Friday, June 12, 2009

A student's view of scholarly research

From: Admissions of Another Sort by Mary W. George,senior reference librarian at Princeton University Library. She is author of the new bookThe Elements of Library Research: What Every Student Needs to Know(Princeton University Press).

"When professors assign a library project to undergraduates, just what do they expect students to learn from the research part of the experience? What do professors think students are doing to come up with the sources in their papers? If there is a discrepancy between pedagogical intent and actual student research behavior, how do faculty members address it? Or do they care, especially since they may not spot a student’s research problem until the end of a course and may well not see that student again? Does the end of a well-written, well-supported argument justify whatever means a student uses to acquire sources?

These are issues I often fret about, both in private and aloud when I compare notes with other academic librarians. My concern arises not from a general suspicion that students are engaging in what I call WIGWAM research (Wikipedia – Internet – Google – Without Anything More), but from what students themselves have been telling me for decades. It is clear from e-mail, reference encounters, research consultations in my office, and questions that arise in library instruction sessions, that most students simply do not retain the concepts and logic involved in discovering information sources — never mind the principles for evaluating the sources they do turn up. Even students whom I’ve counseled extensively in the past, and whose projects turned out well, seem clueless the very next semester when they face a research assignment in a different course.

Here are the most persistent and troubling confessions I’ve heard from students over the years, with my speculation on their cause and cure. Some of these statements have been blurted out, others are responses to a question I’ve asked."
More detail for each item at the article:
1. "I have no idea [about the dates or details of my topic]."

2. I’m wondering why I can’t I find this periodical article in the library’s catalog.

3. This magazine isn’t digitized, so I guess we don’t have it and I can’t get it.

4. I need to change my topic because there’s not enough stuff [sic] about it.

5. I’m not clear about what makes an article scholarly or a book a monograph.

6. I can’t find books about [an event that occurred last month].

7. I’m confused about the difference between a primary and a secondary source.

8. I’m afraid I’ll be cheating if I take references from someone else’s bibliography.

No comments: