

Complete Report Text (without Appendices) (PDF, 1.0 MB)

Contents (by chapter):

Introduction and Rationale for the Project (PDF, 140 kB)

Understanding the Humanities/Social Science Digital Resource Landscape and Where Users Fit Into It (PDF, 206 kB)

 How Are Digital Resources Being Used? Faculty Discussion Groups and Faculty Survey (PDF, 533 kB)

How Are Digital Resources Being Used? Transaction Log Analysis and Website Surveys (PDF, 251 kB)

Why Study Users? Interviews with Digital Resource Providers (PDF, 202 kB)

Why Study Users? Site Owners and User Researchers Meeting (PDF, 206 kB)

Conclusions (PDF, 123 kB)

Bibliography (PDF, 136 kB)

Appendices (PDF, 124 kB)

See also: Complete charts and tables from the faculty survey.

University of California - Faculty Survey Overview

4 March 2005 - 285 kB - 16 pages - PDF

An overview of faculty survey results from five campuses of the University of California.

Faculty Survey Instrument

18 August 2004 - 1.5 MB - 14 pages - PDF

The survey instrument given to selected faculty in the humanities and social sciences at a variety of California institutions, Spring 2004.

Slides Presented at Syllabus

18 August 2004 - 70 kB - 22 slides - PowerPoint presentation

Presented at Syllabus conference, 19 July 2004.

Summary of Discussion Groups

December 2003 - 93 kB - 9 pages - PDF

(updated 2 June 2005)

A summary of the findings of our five faculty discussion groups, held Fall, 2003.