Tag Archives: first year undergraduates

Our Partnership with the School of Undergraduate Studies

We have been working closely with the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS) since it was formed in 2006 and I frequently get questions about our involvement and collaborations.  So I decided to blog about it and hope it will be useful to people interested in the information literacy work we are doing in the core curriculum here at UT.

About the Signature Courses:

UGS offers over 200 Signature Courses each year.  Knowing a little about the Signature Courses is essential to understanding our involvement:

  • Signature Courses are required of every student in their first year at UT.
  • These academically rigorous courses are designed to help students transform from excellent high school students to excellent college students.  Each course has 7 required elements – one of which is information literacy – selected to ensure that students learn how to write, discuss, present and find, evaluate and use information.
  • Distinguished faculty from every discipline across campus teach in this program.  If they are interested, they propose a course which may or may not be accepted by UGS.
  • Courses labelled UGS 302 and TC 302 are small format and capped at 18; courses labelled UGS 303 are large format and can be anywhere from 25 to 300.  The large format classes have discussion sections that meet weekly and are run by specially trained TAs.

History

When we learned that the undergraduate curriculum was being reformed, we began our quest to integrate information literacy into that curriculum.  We spoke with members of the Faculty Senate working on curricular reform as well as influential faculty on campus who supported our goals.  When the inaugural Dean of Undergraduate Studies was appointed, we also approached him and were successful.  We established program-level learning outcomes based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards.

Our Program

Our goal is to integrate our program-level learning outcomes into each Signature Course in a way that support the goals of the particular course, and to assess our work to ensure students are learning.  To achieve our goals, we reach out individually to every faculty member teaching a UGS course.  We offer assignment design and course consultations to help faculty incorporate information literacy into their courses; instruction sessions tied to research assignments; tailored research guides; assignments and exercises; tutorials; and training of TAs to teach information literacy skills during discussion sections.   In addition, we work with the UGS’ Sanger Learning Center to support the TAs directly, visiting their learning community cohort meetings to talk about how to teach information literacy skills to freshmen.

We also maintain and develop an Information Literacy Toolkit.  Faculty may browse it to find learning objects they can use as is or adapt to their course on their own or with our help.  It also includes examples of how other faculty have incorporated information literacy into their Signature Courses.

We offer an annual information literacy award to students enrolled in Signature Courses.  While most students are nominated by their faculty, students are also allowed to self-nominate.

Our assessment plan outlines our approach in the Signature Courses, which includes pre and post-testing large numbers of students and assessing individual student work.

Other UGS Programs

In addition to working with the Signature Courses, we are involved with UGS in other ways.

One of our larger programs is with the First-year Interest Group program, or FIGs.  We train all of the FIG mentors (upper division students who lead the interest groups) to lead a game-based program to teach their students what plagiarism is and strategies for avoiding it.  You can read more about our plagiarism prevention approaches here.

We work closely with the Sanger Center in UGS on UGS TA support, but also partner with them to offer workshops in the Libraries on a variety of topics ranging from career exploration to public speaking.  We partner with the Writing Flag Coordinator to teach workshops about teaching writing since it so often overlaps with teaching research.  We support the Honors Colloquium each summer, promote Freshman Reading Round Up and work with the Office of Undergraduate Research.  We are always looking for ways to expand our partnerships.

 

 

 

The Timing of the Research Question: First-Year Writing Faculty and Instruction Librarians’ Differing Perspectives

Jennifer E. Nutefall, & Phyllis Mentzell Ryder. (2010). The Timing of the Research Question: First-Year Writing Faculty and Instruction Librarians’ Differing Perspectives. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10(4), 437-449.

[In case this sounds familiar, this article draws on the same research that the authors published in an article Michele discussed in an earlier RIOT, but from a different perspective.]

The study reported in this article used an extremely small and focused sample, but I’m hoping we can use it as a jumping off point for discussing librarian and faculty expectations across our different disciplines as well as our own expectations regarding the timing of the research question.

