All posts by April Kessler

RIOT: Alignment of Research and Instruction

Reinventing the Library’s Message Through the Alignment of Research and Instruction

Huber, R. (2013). Reinventing the library’s message through the alignment of research and instruction. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 18(3), 233-250.

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management Walker Management Library serves primarily the graduate business school community. This article is about how they set new goals to increase the library’s impact on the school and specifically on the students by changing their information literacy approach to be consistent in teaching in the classroom, via email, and in person consultations. Using more consistent language and using the same methods in and out of the classroom, they found that students gained a better understanding of the concepts and skills they needed for research.

To better align their message to promote the library’s mission. They came up with what they call three goals, but I think of these are more learning objectives. I’ve summarized them below and their actual goals are in quotes:

  • Information has a value
    “Information is Big Business: over $495B was spent in 2011 according to the Business Information Industry Association on the purchase of reports, studies, articles, and so on”
  • Research is a process
    “Using critical thinking skills, there is a patterned way to begin your research even when you don’t know where or how to start”
  • Copyright is a law
    “Information that is not “common knowledge” belongs to the creator. This is called Intellectual Property and is governed by copyright, Fair Use, and plagiarism laws”

The librarians teaching in the classroom changed teaching styles/methods moved from lecture and PowerPoint to a more interactive approach. The majority of us in RIOT have been fortunate enough to attend Immersion and are already doing this. In the article they site a 2004 study from the Journal of Psychology that shows students retain more information when it is presented in a less formal way and using informal language. This got me thinking about my in-person consultations and how we sit in a small group and discuss their research strategy and go from there. In the classroom I start with a group exercise and then spend the last half of class working with the small groups and suggesting resources but we don’t have as much time to discuss process.

The process piece of this really resonates with me. It goes to teaching concepts over tools. Getting students to think about what info they need and where to find it. Walker Library found that their students often don’t ask the right questions or ask questions that can’t be answered. Their librarians help the students reframe their “business problem” to match with resources available. For example, if they want city information but the census collects the data at the national level, helping them understand that this national information is useful to their research. We are teaching them how to consider the data available and use it to their advantage. The process that Walker uses is the same one I was taught in Business Research class, first question to ask is “Who Cares?” – Who would care enough to collect this data? That often points the user in the direction of an organization, agency, or association. This could be taken broader to ask would this be covered in national news, local news, or academic papers.

Teaching the process really means we have to realize that students don’t think like us (yet). The article points out that students are happy with Google and it does a great job for them. Students see us making searching, something they do successfully every day, more complicated. “Librarians who consider themselves to be experienced searchers understand that, over time, finding information on a previously unknown topic gets easier. Their brain builds the equivalent of a circuit board full of patterns to help them know where and how to look for information.” (240). We have do a better job explaining how we approach the problem, why we use the tools we do, sharing our information strategy so students can learn the process.

Questions for us to consider:

  1. How are you currently teaching concepts/process over tools?
  2. Do you explain why you use one tool over another, is that part of the process?
  3. How can we bring the information consult success to the classroom?
  4. Could we develop a set of similar goals that would be broad enough for all of us?
  5. Could we streamline language for consistency?

Discussion: Rethinking Graduate Student Library Instruction

Janelle hosted the meeting and led a discussion about her post on graduate students and instruction. The article she reviewed focused on research conducted with hour long interviews of 49 graduate students in the social sciences. Based on the interviews the researchers discovered that the majority of students met the ACRL standards. This brought up the concern that maybe we are underestimating levels of graduate students’ information literacy skills and we discussed what we as instructors could and should change to accommodate these learners.

The group discussion was prompted by the these three questions and our comments follow:

1) Because of the small sample size, authors couldn’t generalize beyond political science, sociology, psychology and anthropology?  What’s your experience in other disciplines?  Are students coming in with basic IL skills?

  • We had questions about whether all of the students are coming in with a deep understanding of research. We still see a broad range of experiences and skills among the graduate students. Those that have been out of school and are returning have a different perspective than those students that come straight through undergraduate.
  • Maybe students don’t realize they do have information literacy skills. They don’t always transfer skills.
  • It might be worth trying to determine in our own classes what level of understanding students actually have. Could we do a five minute survey about where are grad students start?
  • Michele mentioned that Krystal helped create a short survey with similar types of questions and these are some you might consider asking:

a. What resources tools have you used?
b. What have you had problems with?

c. What problems do you anticipate?
d. What were experiences has undergrad?
e. Have you done a senior project or lit review?

2) Do you have ideas about how we can embed a strengths perspective into our planning and presentation styles?

  • Janelle suggested changing the style and/or tone of the class to to make more conversational.
  • Laura said she focuses on what the students have in common and that is that students are all new to UT. She points to resources that are similar among all universities like the catalog.
  • Other points of strength to focus on could be that the students are all motivated, smart, and capable.
  • We know they have used tools before and can learn them quickly so we can focus on process and let them watch short videos of the tools. Moves the discussion away from the tool again.
  • Point back to research guides they can return to later.

2) Even if you don’t hold discussion groups with your students as the authors plan, do you build these discussion points into your class?  Do you think it would work?

  • Questions were raised about the structure of the discussions. Would it be disorganized? How to lead it?
  • Instructor could be facilitator, move the conversation along and keep notes and report back to students.
  • Good to think about including more active learning even in graduate classes. We don’t want it to be busy work so we really have to work hard to make sure it is thought provoking and really plan ahead with a lot of structure.
  • Tell the class you are trying something new.
  • Discussions included in class versus stand alone would be more productive and could be done in short exercises not full hour long discussions.
  • A couple things brought up that could make good discussion starters to get students helping each other could be:  How do I know what’s important? When do I know I have enough resources to conclude my research? Individual strategies to organize information.
  • Will students help each other or feel competitive? Some examples on both sides were brought up.
  • Some in the group do instruction for 398T classes for incoming Instructor and/or TAs. This would be a great time to try out more discussion and they might ask questions about their own research.

3) To focus on the “research process itself” can take a lot of time.  How does this translate into the one, 90 minute class your planning?

  • In consultations we have more time to talk about process and we are seen as a true consultants here and not as a teacher or presenter.
  • Lead discussions about what information users need and where to find it versus how to use the tools.
  • Try giving them sample topics and have them determine which resources would be best and have them explain what the database is good for or how it leads to information for their research.