Mentoring Student Digital Research Assistants—Best Practices

Often, DLA faculty work extensively with student research assistants on digital research. Here are recommendations for best practices by faculty to get the most from your RAs and, in turn, to offer them rewarding pedagogical experiences in their work on your project.

Your RA needs more guidance than you think. While there is a myth that younger people are “digital natives” (a problematic term on many levels), they do not necessarily have a good feel either for your disciplinary research or digital technologies.

Collaborate with the DLA Acting Director, DLINQ staff, relevant librarians, and other faculty and students to help provide student RAs with opportunities to create good structures and clear expectations for your student RA(s).

• Start with basics: make sure instructions are clear for your students in terms of the expected work completed, deadlines to complete it, and how to ask questions if they arise.

• Schedule regular check-ins (weekly, biweekly).

**Document the labor of your students** through photographs, student RA research journals, or other means. Take photographs or videos of your students at work (with their permission, obviously) or have your student take photos or videos. There is a growing tradition of making this invisible labor on digital projects visible, recognizing it for the important contributions that students provide to create digital scholarship. Think of this as the creation of a “The Making Of My DLA Project” documentary.

• Encourage your students to reflect on their experiences: what did they learn? What was challenging? What was exciting? How might they draw upon their experiences of DLA RA work in the future? DLA faculty and students are welcome to write a blog post for the DLA website, whether it be a short reflection, an interview conversation between faculty member and student, or takes some other creative form (multimedia welcome). 

• To state the obvious, be appropriate and follow all Middlebury policies and protocols. Treat your student RAs with respect.