Sunday, November 14, 2010

notes from Project Information Literacy report

Since I don't teach research courses per se, my students do research in support of their creative writing project. My interest in the report is both in terms of how students use the Internet (since the sources they use for their creative writing are online sources) but also for what clues this report might provide regarding how students manage projects in general. For example, I feel affirmed in the three weeks of brainstorming and planning we do for their semester-long project starting right away in the first week of class: since students report that getting started on a project and managing its scope is the biggest challenge, providing that early support is definitely appropriate!
Project Information Literacy
How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age
by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg

November 1 2010

THE FOLLOWING ARE MY CLIPPINGS FROM THE ARTICLE FOR FUTURE REFERENCE:

For over three-fourths (84%) of the students surveyed, the most difficult step of the course-related research process was getting started.

Even though many students may consider themselves adept at evaluating information and applying techniques for tackling one course-related research assignment to the next, the sheer act of just getting started on research assignments and defining a research inquiry was overwhelming for students—more so than any of the subsequent steps in the research process.

All in all, the findings suggest students in both large universities and small colleges use a riskaverse strategy based on efficiency and predictability in order to manage and control the information available to them on campuses.

Unsurprisingly, what mattered most to students while they were working on courserelated research assignments was passing the course (99%), finishing the assignment (97%), and getting a good grade (97%). Yet, three-quarters of the sample also reported they considered carrying out comprehensive research of a topic (78%) and learning something new (78%) of importance to them, too.

As a whole, students in the sample were not avid users of Web 2.0 applications for supporting course-related research tasks. The most frequently used Web applications were document sharing Web-based applications, such as Google Docs, available since 2006.

Only 1 in 10 students used social bookmarking (10%), such as delicious, for organizing and sharing Web content with others or alerting programs for automated content monitoring.

The finding suggests even though students may be heavy users of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Web 2.0 applications for course research have not yet found their way into studentsʼ research repertoire.

Over a third of the students in the sample reported difficulties with knowing how to cite (41%) and writing about research results (38%) were difficult steps in the course-related research process. And about a third of the respondents (35%) reported it was difficult to figure out if their use of a source constituted plagiarism, or not, when completing course-related research assignments.

Instead, for many students we interviewed, course-related research was difficult because it was more akin to gambling than completing college-level work. Yes, gambling. The beginning of research is when the first bets were placed. Choosing a topic is fraught with risk for many students. As one student acknowledged in interviews: either a topic worked well or it failed when it was too late to change it. Add in the constraints of timing, grades, and too much available information to scour—and the difficulties with beginning research are put into high relief. The odds of “winning” this bet are significantly compromised when these factors come into play. In fact, more than three-quarters of the students in the sample considered it important, if not very important, to conduct comprehensive research on a topic (78%) and to learn something new (78%). Nearly two-thirds of the sample found it important to improve their writing (64%) and research skills (63%). At the same time, over three-fourths of the students (76%) reported that it was also important to find answers to insert in their paper to prove to the instructor the research part of the assignment had been done.

This finding lends support to what we found in the student interviews: Many students see course-related research as being “answer-driven.” These results are striking—countering conventional wisdom among many educators and the public—we found students do approach information seeking and research in a consistent and thoughtful, albeit narrow manner. Scratch the surface and the rest of the results are even more revealing: Even though many students may consider themselves fairly adroit at finding information, especially culled from the Web, and evaluating it, they also reported being hobbled by having to frame a research inquiry for course-related research—before they even begin. That is, studentsʼ biggest difficulties were in determining the nature and scope of a research assignment and what it required of them.

RECOMMENDATION: Integrating research rubrics into assignment guidelines: In our survey sample, students struggled the most with initiating course-related research assignments. Defining a research inquiry is the fundamental research competency for completing college course assignments—yet it stymied over two-thirds of the students in our sample. Despite our concerns with this result, we also see it as offering an interesting opportunity, especially for helping students learn about what information seeking and research require as a knowledge-producing process and for giving students a way for assessing their own performance when conducting course-related research.

RECOMMENDATION: Assessing how students are being prepared for the 21st century workplace: Our work leads us to see a widening gap between the information-seeking systems todayʼs students use and the information-seeking systems the academy most readily supports (as communicated through assignments, support materials, and curriculum). In a study we released this year about handouts instructors use for course-related research assignments, we found six out of 10 handouts recommended that students consult library shelves—a place-based source—more than online library sources and the Web, even though most students use these sources more often.50 In this study, few students had used Web 2.0 applications within the last six months for collaboratively creating and sharing knowledge for course work (beyond Google Docs). Yet, 70% of this yearʼs sample of students frequently turned to social networks, such as Facebook, for solutions to information problems in their daily lives.

The main point? Todayʼs students have systems for finding and using information the academy often disregards, or in some cases, even prohibits (e.g., Wikipedia). What concerns us is that the systems students are using are increasingly becoming the basis of what is being used for finding information and collaborating, sharing, and creating knowledge in many workplaces. Many institutions may be unwisely out of step with how information is manipulated and used in todayʼs world.

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