Deakin University Participation and Partnerships Program (DUPPP)

The Library and Student Success


The Deakin University Participation and Partnerships Program (DUPPP), funded by the Commonwealth Government, aims to improve the success and retention of undergraduate students from low socio-economic status (low SES) backgrounds.

This program has enabled Deakin University Library to investigate the challenges these students face in making effective use of library services and resources. Through the DUPPP Library project, Enhancing information access for cloud (online) students from diverse backgrounds, our research has identified that improving awareness and use of scholarly resources can contribute to students' overall success and retention at university, and that the impact is greatest where library activities are an integral part of students' academic curricula.

The project team:

  • conducted interviews with a sample of low SES students about their experience of using the library and accessing information for their assignments
  • analysed the responses and identified challenges faced by the students and also solutions they used to overcome these challenges
  • developed strategies to build student awareness of library services and access to collections to support students' academic outcomes.
  • worked in collaboration with course and unit leaders to trial and evaluate these strategies.

This page provides academic teaching staff with an overview of the project strategies, outcomes and benefits and presents an invitation to work with library staff to support student success and retention.

Challenges for today's students

Research has indicated that many students from low SES backgrounds and those living in remote areas face particular challenges when undertaking university studies in the online environment.

The overall average success rate for low SES students at Deakin is currently three percent lower than the overall student body (SIPU Success & Retention Report 2012).

The Library Project: goals and successes

The Library project Enhancing information access for cloud (online) students from diverse backgrounds was developed with the following goals:

  • To identify current research and best practice in the development of library services to support retention and success of cloud (online) students from low SES backgrounds;
  • To evaluate and review the use of existing library online services by these students in the context of the above research;
  • To identify actions to improve information access for these students;
  • To develop service models to meet their future needs.

Literature review

An extensive literature review provided the following conclusions:

  • Various individual and institutional factors influence student retention and success at university.
  • Among these individual factors, low SES and cloud (online) enrolment are associated with poorer academic outcomes.
  • Students (regardless of SES and study mode) who engage in purposeful educational activities are more likely to succeed and be retained.
  • The institution plays a key role in providing purposeful activities, appropriate resources and facilities, and the social environments that enable students to succeed and be retained.
  • Within the institution, the academic library plays an important role in providing appropriate resources, facilities and supporting services for students.
  • Students' use of and engagement with a library, and its activities, resources and facilities are likely to be important to their success and retention.
  • Students are most likely to use and engage with a library and its activities, resources and facilities in response to the requirements of their academic program (e.g. subject readings, assessment tasks).
  • Student success and retention may be influenced by how well libraries work in concert with other parts of an institution in supporting students to meet the requirements of their academic program and ensuring that they feel socially connected to their institution and with each other.
  • The nature and means of support provided by the library to students may need to vary for different cohorts. In particular, some students may face barriers to their use of library services and resources due to their socio-economic status and/or mode of course enrolment.

Research Questions

The following questions were developed from the research:

  • How do low SES, cloud (online) students prefer to use and engage with library activities, programs and resources?
  • How do low SES, cloud (online) students perceive the support they receive from the library activities, programs and resources?
  • How can the library best support low SES, cloud (online) students to meet the requirements of their academic program and, thereby, improve their learning outcomes?

Student interviews: perspectives on library use by low SES students

Analysis of interviews with 26 low SES students studying through the Cloud Campus have revealed a range of challenges they face in undertaking their courses and making effective use of library resources and services. However they also demonstrated strengths and strategies that provide a basis for more targeted support.

Based on a poster presented at the Association of Research Libraries, Library Assessment Conference, Charlottesville, VA, in 2012, the presentation below gives an insight into the nature and impact of these barriers and enablers.

Prezi presentation: Barriers and enablers for library usage Barriers and enablers for library usage

Improving student engagement with information

Embedded library practice

With the increased focus on online courses delivered via Deakin's learning management system and literature indicating the best way to directly engage with students is via their unit environment, we have adopted an approach referred to as 'embedded library practice'.

Our approach to embedded library practice involves:

  • building relationships with academic staff and with students early in the trimester
  • close and timely collaboration between library and teaching staff in identified units
  • active engagement of Liaison Librarians within the unit environment in unit sites, and via face-to-face support to deliver curriculum-aligned content and activities for digital literacy skill development, and
  • evaluating the outcomes of the engagement to inform future collaboration.

Working with trial units

During 2012 and 2013, Liaison Librarians worked with six units identified as having significant proportions of students from low SES backgrounds. They were ASL219, HSH218, HSW219. HSW322, MMK266, SEB223.

