Web Magazine for Information Professionals

What's in SOSIG for Further Education?

Emma Place gives an insight into the pitfalls that await new users of the Internet in their search for relevant and quality materials and explains how SOSIG has catered for the needs of both FE students and practitioners.

The Internet holds great potential for supporting education at FE level, but it can be fraught with difficulty. Lecturers often have very little time to spend surfing the 'Net to find useful resources for course materials and teaching, or to help their students develop Internet skills. Students can lack the skills, confidence or ability to use the Internet effectively for their study, especially given that the Internet is not exclusively about education, containing many materials that are completely inappropriate for coursework or study.

The Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG) provides a number of free Internet services designed to make locating information on the Internet quicker, easier and more productive. It can also help with learning new Internet skills. SOSIG is aimed specifically at students and lecturers in UK Further and Higher Education working in the fields of Social Science, Business and law. As one lecturer recently put it:

"The Internet is full of excellent information but the difficulty is knowing where to find it. SOSIG is essential for this."

What services does SOSIG provide that are relevant to those in Further Education? This articles points you to some of the services likely to be of most relevance.

Virtual training tutorials: to help students develop their Internet skills

Students often have varying levels of Internet skills. Some will be relatively new to ICT and need to build their confidence and skills. Others may be IT savvy, but will not be familiar with using the Internet to support their education at FE level. In some cases students can be wildly over confident in their ability to use the Internet and may need guidance to discover new things that they hadn't been aware of. Help your students to learn how to use the Internet effectively to support their coursework by introducing them to the Virtual Training Suite.

SOSIG offers free eLearning tutorials designed specifically to teach Internet skills of relevance to different areas of study. The RDN Virtual Training Suite is a set of self-paced tutorials on the Web that teach Internet information skills (eLiteracy) by subject. These tutorials offer around an hour of self-paced, online learning for students, pointing them to key Internet sites for their subject area, and teaching Internet search skills that will help them to find other resources online.

The importance of Key Skills within FE curricula was recognised at an early stage in the development of these resources. Advice is given and examples signposted as to how to generate evidence for Key Skills in Communication and IT through using the Virtual Training Suite.

Some of the tutorials have been written specifically for FE students studying social sciences. Their titles are:

Others were originally written for HE students, though feedback suggests they can also be used effectively in FE (particularly the TOUR chapter). These titles are:

These tutorials can be accessed via the SOSIG Training page.

Feedback from the FE community on these tutorials has been very positive.

Lecturer feedback:

"Superb resource for my students has guided them all and assisted with assessed work"

"It is free and online, so I could get my students into an IT room, point them towards the site and tell them to get clicking"

Student feedback:

"I've never seen anything like it, it wasn't boring and has given me more confidence to go and search for information for my assignment"

"A simple way to learn about finding sources on the Internet"

Internet Resource Catalogue: to help find quality evaluated Web sites

Quality of information is a real issue on the Internet, particularly when it's being used to support education. An Internet search can often list high quality materials from reliable sources alongside very poor quality information, and students can easily fall into the trap of degrading their work if they use the Internet indiscriminately. Internet searches can also yield hundreds of thousands of search results, making it difficult for lecturers and students to quickly identify the key resources.

SOSIG's core service is the Internet Resource Catalogue of quality evaluated Web sites and Internet based information. This contains details of over 26,000 Internet resources in the social sciences, business and law. All sites are regularly checked for currency, and new sites are added every day. The catalogue can help teachers to find resources to include in their course materials, reading lists and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). It's also a safe Internet search environment to point students to, to find resources to help with coursework and assignments.

All the resources are selected and described by subject experts from specialist libraries and university departments in the UK. For example, the politics section is edited by the British Library of Political and Economic Science edit the Politics section, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies edit the Law section and so on.

The Catalogue can be searched or browsed. If you know what you're after, try a quick keyword search. If you want to see what is available more generally, then browse the subject listings. There are over 1,000 subject sections within SOSIG arranged in a subject hierarchy. Simply select the relevant main heading from the home page and work through the sub-sections and related sections listed on each page to see what's listed in your subject field.

Many of the browse headings map well to subjects taught within FE. The list below indicates the main subject headings in SOSIG, highlighting some of the 1,000 subject-headings which map onto FE curriculum subjects:

Business and Management including Accountancy ; Marketing ; Advertising
Environmental Science
Ethnography and Anthropology including Folk Traditions
European Studies
Government Policy
Psychology including: Developmental psychology ; Mental Health
Research Tools and Methods
Social Welfare including: Social Work ; CommunitY Care ; Children ; Young People ; Families; Disabled People ; People with Learning Difficulties ; Carers ; Community Work ; Social Policy ; Social Services
Sociology including: Sociologists; Communication; Sociology of Children
Statistics including: Official Statistics ; National Statistics
Women's Studies

The resources are listed by Resource Type under each subject heading, to help you quickly identify the sort of material being offered. Many of these resource types are likely to be of particular interest to those in FE. Examples include:

Key resources for each subject are flagged as "Editors' Choice" at the top of each subject listing - only resources which are particularly important or are of outstanding quality are designated as Editor's Choice, so it's easy to spot key resources for the subject at a glance.

