Expectations: the freshman perspective on entering college

This morning I read an interesting blog post about the freshman experience concerning the amount of information they have to handle. Most of us who have been studying for a while and perhaps even worked in a university/college have experienced what the information flow can be like, and most of us have adopted some sort of coping mechanism. This is not so for the freshmen. Most of them are overwhelmed by the information suddenly available to them, particularly for students coming straight from high school.

I have never liked the term “digital natives”. There are several reasons: 1. there is no such thing as a homogenous generation. In my generation there are computer geniuses and computer illiterates. I suspect that it is the same with every generation since the mid 1960s at least. 2. the fact that most young people can type faster than they can write by hand doesn`t mean that they can handle information in a critical and ethical way. 3. the fact that we have named a generation (or two) “digital natives” makes the teachers (most of whom would not fall in to this category) believe that students have information skills they do not possess. They do not teach the students how to deal with searching in databases, evaluating sources and using software like Word, EndNote (and similar) – because they expect them to know it before they enter college. And while some students may know how to use styles etc. in Word – most don`t! That is my experience anyway. This fall, I spent the better part of two weeks formatting Word-documents for students in a particular course.

My point is that these students are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because we expect them to know more than they do, and when they get here there is nobody to teach them how to do it. It can be as easy as showing them how to use Word a little (just a little) smarter, how to search two databases of real importance, talking about how the research system works. But making this happen we need first to acknowledge that it is a problem, then finding out what the students need, then deciding who will fix it. For some groups of students, a quick video will do. Others may need tutor sessions, lectures, assignments, support and comforting to strengthen their “computer self-esteem”.

I know that I keep hacking away on this subject, but just as learning to read is the basis of almost everything else one is to learn in school, I think that learning how to handle information is the basis for mastering college/university.

Read the blogpost I mentioned, though. Well worth the time! (Oh, and have a look at Project Information Literacy (PIL) publications. Interesting stuff!)

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