Editor’s Note: Storage and retrieval of knowledge has been revolutionized by the printing press, copy systems, and more recently – computers. The explosion of knowledge has created extraordinary problems for storage and retrieval of information. Title-Author systems do not provide sufficient information; abstract-index systems were an improvement but slow to produce. Computers automated the production of real-time keyword indexes to facilitate instantaneous selection, retrieval, data processing, and electronic distribution of documents in full-text databases. This conceptual model was developed thesis and dissertations in Iran.
Electronic Thesis and Dissertations (ETDs)
in E-Learning Environments:
A Conceptual Model for Iran
Sirous Alidousti, Maryam Saberi, Nader Naghshineh
Development of E-learning, as the outcome of the widespread application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education, requires certain infrastructures including efficient management of educational and research information resources. Among these resources are theses and dissertations which are the product of research studies of graduate students. However, without a proper system for managing the information in these documents; obviously it would be difficult to develop e-learning at the graduate level. Such a system should make the production, organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of the information in electronic form possible. Therefore, in this article, after defining theses and dissertations and after introducing electronic theses and dissertations, their role in e-learning is explained and their current state in Iran is briefly discussed. Finally, a conceptual model for managing the information of theses and dissertations in Iran is sketched out.
Keywords: e-Learning; e-Education; Electronic theses and dissertations; Conceptual model; Information management
The world is so rapidly changing that the future is basically unpredictable. This change has fundamental dimensions and nature and partly due to Information Technology (IT). During the last decade, this technology has had profound impact on various dimensions of learning and education. Nowadays, it is widely acknowledged that the methods of learning and education are affected by and closely associated with IT. Therefore, it can be predicted that technology will continue to play a significant role in all levels of education and learning in the future.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has provided genuine opportunities for educational institutes to open up, have access to new markets, and reap economic and educational benefits such as reduced time to introduce products to the market and greater opportunities for international cooperation. Unique capabilities of this technology bring fundamental changes to the social structure and in the way things are done. Educational institutes react to these changes and respond to opportunities and challenges that result from widespread application of this technology in education in universities. These institutions need to address the question of how the very nature of this technology may bring changes in different aspects of their organization and activities (Hanna and Latchem, 2002; Oh, 2003). E-Learning and education is one of the responses by universities to this question. E-learning is a form of distance learning presented through computer and more specifically through the Internet (Henderson 2003, 2; Clark and Mayer 2003, 11). Such learning is rapidly expanding in universities and organizations and is believed to be the dominant form of education in the near future (Beaubien, 2002, 221-222)
However defined, e-learning is characterized by: (1) separation of place (location) and/or time between the teacher and the students, among the students, and between the students and the educational resources; (2) interaction between the teacher and the students, among the students, and between the students and educational resources through one or more media, especially via ICT; and (3) a process of teaching and learning not limited to the immediate time and/or space (Oh, 2003). With its unique features, such learning, offers exceptional benefits; the possibility of individualized and independent learning, facilitation of group learning, provision of virtual learning environment, learner support, flexibility in learning and teaching, and provision of appropriate tools of education for the instructor (Brindley 2005).
Libraries have been no exceptions in this regard and have been greatly affected by ICT, but the effect of this technology on libraries has been somehow different, since for long some individuals have been advocating the abandonment of traditional or paper-based libraries (Sapp and Gilmour, 2003). The increasing transformation of information environment to electronic environment (Scammell, 1997, 3) and the eye-catching expansion of ICT in the areas of information and library sciences (Abdoulaye and Majid, 2000; Bardley, 1997, 16-17; Kaku 1998, 49-50; McMurdo, 1997) has introduced a new kind of libraries called digital or virtual libraries, all parts of which are in electronic or machine-readable format (Oppenheim, 1997; Foster, 2000). Such libraries are counted as the major foundation of e-learning and education (Garten, 2005, 167). The role of libraries is, in fact, changing in the light of electronic and web-based e-instruction and are now held responsible for the major tasks of provision of digital resources like e-books, full-text databases, and real-time services in the electronic environment (Buchanan, 2005, 1261).