The authors interviewed four faculty members who taught within the first-year writing program at George Washington University and three instruction librarians who supported the program in 2005.  The faculty/librarian collaboration in this program is written into the program description:  “Each semester, faculty and librarians are partnered according to interest and research expertise, and ongoing partnerships are supported. Faculty and librarians are encouraged to collaborate on all stages of the course including choosing course texts, devising effective research assignments, and planning and teaching information literacy sessions.”  The transcripts of these interviews were then coded to facilitate discovery of common themes in the discussions between the two populations.

Participants agreed on some basic tenets of a good research question:

1) It should be complex and not have an immediately obvious answer.

2) It should be worth answering with consideration of its meaning and value to the intended audience.

3) It should be interesting to the student.

The point of disagreement arose when the timing of the research question was discussed, with varying opinions about whether the research question should actually be a question and when that question should be formulated.  The authors write, “Faculty members talked about the process of narrowing down a topic to a question and how this can occur over the better part of the semester. On the other hand, the librarians stated that a student’s topic needs to be narrowed down as one of the initial steps.”

Examples from the transcript highlighting these differing opinions are shared, with both faculty and librarians describing their work with students to help them reach a research question.  Faculty reported that they tell students they probably won’t know their actual research question ’til the end of the semester, while several of the librarians insisted that students needed to narrow their focus at the beginning of the semester.  While faculty seemed to embrace the idea that students would be inundated with relevant information that would lead to a more nuanced understanding of their topic, the librarians were concerned with students reaching a level of focus that would allow them to examine a smaller set of sources.

If you only read one part of this article, jump to the Discussion, which includes two contrasting faculty and librarian quotes that really get to heart of the difference in approaches.

From my perspective, this is really about the faculty and the librarians wanting the students to approach research like either a faculty member or a librarian — and the authors reach the same conclusion.  The faculty members wanted to be immersed in information, taking the time to learn more and generate questions from that point of immersion, using prior knowledge to focus and narrow these questions.  This is the professional scholar’s job and an expectation of how they will spend their time.

The librarian wants the student to start from a clear point of inquiry where keywords can be brainstormed and information can be searched and synthesized into an answer to the research question for a particular audience.  Again, this is the professional librarian’s job — to take the question and find the relevant information, with a reference interview often helping to clarify the question to facilitate this approach.  And, to oversimplify matters, the librarians  support the faculty member’s research process, providing information to answer the questions that happen along the way, but librarians aren’t there during the immersive experience that generates those questions. It doesn’t surprise me that this becomes a point of conflict when both faculty and librarians are attempting to support the same students towards the same goal in a semester-long course.

But taking this conclusion out of the environment of a semester-long collaboration and translating it the administration of an instruction program built mostly on one-shots, you can see the same point of conflict causing frustrations.  It explains why a faculty member might not think it’s important for students to have their topics when they arrive at the beginning of the semester.  It explains why drafting an outline for a session to demonstrate a research process can feel so artificial for courses where students are given the freedom to develop a topic that interests them over the course of the semester.  And it explains why we sometimes run into research assignments where the faculty member hasn’t considered whether or not the information is going to exist for students to successfully answer the research questions they’re likely to generate based on the prompt — we expect people to look into the future and envision the information they need from the start.

The following questions come to mind:

1) Is this situation unique to writing faculty and courses or is it to be expected from across disciplines?

2) How can we provide better support for the exploratory stage of the research process being encouraged by faculty?

3) The conclusions states, “The authors’ recommendation is for faculty and librarians who teach collaboratively to meet and explicitly discuss their expectations for when students will arrive at their research question, what that question might look like, and what roles the faculty and librarian will play in guiding them to a research focus.” What would this conversation look like when translated to a one-shot collaboration?

Bridging the Overly Clichéd Gap

A couple of weeks ago we were meeting with our 398T instructors and we were discussing first year undergraduates’ exposure to databases prior to UT. Some of us had noticed that a lot more students seem to be arriving having already searched library databases than in the past. So I emailed four school librarians to find out a little more about this. Responses are summarized below.

Then this afternoon I saw an article from the most recent LOEX Currents about how they are addressing this issue in California. Here is a link to the article – Sequential Information Literacy Instruction (ILI): What, Why and How?

