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Tuesday, 9th November 2010

New: "Study Shows Universities May be Failing to Sufficiently Teach Basic Research Skills"

We share a few thoughts at the bottom of this post.

From a University of Washington Announcement:

College students are among the savviest users of Web 2.0, right?

Well, yes and no. New research finds plenty of students use social networks, like Facebook, to find information in their everyday lives, but few are using other Web 2.0 tools -- blogs, wikis, video sharing sites -- to manage or collaborate on course research assignments.

The latest Project Information Literacy report sees this as part of a larger problem: colleges and universities may be failing their students at a time when research skills and collaborative learning are becoming more and more important. In today's information-driven workplace, people spend much of their time formulating questions, finding relevant information and drawing conclusions, often working in virtual teams scattered across the globe.

Alison Head, a research scientist at the University of Washington Information School, and Michael Eisenberg, a professor and former dean at the school, surveyed 8,353 sophomores, juniors and seniors at 25 U.S. campuses this past spring. They found that many students fumble research assignments. According to Head and Eisenberg, their new report is the largest scholarly analysis of information literacy among college students.

The researchers found that although many students consider themselves fairly adept at finding and evaluating information, especially from the web, 84 percent were often stymied at the outset of a research assignment. They'd been asked to formulate a research question without understanding what the process entails or requires. Of all the steps necessary in a course research project, survey respondents had the most difficulty determining the nature, scope and requirements of the assignment.

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Nearly half of students, 49 percent, sought professors for help with course research. Almost two-thirds, 61 percent, reported checking personal research with friends and/or family members. Few students turned to campus librarians.

The summary concludes with recommendations from the authors that you should take a look at.

Access the Full Text of: "Truth be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age" (72 pages; PDF)
by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg

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Some Numbers and a Few Thoughts

According to figures 2 and 3 (page 7 of the report) the use of librarians as a sources used for course-related research has dropped from 47% in 2009 to 30% in 2010. The use of "scholarly research databases" is also down from 94% in '09 to 88% this year. Use of library shelves fell from 69% to 53%.

It's important to mention that also all other categories are also down in usage in the past year.

When it comes to sources used for everyday life research here's a look at a few of the categories.

Use of library shelves has dropped from 49% in 2009 to 28% in 2010. Perhaps most alarming is that use of librarians has dropped from 33% in 2009 to 14% in 2010.

Selected Categories (Everyday Life Research):

+ Wikipedia Usage (Up 4%)
+ Scholarly Database Usage (Down 26%)
+ Social Nets (Up 10%)
+ Instructors (Down 13%)
+ Encyclopedias (Down 18%)
+ Government Web Sites (Down 14%)

Three thoughts and ideas quickly come to mind:

+ Is part of getting college students to use the skills that librarians can provide come from never using or asking for librarian research help before they begin college? This is why it's crucial that not only research skills need to be taught at the earliest possible grade level but also that info pro are experts in assisting with all phases of research and can now be accessed from locations other than the reference desk.

+ It makes sense that a student would go to their professors for help with a project. This is why it's important that faculty are constantly briefed on what the library offers both in terms of resources (databases, books, serials, etc.) but also about accessibility to the librarians who have expertise in selecting and using the best tools for their research. Just like one doctor might refer you to a specialist why can't it be the same in the library world with one professional (a professor or faculty member) referring the student to a specific person at the library.

This is all easier said than done (we know this first hand) but as you'll read "84 percent were often stymied at the outset of a research assignment." This is the perfect time to get to a student. However, without administration, faculty, and librarians working together the situation can quickly go from easier said than done to a major problem.

Finally, not only should research skills and library use (including working with librarians) needs to begin being taught as early as possible but does lack of interaction with info pros during the college/university experience continue after the student leaves and moves into the workforce? What are the repercussions for special and public libraries and librarians and the companies that provide some of the resources they provide?

One question that academic librarians need to ask after looking at the summary (below) and reviewing the full text is why do "very few students" use them for research assistance? Is this news shocking? No, it's not but hopefully it will force all of us (again) to try to figure out why this is even an issue.


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