So far, one of the resources used in libraries, especially in university libraries, have been Master’s Theses and PhD Dissertations (TDs). These resources have been recognized as major library resources and are considered of primary importance as research reference (Zhenglu & Yuntao, 2006). In fact, theses and dissertations are not only considered the first research experience of many graduate students, but also signs of the quality and status of education and research in universities. As well as reflecting the research level and areas of expertise and focus of research in universities (Zhenglu & Yuntao, 2006), these documents can help and guide researchers and students to initiate or accomplish further research projects. The significance of these documents on the one hand and the limitations of their print form in terms of availability or access on the other (Weisser and Walker, 1997), have contributed to the emergence of their electronic versions, known as Electronic Dissertations and Theses (ETDs) in recent years. Widespread attempts are currently under way to develop ETDs and to establish NDLTD as well as ETD databases, all of which aimed at enhancing the acceptance, creation, access, application, expansion, restoring, archiving, and maintenance of electronic versions of TDs (Park, Zou, and McKnight, 2007).
However, without a proper TDs managing system which facilitates the production, organization, restoring, retrieving, and dissemination of their information, the development of e-learning at the graduate level will obviously face difficulties. Therefore, in this article after defining TDs and ETDs and describing the present status of ETD in Iran and other countries, a conceptual model of ETD information management system in e-learning environment has been presented.
Defining Dissertations and Theses
Theses and dissertations are Master and PhD research reports (Hussey and Hussey, 1997, 23; Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, and Lowe, 2002, 153). In the Iranian higher education system these documents are defined as:
Theses: reports of student research at the final stage of the master’s level which is conducted under the supervision of a university teacher and whose acceptance by the committee of referees is a requirement of gradation at this level (Supreme Planning Council, 1993).
Dissertations: reports of student research at the PhD level which is conducted under the supervision of a university teacher and whose acceptance by a committee of referees is a prerequisite for graduation at this level (Supreme Planning Council (1993).
Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD)
ETDs comprise a new generation of scientific documents which consist of audio-visual materials and are originally produced, organized, and presented to the user in the electronic format. In other words, ETDs are exclusively produced, organized, and managed by the application of the capabilities of ICT (Weisser and Walker, 1997; Fineman, 2003; Vijayakumar, Murthy and Khan, 2006). The Online Dictionary of Information and Library Sciences defines ETDs as theses and dissertations presented digitally rather than on paper. In this dictionary, ETDs are differentiated from TDs, which are presented on paper and usually converted to machine-read format after being scanned (Reitz, 2004).
Containing the research results of graduate students similar to the print version (Virginia Tech, 2003), ETDs are digital-born and their submission, access, and archiving is in electronic form from the outset (Weisser and Walker, 1997). Reduced costs, amount of paper, library space, and working hours in libraries, as well as raised standards of scientific research, enhanced provision of academic studies, faster access to information content of sources, the possibility of linking the theses/dissertations with the author’s homepage or CV, and accelerated communication among researchers are considered as the main advantages and outcomes of these electronic resources (Yu Zhenglu & Yuntao, 2006, Vijayakumar, Murthy & Khan, 2006). Although most of these documents are presented only as texts, electronic media can be integrated to introduce additional features of multimedia, animation, and instructiveness in ETDs (Chatraverty, 2001). Electronic documents can, therefore, be provided without current limitations and can provide the author with the possibility of exploiting multimedia instruments in ETDs to dynamically present huge amounts of data, a possibility not previously available in print (Andrew, 2004).
Electronic Dissertations and Theses in Iran
Although most of the universities that offer graduate courses in Iran have various regulations for writing and designing dissertations and theses, the regulations are basically the same and the differences relate only to details. Theses and dissertations in Iran are predominantly in print form and in all universities they are compiled and presented in their print versions.
An investigation of the regulations of thesis and dissertation writing guidelines conducted in June 2006 at 11 major universities offering graduate courses demonstrated that four universities require their students to provide an Optic Disc along with the print version of their dissertations or theses: Iran University of Science and Technology (Iran University of Science and Technology Graduate Studies, 2004, 38 & 44), Khaje Nasireddin-e Toosi University (Khaje Nasireddin-e Toosi University Graduate Studies Office, 2004, 60), Amir Kabir University of Technology (Payam Bita Digital Library), and Tarbiat Modarres University (Tarbiat Modarres University, 2004, 101). Al-Zahra University, University of Tehran, Sharif University of Technology, Arts University, and Allameh Tabatabaee University did not mention electronic versions of TDs. Shaheed Beheshti University and Tarbiat Moallem University have not provided organized and written regulations for TDs, either. These regulations show that electronic versions of TDs have rarely been mentioned. The rare cases being confined to "Optic Discs" and "Floppy Discs", with no specification of format. Moreover, no section of the TD information management process – from production to distribution – is carried out electronically. However, a number of national and academic information centers have attempted to digitalize the print versions of TD, among which Iranian Scientific Information and Documents Research Center has been the most active. The research center has created a full-text database of TDs since 2001. By early 2006, about 73000 Farsi titles have been digitized and uploaded on this database.
