Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Article Note: On working with underprepared transfer students

Citation for the article:

Tipton, Roberta L. and Patricia Bender. "From Failure to Success: Working with Under-prepared transfer students." Reference Services Review 34.3 (2006): 389-404.

Read via Emerald.

After reading the article, my initial impression was that it was an excellent piece. It gave a good summary of learning models and the student profile. There are also a few of the references at the end that I may have to read later. It is very relevant to our setting where a significant number of students are unprepared for college level work. The article discusses a collaboration between librarians and writing center personnel.

  • What we often see: "The librarian sees the need for better writing and writing organization skills in students doing research; the writing center director sees the need for better research skills in student writers confronting term papers and other research-based topics" (389).
The approach was to invite a librarian to participate in a section of the school's ENG 122. According to the authors, this helps students learn about high level research as well as helps them with becoming better writers.

The authors go over the characteristics of writing and under-prepared students. This includes looking over concepts such as Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development and Kuhlthau's Information Search Process. Some of our notions as instruction librarians on intervention points would draw from these theories.
  • What the instructor does under ZPD: "The instructor's job is to help the student reach realistic goals with support structures where necessary (scaffolding) and then remove the supports when they are no longer needed (fading) (Dabbagh, 2003)" (392).

The Dabbagh reference refers to:

Dabbagh, N. (2003), "Scaffolding: an important teacher competency in online learning", TechTrends, Vol. 47 No.2, pp. 39-44.

The article also looks at the concept of self-efficacy, the idea of judgments related to personal capability. This reminds me of an article on competency theory I read a while back.

A reminder: "In order to become a successful academic writer, one has to be able to practice writing first" (395). I think that pretty much speaks for itself. The authors discuss the advantages of using two instructors in a class. The idea here is that instructors model different examples of writing as well as their own writing experiences. This is consistent with my own philosophy of teaching by example where I would actually write with my students and share my experience with them as well as provide feedback in a workshop setting where they learn from their peers as well. It is a risky approach for instructors who are not too comfortable with self-disclosure, but for those of us who love to embrace the chaos, it works fine. This also leads to reflective practice on the part of the teachers.

The authors provide a good explanation of how the library sessions are integrated with the course. I think in time this could be a possible model we could replicate here. The idea of the one minute writing piece is certainly a possibility. I think I may try to talk to a couple of professors who are amenable to me experimenting to see if they would let me try something like that when they bring their classes for instruction.

A question I had for myself: The concept of the librarian's writing/research notebook, could I be moving close to this with the Vox blog? I am thinking with a few small modifications in terms of how I approach it, I could make it work. Here is how the authors describe it:

  • "The librarian's notebook segment is a demonstration and discussion of how the librarian, who is neither a professional writer nor a writing instructor, use free writing and more structured methods to carve out a writing practice as a part of her job and her life. . . . The notebook session makes manifest the writing practice hidden behind finished pieces and demonstrates to students that they, too, can use writing in their work" (398).
In the interest of disclosure, I will point out that I was a writing teacher in a previous life. Anyhow, some of what is described above is similar to things I tried out back in the day.

And here is something I do most the time in my sessions, the part about using student prompts. For me at least, nice to see some validation now and then:

  • "This session [the second library session described] is the equivalent of a traditional one-shot class. Using the students' own research projects as in-class examples impose higher risk than showing a prepared search, but the rewards can also be higher. Talking a student through a process in front of peers is a time-honored way to model behavior and make implicit moves explicit" (398).
I usually "sell it" to students as "I will get your research started for you if you give me your topic." That usually gets one or two hands up for volunteers. When I can, I do e-mail some of the results to the volunteer.

And while there is no ironclad proof, "there is evidence to believe this combination of approaches [the methods outlined in the article] to instruction can make a difference in the academic lives of many under-prepared students" (399). This is something I have been thinking about and saying for a while now. If I could only convince some people up the chain of command that ideas like this would be worth exploring. For evidence, the authors look at passing rates for their classes when compared to other sections as well as research and writing behaviors.

Some final thoughts, or a few other concepts I want to remember:

  • "Students are learning how to use information sources meaningfully and independently in this class, which bodes well for transfer of learning to other courses" (400).
  • A constant challenge. Well, at least I can feel a bit like it is not just me who faces this: "One continuing issue is whether and how to institutionalize this kind and this depth of collaboration so that it can spread to other departments and continue with other individuals" (401).
  • "As Jacobson (2004) has written, individual collaborations in the research university often flourish for a time and then fade. In addition, scalability is desirable for an institution with large numbers of students; we could be accused of preparing a gourmet meal for a few students when we should be feeding armies" (401). This line stuck with me. I think we should be getting accused more of feeding armies.
  • "Students entering the research university environment for the first time are joining a scholarly community, and they need to understand that community's rules and expectations in order to participate fully. Interaction with the instructors promotes this social learning" (401).
The Jacobson reference above refers to the following:

Jacobson, T.E. (2004), "Meeting information literacy needs in the research setting", in Rockman, I.F. and associates (Eds), Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum: Practical Models for Transformation, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, pp.133-64.

I read Rockman's book, and my note is here.

No comments: