Teaching Information and Research

This weekend Mr. Rochester and I attended A&M’s football game in which we soundly defeated Oklahoma State. I am like a small child when it comes to large stores or crowds; one has to keep a grip on me or I will wander towards the first shiny thing I see. Given this propensity, Mr. Rochester usually ends up dragging me Quiet Man style through the crowds.

It occurred to me this weekend that instruction sometimes feels like that, as if we have a firm grip on our students’ arms and we are dragging them through the maze of library databases and catalogs or maybe that is just how I feel after teaching 7 sessions in one week.

I have previously made my feelings known about OPACs, so I will not bore you again, but I will explain why I feel I am pulling a class harshly through the research process.

Sometimes the class comes to us and they are not working on a particular assignment. The professor or TA just happened to have that day open and the instruction will correlate with nothing the students are actually doing at the time. They may listen dutifully, but they will forget most of it the minute they walk out the door. Why should they remember how to find articles if they do not need articles for the 5 assignments they have due this week. They are more worried about the immediate than the later and I can not fault them for that.

The other problem is time. We simply do not have enough time with the students. In a student’s entire college career, they will be lucky if they have a single one hour session on library research. In that one hour, we have to choose what topics are the most important. Choosing a database? Finding articles? Using the catalog? Finding books in the library? Finding an article from a citation? Plagiarism? Evaluating resources? Effective web searching? Proper citations? The list could go on much longer.

So we choose a couple things and then drag them through the resources. I know that these one hour sessions are better than no sessions at all. I know that some of the students walk out at least remembering where to go when they need help. I hope that they leave feeling like they can ask for the help they need.

I wish that more colleges and universities valued research among their students as much as they pretend to and give lip service to the idea. For the future, I wish that more institutions will understand and support the role of library instruction as a foundation for students’ success.

–Jane, is glad the flurry of classes is over… for now

3 thoughts on “Teaching Information and Research

  • October 19, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    Since graduating from college and getting into a real work place I have had many occassions where I realize that it is not what information you learned in college that matters. What matters is that you learn how to find the information you need and how to use it once you find it.

    The using information part comes with your specific degree and what you learned there. But I agree with Jane that there is a serious lack of teaching these kids how to research. I admit that I don’t like it and I am bad at it. But, unlike literature, no one forced me to take any research “how to” classes. Any researching skills were expected to be learned on the fly.

    But you present an interesting dilemma that is not new. What do you teach in that short time you have. I don’t have the answere, my only suggestion is that you somehow teach them how to learn. I know your response might be, “duh.” But what I mean is that you teach them where to get started. Student A has a project, he walks into the library, then what? Just teach him what questions to ask and where to ask them. Don’t teach them how to use the Dewey Decimal system but teach them where to go to learn how to use it.

    That’s enough of my “answers to all the world’s problems” message.

    Mr. R. – knows nothing (but thinks otherwise)

  • October 19, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    That is my philosophy – to give students and users some basic skills they can transfer to any information they come across in life, not just when they are here.

    Learning does not stop when you graduate.

    Oh and just because I know you did it on purpose, its LC not Dewey, and we do not really teach them that, just where to find stuff.

  • October 19, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    Viva La Dewey Decimal!

    Mr. R. – I thought you would find that amusing (aka annoying).

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