It is worth mentioning that this research center and similar centers have only focused on converting TDs in the print versions after their production. In other words, so far no system of production and management of ETD has been created in Iran. The absence of such a system may hinder the development of e-learning at the graduate level. Therefore, in the next section a conceptual model of ETD information management system is presented as part of the infrastructure for the development of e-learning at the graduate level in Iran.
A Conceptual Model of ETD Information Management System
in E-Learning Environment
Information management system of ETDs performs the following main functions:
Providing electronic and online environments for production, evaluation, and confirmation of ETDs at universities;
Creating one of the infrastructures necessary for the development of e-learning at the graduate level;
Providing online national and international access to ETDs;
Providing additional services in line with the improvement of ETD quality.
ETD Information Management System (ETDIMS) functions at four levels Level 1, which lies at the center of the model, includes creation of ETD. At this level ETDs are created by students under the supervision or advice of university teachers as part of the graduation process at the graduate level. At the second level of the model are universities which support and ultimately confirm the production of ETDs. This confirmation is regarded as the authentication of ETDs for the next stage as well as the endorsement of student graduation. At this level which involves the management of university ETD network, university libraries play a major role. The third level of the model is the national level which involves ETD management at the national level. Finally, at the fourth level, the national ETD network is linked to national networks of other countries and to the international ETD network.
The Conceptual Model
In the conceptual model of ETDIMS, six major entities are at work: policymakers, national ETD center, universities, ETD authors, national users, and international users.
This model is based on the management information received from the system. Policymakers designate and issue system policies that guide the fundamental activities of the system. ETD authors, including students and teacher advisors make up the next entity involved in this system. Students conduct research within the suggested frameworks and under the guidance of university teachers and submit the outcome to the university as their theses or dissertations. To produce ETDs, authors employ a virtual environment which should be provided for them by this system. Moreover, in order to produce ETDs in such an environment the authors should receive the necessary education from the system and use the relevant guidelines and standards.
After receiving ETDs, universities restore them in their temporary ETD information databases and carry out the refereeing and confirmation process. Endorsed ETDs are submitted to the national ETD center and thereby transferred to the permanent ETD information databases. The national ETD center is responsible for ETD information management in this system.
Information users in this system logically fall into two categories of national and international users. The system presents the bulk of ETDs to the users and also educates them on the use of the information and services the system offers. Users can have access to the information and services in relation to their own information needs and access level provided to them by the system. The information and services include not only bibliographic information, abstracts, and ETD content but also other related information and services. International users of this system can be linked to the system in English.
In addition to databases for comments and temporary and permanent ETD information, the system contains "related information", "people", and "universities" databases as well as other helpful information that serve the functions of the system.
The ETD Information Management System has a number of main subsystems:
Education. The success of the system depends on ETD production and use. Therefore both ETD authors and users of ETD information and services should be able to operate within its framework. This capability is partly attained through education. This education involves helping students and teachers with producing ETDs, universities with managing and endorsement, university libraries with managing the university ETD networks and users with using the system information and services. This subsystem generally is in action to enhance computer and information literacy and to help users in using the system and in various troubleshooting.
Virtual shelf. This subsystem provides professors with the facility to archive ETDs in the production of which they were involved in a virtual environment and to employ facilities such as having direct access, making notes and comments in the margin and the like.
Virtual office. The office is a virtual environment in which students and teachers work as the authors of ETD. In this environment students and teachers can agree on TD topics and have them approved by the university through the submission subsystem. After the approval, the students and teachers interact in this environment to produce ETDs. In this subsystem, students present their work to teachers and receive their suggestions, comments, and advice. All ETD records are restored and made accessible for later references by teachers, students, and the university in this subsystem. The final version of ETDs are evaluated and endorsed by the university through the “submission” subsystem.
Preservation. Digital information like other type of information needs to be preserved. Since ETD information should never exit the information cycle, certain provisions need to be made for their long term preservation and maintenance. TD preservation and maintenance policies and organization should be based on their digital format. Issues like disaster management, backup versions, technology-datedness, and recording environmental changes through time, and the like should be accounted for in this subsystem.
