April 24, 2018

Drexel Librarian, Students Help Design 10th Annual Knovel Academic Challenge

Knovel Academic Challenge logoThe Knovel Academic Challenge enables thousands of engineering students at universities around the world to hone their research skills while competing for prizes and recognition. This year, a group of four students from Drexel University, assisted by Jay Bhatt, the university’s liaison librarian for engineering, took their participation to another level, designing the engineering problem sets that were used in this fall’s 10th annual challenge. Drexel students Daniel Christe, Savannah Lee, Rishiraj Mathur, and Krzysztof Mazur approached Knovel with the idea in June, and then worked on the questions over the course of the summer, Bhatt said.

“That was an amazing experience for us,” Bhatt told LJ. “They worked very hard and diligently to come up with so many questions. Working together, the team experience, learning about engineering concepts, working with faculty members, partnering with other departments—these were all benefits” of designing the questions.

Launched in 2001, Knovel is a web-based engineering decision-support solution that combines interactive analytical tools with access to validated equations and data from more than 120 publishers, engineering societies, and other providers. In addition to corporate customers, more than 400 universities subscribe to the platform, which was acquired by Elsevier in January 2013.

The Knovel Academic Challenge, which is available at no additional cost for subscribing institutions, was designed to give “professors, instructors, and librarians the chance to integrate real-life engineering and science practices into their STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] communities while immersing students in a professional problem-solving environment,” according to the company’s description. During this fall’s contest, about 1,900 participants were given a new engineering problem set once per week for five weeks. Players had unlimited time to submit their answers each week, and were given three attempts to answer each question correctly, with potential points deducted for each incorrect attempt. Leaderboards fostered a sense of competition, and prizes for winners included an Apple iPad Air, SONOS Play:1 speakers, and Amazon gift cards.

Bhatt said that he uses the challenge as an opportunity to engage with Knovel’s Student Ambassador program, and “it helps us build relationships with other students and faculty members as well,” often across disciplines.

The Drexel library regularly offers classes on Knovel and other library resources for engineering students, and Bhatt noted that he views classes and library-developed tutorials as valuable forms of instruction, enabling the library to reach the maximum number of students and to assist students when they have specific questions or needs. However, the smaller number of students who choose to engage with a resource such as Knovel during this multi-week competition tend to develop a deeper understanding of the resource, he said.

The academic librarians on Knovel’s advisory board, “are constantly challenged by professors to try and find ways to work the technology into the degree or curriculum program, and we’ve designed programs to help them with that, [including] the Knovel Academic Challenge,” said Ken Klapproth, VP of Solution Marketing for Elsevier’s engineering and technology business unit. “We’ve designed it, really, as a way to gamify how to use and interact with the platform, providing a series of questions that engineering professors can actually build into their degree programs with their students, and have them work with library professionals.”

For Christe, Lee, Mathur, and Mazur, “designing a challenge was, itself, a challenge,” Bhatt said. “They had to test, they had to see the validity, they had to make sure that the questions were [challenging] questions that had answers, and they had to judge whether students who would be taking the challenge from all over the world would be able to understand the questions.”

On that last point, the Drexel team certainly appears to have been successful—for this year’s challenge, the highest aggregate scores by institution came from The Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi; the University of Alberta in Canada; the University of the Philippines, Diliman; Istanbul Technical University; and Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

New App Allows Offline Access

Drexel also worked with Knovel this year on the beta test of the My Knovel ToGo tablet app for Android and iOS devices, which was officially launched in August. Designed to allow on- and offline access to subscription content for students, researchers, and professional engineers, the app enables users to download three titles at a time, and up to nine titles per month, with content then available on a user’s device for up to 30 days, with regular synchronization not required.

“We have lots of engineering students working on design projects, and they all have access to a wide variety of electronic books available through Knovel,” Bhatt said. With the app “they’re able to search, find, and save [content] for future use. They don’t have to search again, and again, and again.”

Klapproth explained that the new app was designed to comply with licensing arrangements for Knovel’s many publisher partners, while providing the offline access demanded by the platform’s customers. For example, some content licensed under pay-per-use terms, and My Knovel ToGo “ensures that, one, [the publisher’s] intellectual property is protected, and two, when someone is using it offline, the publisher is getting credit for it.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com, @matthewenis on Twitter, matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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