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Developing Student Researchers - The Faculty Role (6 Unit Workshop)

A series of workshops for faculty on integration of information literacy into their instruction and assignments.

Our students don't know how to do research

We live in an age like no other before it. Never, in all of history, have we had so much information accessible to us, much of it never having gone through any editorial or review process. That information exists in multiple forms and venues, from social media to websites, to documents at various stages of development on the way to eventual peer review and publication. I have called this the "information fog," and it is a challenge that requires new and dramatic paths to educating our often bewildered students.

The Extent of the challenge

It can be difficult for faculty, who have well-developed research skills, to enter the world of a student steeped in Google and now trying to navigate research assignments in a scholarly environment. Project Information Literacy, since 2007, has been surveying students about their own research experience. The results are very informative (https://projectinfolit.org/publications):

  • Students struggle with understanding their professors' research assignments
  • Students do not understand the environment of scholarly literature
  • Students do not know what databases to use or how to use them
  • Students struggle with evaluating information

The assumption that students learn research skills by doing research is false. There is ample evidence that they do not but instead repeat the same patterns (many of them faulty) in each project.

It is also not the case that a brief introduction to the library in a one-class session does anything significant to improve student research skills.

Teaching research to students is akin to teaching them a new language. It is not short-term, remedial.

Learning tasks required:

  • Understanding the information landscape (complex, uneven, requiring high level evaluation skills)
  • Understanding the distinctive character of scholarly literature
  • Knowing how to develop a problem statement that goes beyond reiterating what they are reading
  • Knowing how to determine relevant databases
  • Developing effective search terminology that optimizes database advanced features
  • Evaluating gathered information for both quality and relevance
  • Enlisting information effectively to address the research problem

 

 

Why it Matters

We entered the new information age without a plan. Ramifications:

  • We now have massive amounts of unregulated and non-reviewed information - great for free flow of ideas but bad for certainty and clarity
  • The WWW by its nature favors crowd-sourcing over expertise
  • The scholarly world was late to get on board in solid engagement with the new information reality
  • Google became the world's library catalog
  • Students lacked the skills to distinguish the open Web from works of scholarship
  • The WWW taught us that search is easy and it's enough to just find answers rather than address issues.

A very large percentage of our lives is mediated by the Internet and its information. The same platform that gives us a recipe for apple pie also carries scholarly databases and literature. It is ludicrous to believe that such a complex information environment requires no intensive education so that students can address it.

When information becomes a cheap commodity (as it has), it mushrooms in size while at the same time reduces the need for elite dissemination (university lectures, etc.). Education absolutely must morph into a demonstration of expertise and a call for enhanced student skill in handling information.

Employers are seeking workers who can handle information needs well. In a time when the cost in information handling errors and omissions is high, skilled researchers have great value. See:
https://www.lirgjournal.org.uk/index.php/lir/article/view/557

Discussion Questions

1. To what extent do you think students today are skilled with information handling?

2. How do you think our students' information world is different today than it was 30 years ago?

3. Why do students claim they don't understand your assignments?

4. Shouldn't students know how to handle academic information since they have such good technological skills?

5. Have you reduced your requirements because your students can't seem to meet higher expectations?

6. To what extent do students tell you about their research struggles? If they don't, why not?

Exercises and Readings

Exercises:

1. Read:

  • Teaching Research Processes: Autobiography, Chapters One and Two
  • Research Strategies: Chapter One

2. Consider your own experience with becoming a researcher. Was it an easy, intuitive process? If so, why was it easier for you than the average student? If not, how much can you recall of your earlier struggles to become a researcher?

3. What do you see as gaps in student research ability? Base this on your own experience with students and their research submissions. Note that formatting problems are a given, but are probably not as central as deeper issues in student skill.

4. Have a look at one of your own research assignments. Imagine yourself as a beginning student. What in your assignment might be unclear, ambiguous or missing?

5. Why does academia tend to devote so little time to teaching students the research skills they need?

6. Is developing student research abilities important enough to make it a focus in our instruction?

Readings

Badke, William. "From broker to strategist: Notes of a traveler in the strange land of information 2.0." Invited lecture, Information 2.0: Knowledge in the Digital Age. LaGuardia Community College (CUNY), Long Island, NY, March 19, 2010.

Badke, William. What students don't know about research [Google Slides, 2010].

Head, Alison J., Barbara Fister, Steven Geofrey, and Margy MacMillan, The Project Information Literacy Retrospective: Insights from more than a decade of information literacy research, 2008-2022 (12 October 2022), Project Information Research Institute, https://projectinfolit.org/publications/retrospective

Huddleston, B., Bond, J. D., Chenoweth, L. L., & Hull, T. L. (2020). Faculty perspectives on undergraduate research skills: Nine core skills for research successReference & User Services Quarterly59(2), 118-130.

Project Information Literacy. Research handouts study (July 13, 2010)