Persian language requirements. Since Persian is the primary language of ETDs in Iran, Farsi-compatible requirements like orthography, writing direction, grammar, etc. need to be studied and taken into account.
Data analysis. Information of TDs put together and by themselves and in contrast with other data sources create new information. Such information evolves from sorting, categorization, prioritization, and interconnection and organization of the data based on new and integrated paradigms. Thesis and dissertation data can be analyzed independently or contrastively. The analysis of each set of data also reveals their change trends through time. The area of the analysis may develop as other data sources are included. TD information can therefore be analyzed on the basis of data from various sources. In this subsystem a pattern could be devised for the analysis of TD information based on their data and other related sources. Analysis of the information of the ETDs in the system can also be carried out through this pattern. Based on such analyses ETDs, their authors, universities, scientific disciplines, and so forth can be evaluated respectively, for instance, to introduce sample TDs, most referenced ETDs, etc. Statistical information of ETD use based on various criteria, such as an ETD, ETDs in a given academic discipline, university, etc., can be another byproduct of this subsystem.
Protection against plagiarism. Considering the availability of TDs in the electronic version, it might be very straightforward to compare their contents in order to stop possible plagiarism and to report the cases to the individuals in charge. The very existence of such a subsystem would in itself act as a preventive measure.
Monitoring. TDs are usually published in various ways and their results are applied in different forms. This subsystem monitors and documents outcomes of ETDs, so that they are accessible alongside with the ETDs. These effects and outcomes may include the publication of research findings as books, the publication of papers based on the research results, reception of patents, applications in specific practical areas, etc.
Access. Accessing the ETD information and other data on this system, as the main system objective, calls for specific considerations. Accessing part of the information, especially ETD information, depends on the copyright and relevant permissions. The system should provide access to various entities involved in the system, relevant to their specific conditions, and should be able to modify their access levels with changes in their situations. Access to ETD information can be full or limited to bibliographic information, abstract, table of contents, index, references, one or more chapters, etc which is determined based on author copyright and permission. In this subsystem, access to information and different stages of operational processes are managed through usernames and passwords that can be provided for individuals or organizations and for national and international users. Therefore, identity authentication is another function of this subsystem. The access subsystem also deals with the digital gap among the users and manages it so that access is readily enhanced for users with different levels of access to the internet.
Manuals of style. Integration of the system and assurance of its proper functioning requires coordination among its various entities. This coordination is partly achieved through general manuals of style for different operations and outcomes. Creation of TDs forms a major part of these manuals of style, including orthography and documentation requirements. Manuals of style are of two levels: The first level is the university level at which current manuals of style for each university are presented. At the second level nationwide manuals of style are provided by the system which may include some general considerations and can replace manuals of style by local universities. Following some others will be mandatory as they pertain to the function of the whole system.
Standards. Standards focus on ETD meta-data and the way ETDs are organized. Following these standards would be mandatory.
Assessment. Proper system functioning and its compatibility and adaptability with environmental requirements, on the one hand, and user demands, on the other, requires ongoing assessment. Therefore, system functioning should be constantly scrutinized through assessing user satisfaction, system quality, development of activities and the like. Strategies for improvement should be adopted.
Electronic publishing. Electronic publication of ETDs is one of the major subsystems of this system that provides the framework for the submission of ETD content. This framework should account for and support production of texts, pictures, graphics, animations, sound and so forth. Furthermore, it should determine the specific language and format of ETD production.
Infrastructure. Providing ETD services at national and international levels requires adequate infrastructure and proper management. Part of this infrastructure is provided by organizations such as the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. Some other parts like the networks among universities have already been established and only need to be adequately employed. Other required parts need to be specifically provided for the system. This subsystem should address the needs of the system and should be updated along with the development of technology.
Organization. Organization of system data, especially ETD data consisting of assignment of metadata, descriptors, indexing, abstracting, and so on, is vital to restoring and retrieving information. Organization could be carried out at different levels, some of which are operational while some others carry out the confirmation process. However, ensuring proper organization of data can lead to dependable restoring and retrieval. This subsystem also produces required key word indexes or develops and improves current indexes in order to facilitate organization.
Communication. This subsystem facilitates communication among various users. Since in this system TD information is nationally accessible from the early stage of endorsement of proposals by each university up to the submission of the final version, data feedback can help improve different aspects of the system including the ETDs themselves. This feedback may include the possibility of commenting on proposals and ETDs, asking questions and receiving answers from authors, grading proposals and ETD by users, writing reviews on each proposal or ETD, and so on. Another dimension of communication regards provision of opportunity for interaction among students, researchers, and university teachers, and so forth through disseminating bulletins, mailing-lists, etc. In this subsystem, university teachers can call for theme-based papers and invite students to conduct research on TDs.
