Tag Archives: graduate students

RIOT Recap – Instruction for Graduate Students

Janelle and Roxanne led a discussion of instruction for graduate students, talking about different articles they had read about the topic and comments they had solicited via this blog before the discussion.  One of the most common questions submitted by fellow RIOTers was about whether or not graduate students come into the class with different levels of preparedness and, if so, how do you handle it?

The answer was a resounding “yes” but one of the unique characteristics of this population is that they understand how valuable to their work as graduate students what librarians are going to teach them.  One way to handle that discrepancy in preparedness is to capitalize on their natural interest and teach them a variety of skills and tools.  Even though some will know some of it, they definitely won’t know all of it and will find value in many areas of the session.   Librarians who regularly teach graduate students agreed that there isn’t a need to struggle to engage this level of students as there is with undergraduates.

The group discussed the different needs graduate students have and how these needs also change depending on where they are in their program.  For example, someone working on their first systematic review will need something different than students writing their dissertation lit reviews or dissertation proposals.  All of them, however, need help understanding what is expected of them when doing this type of research and tools and techniques for finding, evaluating and managing relevant resources.

One tool that is effective with a graduate student population, because of their understanding of how the library will be valuable to their work, is research orientations at the beginning of the semester.  Issues of timing and tying to a particular assignment aren’t necessarily as important with this population.  Roxanne also discussed a workshops program for grad students at another university that was effective.

RIOT–May 17, 2016

Instruction for graduate students

Janelle and I will discuss our experiences with instruction for graduate students. This sort of sharing is important, since there isn’t a lot of how-to literature out there for guidance (though we can highlight a couple of articles). The discussion will address the differences between instruction for undergraduates versus graduate students, especially focusing on systematic reviews, scholarly communication, and data management.


We hope this RIOT will be like a Reddit AMA on instruction for graduate students. Please submit your questions by leaving a comment.

CC Kati Fleming, July 4, 2013. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horned_Lark,_Eremophila_alpestris,_nestlings_begging,_baby_birds,_gape_colors,_leaping_in_nest_Alberta_Canada_(1).jpg
CC Kati Fleming, July 4, 2013.

RIOT: Rethinking Graduate Student Library Instruction

Today’s Article:  Incoming Graduate Student in the Social Sciences: How Much Do They Really Know About Library Research.  By Amelia Monroe-Gulick and Julie Petr

I was drawn to this article because it focuses on work with graduate students, which is something that doesn’t come up often in library instruction discussions and literature.   We do know some things about this user base… We know they are our biggest collection users.  We know they use journals more than any other type of source.  We know which disciplines prefer ebooks to print.   We even know a bit about how they search, how we have typically approached instruction and what we usually teach.  But what should be we teaching them?

The authors’ aim was to create an evidence-based plan for instruction to graduate students, based on incoming strengths and deficiencies.  To that end, they took on three projects:  1) interviewing incoming students 2) identifying faculty expectations of these students and 3) piloting a class based on these findings.   This particular article focuses on the results of the first project.

They conducted lengthy open-ended interviews with 49 masters students from political science, sociology, psychology and anthropology.  Each student was evaluated on the fulfillment of the ACRL Standards outcomes and, despite what academic librarians typically assume, a majority of the students fulfilled the outcomes.  With this new perspective, the authors made many suggestions.  Here is what especially resonated with me…

1)    Start from a strengths perspective. Rather than focusing on student deficits, the authors determined that “recognizing and building up the skills that the student already possessed would an important component of working with graduate students.”

2)    Professors are vital.  A majority of the student report gaining their IL skills through faculty resource recommendations, consultations and check-points built into their classes (turning in outlines, bibliographies, lit reviews, etc.).  On the other hand, students didn’t consider librarians as a step/resource in the research process and remember library instruction sessions as only moderately helpful.  To have a lasting impact, librarians must build bridges with faculty an be recommended as a legitimate resource/consultant.

3)    Encourage and support senior projects.  Students who completed such projects come to graduate skills with stronger IL skills and strong sense of “academic socialization” (how information is created and used in academia).

4)    Be flexible with standards. ACRL Standards should not be narrowly applied to as the sole measure of information literacy for graduate students.  The standards are focused on the types of skills that studies show doctoral studies acquire independently through coursework and research projects.  Graduate students could benefit from a broader focus on the research process itself.

5)    Focus on discussion.  Spend more time talking with students about the research process rather than showing them resources and strategies.  The authors plan to hold discussion groups about the expectations of graduate work, individual styles of approaching research and academic socialization.  They imagine these to be a way of establishing rapport with students so they begin to see us as a primary resource.

Questions / Points of Discussion:

  • 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?
  • Do you have ideas about how we can embed a strengths perspective into our planning and presentation styles?
  • Have any of you tried to used the ACRL Standards with graduate students/programs?  Have you found them applicable/complete?
  • 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?
  • 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?