The Social Science Search Engine: help with searching the wider Web

If you are not able to find what you're after, then try SOSIG's Social Science Search Engine. This is ideal for specific subject enquiries or searches on more obscure or specialised topics. The Social Science Search Engine is a separate online database from the main SOSIG Internet Catalogue. Whereas the resources found in the SOSIG Internet Catalogue have been selected by subject experts, those in the Social Science Search Engine have been collected by software called a harvester (similar mechanisms used by search engines such as Google). This method of collecting resource information means we can create large numbers of records - hundreds of thousands instead of the thousands in the SOSIG Internet Catalogue. These have not been randomly picked, but have been harvested from the high quality sites already described on SOSIG. Using these gives more focused results than the more general search engines such as Google.

Remember, the SOSIG is for HE as well as FE and so not all resources will be suitable. However, the case studies below illustrate how a bit of creative thinking from teachers can enable all kinds of Internet resources to support teaching in FE.

Case Studies for FE: ideas for using the Internet in teaching

A series of case studies on how the resources in SOSIG can be incorporated into courses and teaching and learning materials have been developed in collaboration with FE practitioners. These might offer ideas and inspiration to teachers thinking of using more Internet resources in their course materials, reading lists and VLEs. These are listed at the RDN Case Studies: SOSIG page. Topics covered by the case studies:

Business GNVQ/AVCE

Psychology A‚ÄĚLevel:

Economics AS/A2

Sociology AS/A2

Each of these Case Studies is derived from Internet resources found on SOSIG or resources linked to by SOSIG. Each Case Study has the same structure: aims, specific link, creating the materials, using the materials in teaching. They may spark some ideas for finding innovative ways of using Internet resources in FE teaching.

Free teaching and training materials

SOSIG offers free supporting materials to download, designed to support lecturers and librarians who want to encourage students and other staff to discover how SOSIG can help with Internet searching. They can be used in local course materials or training courses

An overview of the whole SOSIG service is given in the: SOSIG Desktop guide A4 SOSIG Poster

There are free leaflets to download, print and photocopy for each main subject section of SOSIG:

Anthropology flier (b/w PDF)
Anthropology flier (colour PDF)
Business & Economics flier (b/w PDF)
Business & Economics flier (colour PDF)
EuroStudies flier (colour pdf)
Law flier (double-sided b/w PDF)
Law flier (double-sided colour PDF)
Politics & Government flier (b/w PDF)
Politics & Government flier (colour PDF)
Social Welfare flier (b/w PDF)
Social Welfare flier (colour PDF)
Sociology flier (b/w PDF)
Sociology flier (colour PDF)
Women's Studies flier (b/w PDF)

You can also order print copies of the desktop guide.

There are also Guidelines on using the Virtual Training Suite in taught courses and VLEs

Much of the information in this article is referenced in SOSIG's What Can SOSIG Do For You: Further Education information sheet. Copies of this sheet will soon be distributed to relevant institutions by the JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs), and a pdf version is available from the SOSIG Training Page.

Training events: to help staff learn new Internet skills

This year SOSIG has piloted some national seminars on Internet information resources, aimed at lecturers and librarians in UK higher and further education. These are one-day events introducing staff to the key JISC and national Internet information resources in their subject field. If successful, we hope we will run these again. Details will be posted on the SOSIG Training Page Events section. Details of the events piloted this year can be found at: Social Science Online

Future plans and how to keep informed

The RDN does have plans to increase the level of service for FE: a new project will add over 14,000 records of particular relevance to Further Education, by 2005. A proportion of these records will come to SOSIG, and will enhance the records we already have. Ideally, and this is the plan, the records tagged as of interest to FE will be readily identifiable in the SOSIG Catalogue.

News of new SOSIG events, features and services are publicised directly to the FE community via the JISC Regional Support Centres so watch out for news from the centre near you. Another way of keeping up with the latest news from SOSIG is to read the SOSIG What's New page.


SOSIG is a guide to the best of the Web for Social Science. It is a free, national information service, which provides quick and reliable access to the best social science, business and law information available on the Internet. It is created and run by a team of information specialists from a number of universities and institutions in the UK, led by ILRT at the University of Bristol. SOSIG helps students, staff and researchers in higher and further education, as well as anyone else working, studying or looking for information in Social Science, Business and Law. It is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) through the Resource Discovery Network(RDN).

Author Details

Emma Place
SOSIG Information Manager,
RDN Virtual Training Suite Manager
University of Bristol

Email: emma.place@bristol.ac.uk

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