How can educational technology facilitate student engagement with online primary sources?

Thea Lindquist (University Libraries, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA)
Holley Long (University Libraries, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA)

Library Hi Tech

ISSN: 0737-8831

Publication date: 14 June 2011



The authors received a grant to develop a digital educational tool to facilitate student engagement with online primary sources. Students and faculty were interviewed prior to developing the tool's specifications to ensure a user‐centered focus. This research paper seeks to report the results of a user needs assessment that explored students' use of primary sources and their learning preferences, as well as faculty's pedagogical goals for student work with primary sources.


Faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students enrolled in humanities courses at the University of Colorado at Boulder were interviewed to help guide the development of this tool. The interview transcripts were analyzed to uncover several key findings.


The results of the user needs assessment suggest that primary sources have great potential to excite students' enthusiasm and enhance their learning experiences; however, these materials present several challenges that prevent students from using digital primary‐source collections to the fullest extent. Educational technology may be able to help students overcome these difficulties, but only if the technology is easy‐to‐use and designed to support faculty's pedagogical goals.

Research limitations/implications

This study employed a semi‐structured interview methodology to collect the relevant data. Its central research questions could be explored in greater depth using other user‐centered design methodologies, such as artifact and task analyses.

Practical implications

This research will be used to inform the development of a digital educational tool for student use with primary sources.


This study contributes to the growing body of research on user needs for effective work with online primary sources in university‐level humanities education.



Lindquist, T. and Long, H. (2011), "How can educational technology facilitate student engagement with online primary sources?", Library Hi Tech, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 224-241.

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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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