Databases. System function depends to a large extent on proper establishment and management of databases. These ETD databases include people databases (including information about university teachers and students), universities databases, and so on.
Portal. System services in general are provided through a portal that facilitates access from a single point to all parts of the system. In truth, this subsystem focuses on ETD portal management which encompasses national and international access to services in both Persian and English.
Search engine. This subsystem provides a suitable search engine for searching in ETDs and other system information. The search engine should posses the capability of ordinary and advanced searches based on ETD features as well as facilitate thesaurus-mediated search. The capability of dissemination of selected information is also provided to enable users to access information offline.
Cooperation. The system will not achieve success without national and international cooperation. Therefore, this subsystem plays the role of planning, establishing, and evaluation of the cooperation among related entities such as universities in order to improve the system.
Translation. In Iran, ETD is usually produced in Persian. Therefore, in this subsystem ETD information is translated for and submitted to international users.
Submission. During the ETD production process, students usually present their ETDs to the university in two stages and receive the confirmation to continue the process. The first stage is proposing the topic of the research project and acquiring its confirmation. The second stage is presenting the TD and receiving its final endorsement. In this subsystem environment for the submission in both stages is automatically provided and needs to be capable of adapting to local requirements of universities and also of being updated.
Reengineering. ETD management operational processes, from production to distribution, require reengineering in time and with respect to environmental and technological changes. The function of this subsystem is ongoing assessment of processes and their reengineering.
Change management. The transition of TDs from traditional to electronic is a complex process which fails to attain its objectives if managed inadequately. The subsystem of change management involves management of transition from traditional to new conditions and preservation of the system through adopting appropriate strategies which are compatible with the Iranian context.
Additional services. ETD information is accompanied by several additional services including access to ETD databases in other countries, subscribed reference services, scientific questions and answers, free research software and methodology guides, subject-based and controlled data gates, related links, and so on.
Summary and Conclusion
Information and communication technology has brought about fundamental changes in all aspects of human life in the world with its unique nature and dimension. The influence of this technology on teaching and learning has created original opportunities for educational institutions; fueled their reaction in taking advantage of these opportunities and therefore the widespread application of this technology in education, particularly in universities. Electronic learning is a reaction of universities to this issue.
However, the effect of this technology on libraries has created a new phenomenon called digital libraries, which play a major role in electronic teaching and learning. The role of libraries is altering in the light of electronic and web-based learning and provision of digital recourses has been considered their primary role in such an environment. Some of these resources are dissertations and theses. The significance of these documents and their limitations in the print form has in recent years led to the emergence of their electronic versions known as Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). Obviously, the development of electronic learning at the graduate level will be seriously hampered without a proper system of Thesis and Dissertation information management capable of production, organization, restoring, retrieval, and dissemination of their data and related information. It is, therefore, necessary to provide a system of ETD Information Management Systems (ETDIMS) compatible with requirements of the electronic learning environment. Such a system would not only provide online and electronic environment for the production, evaluation, and verification of ETDs, but also would form part of the infrastructure required for the development of electronic learning at graduate level.
To function properly, the ETD management system needs to have four levels. Production of ETD is the first level and lies at the center of the model; the second level of the model comprises universities, which support and finally endorse the production of ETDs; the third level of the model is the national level which accomplishes ETD management throughout the country; and at the fourth level the national ETD network is linked to national networks of other countries and to the international ETD network. Moreover, six major entities play specified roles at different levels of the model: policymaker, national ETD center, universities, ETD authors, and national and international users. In addition to databases for proposals and temporary as well as permanent ETD information, used for restoring these kinds of data, the system also includes "related information", "people", and "universities" databases that contain further information helping the proper functioning of the system. The system consists of 25 main subsystems, which in one way or another, facilitate its function.
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About the Authors
Sirous Alidousti has a PhD in Management and is Assistant Professor, the Iranian Research Institute for Scientific Information and Documentation (IranDoc)
Maryam Saberi, MA in Librarianship and Information Science, is Research Assistant, The Iranian Research Institute for Scientific Information and Documentation (IranDoc)
Nader Naghshineh isAssistant Professor, Information Studies Lab, University of Tehran, Nnaghsh@ut.ac.ir
 Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations