For the past few weeks, I’ve carried my purple Dallas-Fort Worth registration folder and my iPad everywhere I’ve gone on campus. I made a Prezi of beautiful library pictures and presented it to my Head of School and the Division Directors. (Here’s the Prezi, and for full disclosure, I’m on the planning committee for next year’s conference, so that was partially the purpose. Tampa is going to be amazing! http://prezi.com/pcacipgyuehy/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy You’ll also note that I’m borrowing inspiration from the host schools. Thank you.)
I want my community to understand ways that libraries are innovating and ways that librarians can help students thrive. So, as I’ve been considering this post, I’ve tried to reflect on the most pertinent or most practical item I learned at the conference. After much deliberation, I’ve decided that it was the comments by the Texas Women’s University librarians about preparing students for college-level research in the session “Information Skills for College Success.” In preparing for their own presentation, they completed faculty and student surveys on their campus, and they compared their experiences as librarians. During the session, they polled attendees, and by a wide margin, we believe that our high school students have the most trouble evaluating potential resources. At the college level, this manifests itself specifically in helping students find scholarly sources, credible sources on the Internet, and primary sources, particularly in the sciences. At Texas Women’s University, they’ve found that it’s helpful to require journal logs, so that students keep track of the information-seeking process. It also facilitates communication between multiple librarians who may be helping students with the same project, so all parties know what has been tried and the level of helpfulness of each possible source. In addition, the librarians have noted that when students find good sources, they still struggle with paraphrasing main ideas, preferring to change a few words rather than mulling over how the big ideas of the source match the big ideas of their own paper. They said that many students are unused to being given freedom to develop their own topics and theses, especially “first years who are no longer managed by their teachers and parents.”
(The session was held at Fort Worth Country Day, in this beautiful glass meeting room. What a lovely campus!)
This leads directly to the statement that primarily caught my interest, which is that high school librarians often talk to students about research, as though research is a unilateral concept. Yes, there are steps that most research takes, but lab sciences research differently than the Humanities. They shared that professors are disappointed that students do not do the background research on a topic to develop a vocabulary and general understanding before jumping right to their theses and arguments. They said to share with our teachers that colleges do use encyclopedias, despite many high school teachers’ belief that they don’t. There are encyclopedias beyond World Book and Britannica; academic volumes on a specific subject with overview entries written by experts. Students are unfamiliar with the nuances of subject-specific research, and this hurts their ability to research successfully. A project examining the usefulness of a Revolutionary War artifact is different than a paper analyzing feminist themes in Tolstoy is different than a presentation making projections on glacier melt in Greenland based on climate trends. I’m the first to admit that I’m guilty of generalizing research, especially since my time with classes is always limited. I have called Ebsco a database, simply telling them to put a checkmark by the actual databases I recommend for a particular subject. When students get to college, they might be going from the small number of general academic databases that my library provides to two hundred detailed ones. After hearing the librarians present, I want to add a bit more thought in getting to the databases that we are using, or brainstorming with the class if this is research that could benefit from use of professor’s blogs, statistical data, or even social media.
We finished the session with a game to bring back to our faculty. We were given twelve possible sources, and had to rank them. What are the two we’d use first? What are the two we’d use next? Which five are possibilities but not necessities? Which five are unlikely choices? As librarians, we had some agreement, but it was limited without knowing the topic. The idea is that completing this at a faculty meeting will open up a conversation with your teachers. Students won’t then hear from one teacher to never use Wikipedia while another says that research means JSTOR and another says that .org websites are always reliable. According to the speakers, when students are given assignments, they are nervous and will generalize research unless they’ve been taught ways to approach research successfully in that particular subject.
Research Game for faculty
Here’s the game: Rank the following possible sources. (With no additional information)
-Washington Post (current article)
-Book that is not research based
Popular magazine article
-Scholarly blog post
-Internet Interview with a prominent person
-Encyclopedia Britannica Online
-Book over ten years old written by a reputable author
-Any .edu or .gov website
Would this work in changing the way you and your teachers teach research in your school? How would you rank the items without knowing more? Any particular successes to share in teaching college-level research to your students?
We all attended so many different sessions. If you were only able to share one message from the conference or bring one idea back to your campus, what would it be? I look forward to comments below!