LOEX 2019: Student research

The more I look at my notes from LOEX2019, the more I think I loved this conference. In each session I attended, there was something new – a new perspective, a new method, a new tool or a new book just waiting to be examined more closely.

One of the really good sessions I went to was about students’ research process. Brianne Markowski and Rachel Dineen from University of Northern Colorado had done an analysis of students’ mind maps of how they do research.

“Think about your last research assignment. How did you proceed?” This was the task that Markowski and Dineen gave their students. The students made mind maps on their processes. Markowski and Dineen wanted to understand how the students perceive their own research process, and they wanted a rich description of data on the maps. Markowski and Dineen analysed and coded each mind map, and they presented some of their findings.

Image of mind map of research process

One of the mind maps collected from a student.

Findings included the following:

  • Students think about the assignments. It was acknowledged as a distinct step on all the mind maps.
  • In some of the mind maps the students show that they have drawn conclusions before they are done.
  • They often emphasise that they take notes.
  • They often place “citing sources” at the end, in stead of something they do throughout the process.
  • Some emphasise that they have asked fellow students or professors.

What does these findings mean? Markowski and Dineen said that we should spend more time on developing their subject/theme/research questions. Maybe we should take some time at the beginning of our courses or classes to think about their research project. What are they interested in? What do they need to know more about? We also need to help the students to think about their sources. They have to reflect on what they read. One way of doing it could be to give them a one-minute paper. Ask them to describe what they want to or need to do now or “What was interesting about this process?” – or something similar.

I have never really thought about asking the students to make mind maps of their research process. I found this very interesting. I would think this kind of assignment would fit right into the “Information creation as a process” frame in the ACRL Framework.

The question is, of course: Were the students involved in this project honest about their process, or did they draw a process that they think they should do? (Alternatively, what they think we wanted to see..?)

image on the categorization of subjects in the mind maps

Categories from the mind maps


Another session that I went to with a similar theme was: “You Can’t Catch Fruit Flies in a Mouse Trap: Teaching Contextual Evaluation of Information Sources”. Gary Arave from Indiana University Bloomington talked about how students often take information out of context. Students tend to scan information sources for sentences they can cite in stead of looking at the sources in more holistic ways. As a consequence, students use sources that are inappropriate to support their claims.

Arave said that information literacy is sense-making. If you are information literate, you can make sense of information. Humans categorise. It reduces the cognitive load. When we experience something new, we categorise: is this a new thing or a typical thing. There is a scale between these two extremes. If something is completely new, we do not know what to do, if it is typical, we get bored. Somewhere in the middle of the scale is good, when it is new enough to be interesting, but we still know how to handle it. We are not either novice or expert – there is a big middle ground here.

We need to give students the tools to see the context the information is created in (I am thinking about the ACRL Framework here..). The CRAAP test (criticised by several at the conference) and the ACRL Framework assumes some prior knowledge. Not all information is suited to every context. We know this, but we do not talk about it (enough).

Arave talked about how he had distributed articles that the students should read before class, given them a tutorial on how to annotate text in Adobe Acrobat, and asked the students to find examples of different kinds of information in the article. For example: “Find an example of demographic information. Mark this with the pink marker.” This was seen as a possible method to get students to reflect on what they read, and to analyse the content of the texts. A good idea, I thought.

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