Supported by the project team, the responsible Liaison Librarians:

  • worked with their respective unit chairs to establish protocols and processes for unit involvement
  • reviewed course content and assessment to better target appropriate digital literacy activities
  • gained an understanding of cohort needs in the context of unit assessment requirements
  • introduced themselves to students via online or face-to-face channels
  • monitored discussion forums and provided targeted support as appropriate
  • linked to or developed tutorials or other resources as appropriate to meet specific needs
  • provided current awareness services
  • provided face to face or online classes in strategic searching or reference management
  • reflected on student selection and use of resources in a number of anonymised, graded assessment tasks.

As examples of these activities, Liaison Librarians have:

  • incorporated digital literacy skills into an assessment task using ePortfolios
  • posted and responded to students within the unit site discussion forums
  • developed videos targeting issues relevant to the specific unit and made them available via DeakinAir


Various University assessment measures have endorsed the effectiveness of embedded library practice. Average SETU results in regard to library awareness and usage for the five target units have improved by nearly six percent during the engagement period. Average unit results, particularly for online students, have also improved.

Insightful feedback from participating unit chairs and students is informing and refining this approach to building digital literacy capabilities.

Collaborative strategies

A range of strategies have been developed from best practice in the literature and trialled using the experience of Liaison Librarians working with Deakin undergraduate units.

Scalability and unit selection

While Liaison Librarians have responsibility for a large number of units across their discipline areas, effective implementation of embedded library practice requires a careful selection of core units with research based assessments scaffolded across courses.

Collaboration with academic staff

Liaison Librarians involved in the 2012-2013 trial implementations have developed, or adapted from the literature, a range of strategies for enhancing collaboration with relevant academic staff. These include regular meetings, attendance at course forums and meetings and regular postings of new or current materials and services.

Knowledge of course content and requirements

Effective collaboration demands a comprehensive knowledge of unit content and expectations. Regular meetings with academic staff ensure library staff are aware of unit expectations and assessment goals.

Communication with students

Students need to feel a high level of trust in the ability of the Liaison Librarian to provide timely and appropriate support. This trust is based on effective initial and continuing communication across channels relevant to the unit mode. Examples of effective communication include video introductions, creation of Ask the Librarian, discussion forums and use of social media tools.

Initial student evaluation

It is important that the Liaison Librarian has an understanding of the students' knowledge of digital literacy and any particular needs at the outset. Working in consultation with the unit chair, these may include short activities or quizzes, informal surveys, analysis of previous unit results or simply seeking the opinion of the unit chair. Formative evaluation can be an ongoing activity through the unit and serve as a guide for further activities.

Summative evaluation

Evaluating the effectiveness of the engagement is important for the ongoing success of the initiative and to facilitate continuous improvement. This evaluation includes both student engagement, unit chair feedback and Liaison Librarian reflections and practice.

Research Publications

The project team has produced a number of papers that report on the research basis of the project.

Project Rationale and Literature Review

Hagel, P., Horn, A., Owen, S., & Currie, M. (2012) "How can we help? The contribution of university libraries to student retention", Australian Academic & Research Libraries, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 214-230 How can we help? The contribution of university libraries to student retention (PDF)

A peer-reviewed paper bringing together the findings of the Stage 1 literature review which highlights the need for a renewed approach to assessing library value and contribution to students' academic outcomes.

How the challenges faced by at risk students influence their coping strategies

Horn, A., Owen, S., & Currie, M. (2012) "Influencing student retention and success: a qualitative assessment of library use by distance education students from low socio-economic backgrounds", Poster presented at Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Library Assessment Conference: Building Effective, Sustainable and Practical Assessment, Charlottesville, Virginia, October 29-31. Influencing student retention and success: a qualitative assessment of library use by distance education students from low socio-economic backgrounds (PDF, 2.5MB)

This award-winning poster graphically presented the barriers and enablers exhibited by low socio-economic status students that impacted on their academic performance and the lessons libraries can learn from these understandings.

Our approach to embedded librarianship to support at risk students

Horn, A., Hagel, P., Maddox, A., Currie, M. & Owen, S. (2013). "Embedded Library Services: Beyond Chance Encounters for Students from Low SES Backgrounds." Australian Academic & Research Libraries, vol. 44, no. 4 Embedded Library Services: Beyond Chance Encounters for Students from Low SES Backgrounds

This paper reports research that examined how the embedding of library services through the learning management system contributed to the experience of students from low SES backgrounds.

For more information about the DUPPP Library Project, please contact Michael Currie (Project Manager).

Sue Owen

Sue Owen

Former Director, Digital Scholarship and Deputy University Librarian
Michael Currie

Michael Currie

Liaison Librarian
+61 3 5227 8233

Geelong Waterfront Campus