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Library instruction program: Developing student IL skills

Developing Information Literacy Skills

Students struggle with:

  • Understanding the scope of a field of research and where their research question fits.
    • They don't know what they don't know, and aren't aware of where their question fits into the larger body of literature on a topic.
  • Sorting the trivial from the important themes in the research they find -- to the non-expert, all scholarly sources have equal weight.
    • They may not be aware that a given article does not necessarily represent the only or the most accepted view of a topic, and different sources provide different kinds of contributions to the scholarly conversation.
  • Understanding the nature of the information needed and identifying what type of information is needed to answer their research question (i.e. news media, academic journal articles, data & statistics, grey literature, etc.).

How instructors can help:

  • Provide students with the context they need to complete the assignment:
    • Big Picture: why are they being given this assignment? What are the learning goals? Do they have the background information on this topic?
    • Language: define discipline specific terminology, including what terms such as "scholarly article," "primary source," and even "research" mean in a specific discipline.
    • Discipline: Many students receive instruction on the surface-level characteristics of scholarly versus popular sources, but these terms have different values and different uses in different disciplines. Students require disciplinary context to know how, where and why to find information for specific purposes.
    • Information needs: Where can students get background information on a topic? How can they be introduced to research and scholarly publishing in this field? How will they know where to find the information they need?

Students struggle with:

  • Searching strategically, and identifying which search tool(s) to use to find the needed information.
  • Decoding disciplinary language to unlock access to research articles and make use of database search tools -- keywords, subject headings, thesauri.
  • Following the trail of scholarly conversations using citations.
  • Recognizing relevant articles when they see them in the midst of large numbers of retrieved articles.
  • Assessing search strategies, and leveraging information from initial searches to construct more effective searches.

How Instructors can help:

  • Ask a librarian to guide your students through the process of identifying and locating appropriate resources.
    • The more students know about the kinds of resources are available to them and suitable for their academic work, the more likely they will be to use them.
  • Direct students to a variety of resources on a topic so that they can see the value of books, articles, and other resources to the creation of disciplinary knowledge and understand the purpose of research articles in context.
  • Provide students with examples of good quality, relevant articles and other resources that are appropriate for your assignment.

Students struggle with:

  • Understanding disciplinary publishing patterns -- the different purposes and values that journal articles, books, blogs, websites, and reference materials have in different disciplines.
  • Understanding sources -- students lack disciplinary knowledge and background to know how to evaluate quality, authority, and accuracy of sources within a particular community of knowledge
  • Determining what kind of information they need to complete assignments, and how to evaluate sources in terms of suitability for a given purpose.

How instructors can help:

  • Help students develop skills to seek and identify authoritative sources but also help them recognize that authority is constructed and contextual. Authoritative sources may appear in untraditional places.
  • Instead of requiring the exclusive use of scholarly articles for research assignments, assign activities that encourage students to demonstrate an awareness of the importance of critically evaluating all information sources, and and ability to define authority for themselves, in specific contexts.
  • Request an instruction session with a librarian for students to learn evaluation skills and practice them on various of information sources and formats.

Students struggle with:

  • Effectively and appropriately quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing sources
  • Integrating sources into their writing
  • Awareness of the academic tradition of citing and attributing other scholars' work
  • Summarizing articles
  • Making connections between articles and their courses or disciplines
  • Understanding articles that are increasingly specialized and full of complex, discipline-specific jargon 

How instructors can help:

  • Rather than assigning a research paper that students can "fake" their way through, create a series of scaffolded assignments.
  • Communicate to your students the importance of high quality, relevant sources for research assignments. In your assignment handout, be explicit about what resources to use, how to search for them, and how and why to use them to complete the assignment.
  • Ask your subject librarian to help you evaluate students' bibliographies and/or research logs.
  • Help prevent plagiarism by ensuring your students are clear about what citation style to use, and how to use it.
  • Don't assume students learn how to read scholarly articles on their own. If you don't want them reading and quoting exclusively from the abstract, help them understand how to apply strategies for academic reading
  • Make use of instructional support services and resources provided by the Library and Student Learning Services.

Here are some sample assignments that address IL concepts. Talk to your subject librarian for more suggestions on creating and adapting assignments that address these concepts and challenge students' IL skills.

Citation Chaining

* Students explore the impact of an article on a field by locating citing articles and writing about how those articles have used the original article.

Close Reading

* Students read and deconstruct an article as a class to become familiar with the anatomy, structure and purpose of scholarly articles.

Comparing Different Formats

* Students find two sources in different formats on the same topic and compare and contrast the information found in those sources. (ex. book reviews in newspapers and academic journals; health information for consumers and practitioners; academic articles from different disciplines).

Exploring Keywords

* Students use keywords in different disciplinary databases to see how the search results differ. Students critically analyze the keywords and Subject Headings found in disciplinary databases to see how different disciplines frame scholarship on a topic.

Journal Club

* Students read and critically evaluate individual articles in depth and have a group discussion about the article.

Research Logs

* Students maintain a log of their research experiences, making note of search strategies, successes and challenges and reflecting on how the information they found affected the way they thought about their topic.

Science in the Media

* Students examine media portrayals of science and evaluate the nature and quality of evidence presented.

* Students find a popular media article that refers to a research study and have to find the original academic source based on clues in the media article.

Scholarly Conversations

* Students define a venue where a scholarly conversation is taking place (online forum, blog, online journal, etc.) and identify key scholars and key perspectives, issues, etc.

Synthesis Matrix

* Students complete a matrix to compare and contrast sources, gaining practice in making connections between authors and reading and integrating different formats and styles of writing.

Wikipedia Contribution

* Students locate a "stub" and expand on it. Or, students find an article requiring clean up or verification and improve it by verifying information and adding citations.

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