Monday, May 08, 2006

Article Note: On How Faculty See Students' Use of the World Wide Web

Citation for the article:

Tomaiuolo, Nicholas G., "Faculty Views of Open Web Resource Use by College Students." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.6 (November 2005): 559-566.

I read the article via OmniFile.

This article studies faculty observations about student use of open Web resources. In my position, I often the requests from faculty for instruction that either avoids the open Web or includes strict ways to evaluate anything off the Web. So learning a bit about faculty views is of interest to me. In the introduction, the author states why this research is important for librarians:
" By understanding professors' observations concerning students' Web use, as well as what resources faculty find acceptable, librarians can more accurately recognize student information acquisition habits, and determine whether a gap exists" (559).
The literature review begins by discussing the well documented student preference for the World Wide Web and its resources. For us librarians, this is pretty much common knowledge. The author then adds in descriptions of library expenses for research databases and similar materials. Some of the notes from the literature review:
"Through citation analysis and interviews with two community college English composition classes Grimes also discovered that students evaluated the Web information only superficially, and cited information from a range of unauthoritative sites including pages created by junior high school students and sites that were publicity oriented" (560).
It seems those of us involved in teaching information literacy have our work cut out for us. For one, teaching how to find authoritative stuff is a big part of what I do. Even then, I still get indications that more needs to be done. Let me throw in a small anecdote.

I'd say about a month ago, a student came in with a paper/article he printed off the Internet. He needed to know how to cite it. The document gave no hint or indication of its provenance, but the printout included the URL in a corner, so I used that. It led to a PDF file, so I reduced the URL to get to the original site. Once there, finding the document again was not easy; I eventually got to what turned out to be a listing of graduate student papers, a sort of paper bank. I was already getting suspicious, and adding to my scepticism was the fact that the paper lacked references. It mentioned a study, but no reference to it anywhere. To make the story short, the paper in question could not be verified, and it showed evidence of plagiarism. I had to break my student's heart in telling him as much, so to speak. I did manage to get him some alternative sources. But as I reflect on that experience, I wonder how many students are finding similar things that look good but are neither authoritative nor reliable. That student knew enough to come ask me (I did a session for his class). How many more may be out there in a similar bind? As a teacher, I know that I can't reach all students; you aim for all, but you soon learn to be realistic, yet I wonder.

Back to the article, let me make some more notes from the results and discussion parts of the article:
  • "Overall, faculty agree that subscription databases are the preferred research paper resources" (561). Nothing new here.
  • Here is an interesting prediction: "Another community college professor posited that although students used the Web extensively because of ease of use, 'Now that subscription databases are available off campus by remote access, this reliance on open Web resources should go down" (563). I would say this is a bit optimistic on the professor's part. Remote access is not exactly a seamless thing. I get enough students complain about problems with it to know. And even when it works, it is not always seamless given different database providers, issues with the URL resolver, etc. This probably gives ammunition to those who advocate making library systems more like Google. I don't agree with that, but I can certainly see a serious need for improvements.
I think this next statement gives some food for thought in collection development as well as for instruction:
  • "That many faculty are neutral concerning whether they prefer their students use subscriptions resources over open Web information has a number of implications for teaching critical evaluation of Web information as well as budget allocations for subscription databases. If faculty do not strongly articulate their preference for use of subscription resources, then their students must know how to evaluate the unfiltered Web content. If subscription database information is not mandated, perhaps budget allocations for databases may be reduced" (565).
Given the exorbitant costs of subscription databases, could this be given thought? If faculty are not really demanding use of such resources, and the students mostly use the open Web anyhow, can we really justify a lot of the expense? Mind you that I believe a library should provide the best resources possible for its students, but I think such findings at least beg the question. This is definitely something that deserves further discussion and thought. On the other hand, there are the professors that do articulate quite loudly what databases they want and why. Problem for them is often the fact that the campus does not fund the library enough to provide them, so we get the brunt of the heat when it is really the campus not putting their money where their mouth is. This is where you get situations where to add a new subscription something else has to be cut. But, I am disgressing since this touches a bit close.

Finally, some notes from the conclusion of the article:
  • ". . . open Web resources are often relied on even though faculty report that most of the information located is not authoritative or credible, but acceptable" (566). Are students then settling for less? It would seem so in the name of convenience, and it seems I have some more work to do on the education front.
  • "Additionally, while libraries with limited budgets spend considerable sums to offer databases, the results of this survey show that these resources are underused" (566).
  • ". . .these findings illustrate that, despite efforts of librarians and faculty to inculcate techniques for scrutinizing and evaluating material and to suggest the use of subscription resources due to their intrinsic quality screening, use of open Web resources has not abated" (566).
  • "Possible mitigating measures that librarians wish to accentuate include intense promotion of subscription resources while integrating examples of appropriate open Web use as a complement to subscription resource use during library instruction, and finally reducing the number of subscription database offerings to the bare essentials" (566).
As I finished reading the article, I wondered if libraries would actually dare to go to the bare essentials on the basis of findings like this. Yes, I know some are already at the bare minimums, but how many keep certain resources out of a feeling of "we ought to have it"? I don't think they would dare. For one, faculty (the ones who know what a database is) take access to subscription resources for granted. Cutting back dramatically would likely create an uproar on their part. Two, libraries are about providing access to the best resources possible, and bare essentials are simply not enough. Such extreme cuts would likely be a disservice. And yet, these are questions to consider.


Liz said...

We have a lot of faculty who tell their students not to use the computer and who will not let them use articles that were available in full text via a subscription database. There seems to be little distinction between scholarly electronic resources and the Web. It's very difficult to explain this to the students without insulting their professors.

Joseph said...

See one similar site

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Liz: Hello there. Yes, I get the same exact thing now and then. One way I get around it is to tell them to print out the PDF versions when available. Since they "look" like the real thing, they can say they photocopied it, which they would have to do anyhow if they got something in print. I know, a bit devious, but it seems to work. In the meantime, it means I still have work on educating the faculty. And then they say librarians are not necessary. Educating about the databases accessible online and just open Web searching is one of my continuing projects, but hey, it keeps me working. Best, and keep on blogging.

Liz said...

speaking of librarians not being necessary, have you seen the argument going on over at the LibraryTavern?