By Melissa Davis, Pensacola State College
This summer I attended the ALA conference in New Orleans with several of my Pensacola State College librarian colleagues. The conference was fabulous, and I loved being at a national conference again.
One of the workshops I attended was Building Inclusion: How Can Information Literary Instruction at Two-Year Colleges Help Students Successfully Transition to the University? (https://guides.ucf.edu/ld.php?content_id=42770059) presented by Peggy L. Nuhn and Rachel Mulvihill at the University of Central Florida and Karen F. Kauffmann and Morgan Tracy at Seminole State College. To be honest, this workshop wasn’t what I expected it to be (practical tips to get students excited about research), but it turned out to be the most thought-provoking session I attended.
I have taught LIS 2005, Internet Research, a three-credit class for two years. It has been a required course for the Physical Therapy Assistants program and probably has been seen as an easy A class for non PTA students (I think they are disappointed when they realize there is actual work required). While I always knew there was room for improvement, initially, I was surprised to hear that the universities thought we at the state colleges weren’t adequately preparing students for university research.
Back in June, I only really heard what the presenters thought we weren’t doing well enough. Now six months later, after thought, reflection, and revisiting the PowerPoint, I realize that the presenters also said what we were doing right and that their findings, positive and negative, had merit. Here are the things they found that the state colleges were teaching well:
- How to use general databases
- How to use subject specific databases
- How to contact a librarian for help
- Creating a search strategy
- Navigating a library homepage
These skills are huge! Creating a search strategy, for example, includes narrowing a topic, understanding and selecting keywords, faceted analysis, and, hopefully, some simple Boolean logic–all great research skills!
The concepts the researchers thought we weren’t getting across well, however, were these:
- Citations! (caution when using database-generated citations, identifying parts of a citation, and MLA /APA in general, I would say)
- Recognizing a research study (as opposed to a popular article that might mention a research study)
- Avoiding plagiarism
- Understanding the information cycle (the reason not everything can be researched on an academic level immediately)
- Literature review
When I really started to think about what my students were having the most problems with, I would have to agree with the findings. The biggest thing my students have problems with is citations, even after instruction and in-class and out-of-class practice. Many of my students don’t seem to understand the difference between an article title and a journal title. They don’t know what those numbers are (volume and issue numbers). They insist on including helpful abbreviations for the volume and page numbers they do include. They don’t want to use a citation generator or get help from the writing lab or from me. I don’t have an instant solution to the citations problem. I’m still trying to figure out how to give citations more time and/or a more practical approach. I have started to be more mindful about the other topics on the need-more-work list as well.
Still, I have to think that the students attending basic LIS classes are more prepared to go to a university than those who don’t, and perhaps other professors (and high school teachers) requiring excellence with citations will help students master this skill. That students are aware of the power of databases and how to use them and that they can navigate a library somewhat successfully is a win in my book.