We have work to do

Image CC Flickr by EnoksonCC Flickr by Enokson

I finally got around to reading the report “Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age”. It is a report from a project concerning information literacy in the US. Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg at the Information School, University of Washington have presented findings from almost 8,500 survey respondents from 25 campuses. The results and prospects are quite bleak, from a librarian`s perspective (See my blogpost “Handling the truth?“).

Key findings include that  the most difficult step for students is to get started (choosing a subject and narrowing it down, finding search terms etc.). Also the students use scholary databases less, other library resources less and librarians less in 2010 than in 2009. When they evaluate information, they use a set of self-taught strategies combined with some strategies learned in high-school. They are less critical towards information for personal use than for course work and they more often ask friends and family for help to evaluate sources than librarians. The students use library resources, but not librarian-related services. It is to some comfort that the students who seemed to have a fuller grasp on the research process said that they had learned it from a campus librarian, but still..

Over a third of the students reported difficulties with knowing how to cite and writing about research results. Why don`t they ask?

The students reported that they had no problem thinking of a subject, rather the reverse. They didn`t know how to choose. They were unsure about the subject meeting the professor`s criteria. They were insecure about what could be counted as “sufficient” in the information search process and they were keen on finding “the answer”.

Clearly, we have work to do. The authors of the report have some suggestions as to what to do: 1. Integrate research rubrics into assignment guidelines and that librarians should develop these rubrics in cooperation with faculty staff 2. Re-think the library courses and emphasise the research process rather than just finding sources 3. Hold students more accoutable for the research they conduct, for example by making them choose their own subjects and requiring annotated bibliographies.

“Today`s students have systems for finding and using information the academy often disregards, or in some cases, even prohibits (e.g. Wikipedia)” (p. 40), the authors conclude.  My response to this is: Prohibiting Wikipedia? Let`s not be that daft.

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