PKP and its Digital Humanities 'Readership'

Ray Siemens, English, U Victoria


As the amount of scholarly research that is performed and published in a digital setting increases, knowledge producers must address issues of how to increase users’ engagement with online tools and how to measure and meet users’ expectations of these tools. To date, much of the research concerning online scholarly research has focussed on the retrieval of material rather than its use. Based on Willinsky’s work in designing online information environments and building on preliminary findings first presented in Siemens, et al., “Giving Them a Reason to Read Online: Reading Tools for Humanities Scholars” (ALLC/ACH 2006), this paper summarizes the final results of our study into the use of an online journal reading environment by humanities computing scholars.

In this study, 15 humanities computing scholars were asked to read an article in their field using the reading tools provided in an online journal environment. These tools are designed to provide the reader with contextual material such as the author’s other works, related studies, and media reports. Interactive tools allow the reader to engage with the material by commenting on the article or emailing the author. Each scholar was asked to reflect on his or her experience with the reading tools and to comment on how each tool added to his or her critical understanding and evaluation of the article. As a result of this study, we have gained valuable insight into how people read online, the role context plays in critical engagement with scholarly material, and the potential readership of online research.

In addition to these findings, we also discovered that users’ experiences with the online reading tools was influenced by their existing research methods, their familiarity with online research, and their expectations of online publishing. While many respondents felt that the “information environment” created by the online tools was beneficial to their evaluation and understanding of the material, they also expressed some dissatisfaction with their experience. Some users questioned the relevance and usefulness of the contextual material retrieved by the online tools. Users were also concerned with the perceived credibility of research published online and the limited amount of freely available online material.

The results of our study reveal both the potential strengths and perceived weaknesses of online reading environments. Understanding how users read and evaluate research materials, anticipating users’ expectations of the reading tools and resources, and addressing user concerns about the availability of online material will lead to improvements in the design and features of online publishing.

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