Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Article Note: Understanding the Millenials

Citation for the article:

Holliday, Wendy, and Qin Li. "Understanding the Millenials: Updating Our Knowledge about Students." Reference Services Review 32.4 (2004): 356-366.

I read the article via Emerald.

This article provides a good discussion about the Millenials, and it serves as a good overview of recent research on undergraduates through the literature review as well as the bibliography. Holliday and Li define the Millenials as those born after 1982 and with "extensive experience using the world wide web as their primary information resource" (356). According to them, this poses challenges for librarians in terms of student expectations; much of this is the idea that these students expect resources to be like Google. The article is based on a project researching Millenial students at Utah State University. The authors were testing if the information search process modeled by Kuhlthau is still valid with the Millenials.

Prior to their study, Holliday and Li conducted a literature review on undergraduate information behavior. According to Holliday and Li, "this review showed that while we know a great deal about students' attitudes, preferences, and search habits, we know much less about their deeper cognitive and affective behavior in the more holistic context of their research process" (356). The authors then summarize their literature review. Some of the findings in the literature review are ones many academic librarians probably know.
  • According to C. Brown et. al., cited by the authors, "students are overconfident because they equate their technology savvy with information literacy" (357).
  • The authors cite B. Valentine, who did research on students' attitudes about researching and papers. "From a series of interviews with undergraduates in 1998, she found that students are motivated largely by grades and that they attempt to figure out what their instructors want in a research paper, focusing on the number of pages and the types of sources" (358).
    • At the risk of sounding snarky, students will likely behave that way in 2008 and beyond. I could have told Valentine that and with less effort. Any good teacher in higher education knows this. One thing library school students may not hear about is how often librarians have to help decipher what a teacher wants from poorly written assignments to unclear goals. Sure, they may tell future librarians not to interpret for students, whether for ethical or practical reasons. In reality, some interpreting will happen; it's part of helping them get the information they need. I will add that students do come in knowing they need X amount of sources for Y amount of pages; this is often written out in the assignment sheet or syllabus. Professors don't always tell them what kind of sources though, and that is where I come in.
  • Another finding: "According to Valentine (2001), students tend to find information in a chaotic fashion, using the most familiar resources, such as the Web, and focusing on speed and convenience" (358).
    • We can connect this to the item above and my comment, and we get a better picture. I think for students this is second nature. Teachers may decry the fact that students turn to Google, but the students grew up on it. It's ingrained. Our job then is to show them alternatives.
  • G. Marchionini's model of the electronic research process: "First users recognize and accept a problem. Then they define the problem and select sources. Then they execute a query, examine the results, and extract information from the results. Finally, they reflect, iterate, and eventually stop" (qtd. in 358).
    • There are other models, but I wanted to note this one as an example. What Holliday and Li will suggest later in the article is that students often skip steps in the search models. G. Marchionini is the author of Information Seeking in Electronic Environments (1995).
  • I think that this finding by K. Macpherson, cited by Holliday and Li, is important. "According to Macpherson (2203), students need metacognition skills, or the ability to analyze their own thought processes, in order to develop better search strategies and problem-solving skills" (qt.d in 359).
    • I don't think this is a new idea, but I do think it is an idea worth repeating and emphasizing. We need to teach students how to think and to evaluate how they think. Some of this can be taught through modeling of thought processes. However, this also requires fostering and nurturing creativity through use of inquiry process and active teaching. This goes along with the article on creativity I read earlier this week.
One idea that emerges from these and other findings is that librarians cannot afford to downplay technology and the Web. I have had some time to ponder this due to a series of questions about using Google I've had in some of my BI sessions. I have discovered that it makes no sense to tell students not to use Google or any other search engine. They will do it anyways even if the professor actually tells them not to. What I do instead is tell them what they can do with Google and what they can't do. I talk to them about evaluating what they find and about comparing findings from different places. I also show them how, at times, using Google is actually more work than using a database. Overall, the teacher librarian needs to be flexible and open to various ideas and techniques. Holliday and Li confirm this when they write that "we might need to emphasize what the web is good for, such as exploring the major issues and opinions surrounding a topic, rather than focusing only on evaluation of web resources for credibility and accuracy" (359). I think this is an expansion of what many librarians do already. For some, it may represent a reversal, albeit a positive one.

Here are some of the authors' preliminary findings. I will include some remarks here and there.
  • "Finding a topic was the cause of much of their [the students'] confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety at the beginning of the research process" (361).
  • "Most students described thinking about one or two topics and then weighed them against criteria, such as their personal interest, their knowledge of the topic, or how easy it would be to find information on the topic" (362).
    • I think this is just basic student behavior. Even some graduate students do this. It really helps if you have some personal interest in a topic. As for ease of finding sources, that could border on cynical for some, but it's really a form of time management.
  • "Students had a hard time tolerating uncertainty and inconsistency. The first information they found often determined their direction, rather than further exploration and thought" (363).
    • This is one thing we need to teach our students. Maybe reassurance is a better word. Letting them know it's ok to be uncertain; it's ok to be curious, and it is ok to wander off to a side path now and then while researching.
  • "In some cases, students kept printouts to read later and were discouraged when the articles turned out to be less helpful than anticipated. In other cases, the printing of fulltext articles seemed to encourage students to 'commit' to that particular information or viewpoint too early" (363).
  • And more on the possible pitfalls of fulltext easily available: "They [the students] rarely went through a process of extracting main ideas or compelling themes from more general reading. They were not motivated to take notes because the fulltext was right there" (364).
    • Also, fulltext can enable plagiarism, an issue I find significant. I have written a bit on plagiarism, mostly some light things here and here. I will have a couple of other posts later as I have some specific articles on the topic I am reading, so stay tuned.
The Holliday and Li article has a few other ideas that would like to revisit later. It contains a lot of information, and I wonder if some of this knowledge could be used to write a note, piece, or guide on better research for students. I think some of the findings I can use to reinforce certain ideas when teaching or working at the reference desk. The authors also provide some suggestions for further research, which give me another reason to revisit this article later.

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