It is about a group of California librarians and their efforts to look sequentially between K-12, College and post college (Public libraries) settings, and whether and how information literacy can be addressed in a connected way. I thought he most interesting part of this article was the table that showed information literacy topics and how they are addressed by the different librarians.

I’m not suggesting we try a similar effort in Texas ourselves (although this might be something interesting for people within TLA to do), since we all have plenty on our plate, but I do think it might serve to inform us about whether our students are having similar or dissimilar ‘library’ experiences in high school, and how those experiences might affect their view of us and how relevant libraries are to research once they get here. And as I’m typing, I’m wondering if it might actually be relatively simple to do a survey like this and send it out to TASL (TX Assoc. of School Librarians) to see what kind of answers we might get on a larger scale? So with that in mind, here is the tiny, completely informal questions I sent and their responses:

Here are the questions I asked them

1. What do you do as far as instruction for your students? Is it formal (library instruction to classes), informal (whoever asks when they’re looking for something in the library), etc.? What percentage of your students do you see in these interactions (totally rough guesstimate)

2. What databases do you have, and how are they paid for – is there a common set among all TX public schools/high schools?

3. If not, do you decide which ones to subscribe to? If not, who does?

And here are the three good/interesting responses:

1. AISD uses the databases that were paid for by TexShare.  http://www.austinschools.org/campus/lanier/library/library.html

Here is a link to my webpage and it shows what we have access to.  When I taught middle school we would use it a lot too, but it was in a different state, so I don’t know if you are interested in that.

2. [this is from a librarian who works for Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, so she’s more of a support person for librarians in the schools, hence the somewhat sales-person type response] We are doing everything we can to get the databases into the hands of students, teachers, parents, etc., etc.! In our school libraries, we are exposing students through whole class instruction, on-the-fly instruction, and even parent sessions in the evenings. NISD has been invited to the TX Capitol School House in January where we’ll have two of our schools represented with students, librarian, technology instructor, and admin. I publish a quarterly newsletter spotlighting database use in the district called Database Showcase http://nisdlibdb.edublogs.org.

We’ve also recently purchased a federated search product through WebFeat and have Elementary, Middle School, and Professional profiles, with each High School having an individual profile with their catalog and campus specific databases included.

Please take a look at our district database page to see our district-wide subscriptions: http://library.nisd.net/Library/Resources/Online_Databases.htm

We get some through K-12 Databases: TEA, our regional service center, and Texas State Library & Archives Comm. and some are purchased through Library Services.

3. Our instruction varies depending on the age of the student. Our pre-K Kinder librarian actually has lessons for the little ones on databases.

By the time they get to the high school, we usually teach them in context with their research, except for a lesson that I do for seniors at the beginning of the year on how our databases can help them with colleges and careers. We have collaborated with our technology department on a website called Research Central, where we pre-select the databases and steer the students towards them and away from pure Google: http://librarycentral.acisd.org/researchCentral.cfm

I started a program called Pirate POWER (Parent Online Web Education Resources) that we put on the first Tuesday night of every month. We show high school parents how to access information on their students through our school web site, and how to use data bases. In 2 months, we have seen 3 parents (0 the first time, so it’s improving).

We have EBSCO and Brittanica, (A.J. all schools can access those for free right now – could be the reason that more of your students have recently been knowledgeable – we should use your letter to convince our legislators that this needs to continue to be funded), but we also subscribe to Facts on File and Gale (we get Testing and Resource Center and Opposing Viewpoints through them also). Our dual credit kids had a real revelation this year when their on-line professor required that they use academic journals. We pay for those through the library, but we code it to curriculum. The librarians have made these choices in the past, but this year we have formed a committee made up of librarians, tech. folks, and teachers. They will be making the decision for next year.

I heard yesterday that the new ELA TEKS have a re-newed emphasis on research. I expect that might also impact our use of databases. Now if I could only get my teachers to use them.

Conclusion: This is just to give us a little more idea about our undergraduates, and specifically what research/library-specific experiences they might have had before they came to UT. This is totally unscientific – would it be worth doing a short survey that would reach many more librarians in K-12, or even just in high schools, to see how they promote information literacy and/or library tools?