Monday, March 23, 2009

Article Note: On Infoseeking behaviors of education majors

Citation for the article:

Martin, Jason. "The Information Seeking Behavior of Undergraduate Education Majors: Does Library Instruction Play a Role?" Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 3.4 (2008): 4-17.

Read online. This journal is open access. Main page here.

The article reports on a small survey of 200 undergraduates from University of Central Florida's College of Education. The author does admit the limitations of the small convenience sample, but the findings are still not encouraging overall for library instruction and information literacy at large. We have our work cut out for us. This is especially so if the example of judges citing Wikipedia in their legal decisions is any indication. When I read that in the article, I had to wonder. Most articles on information literacy that I've read usually state or assume that professors always are skilled in research and will always favor the best sources. I think we may need to question that assumption. Could we ask if there are instances when some scholar fall for the Internet's trap of convenience just as their students do? Or would this idea be too scandalous to even consider? Just a side thought for me, in part because I have seen my fair share of incompetent teachers in my lifetime both as a teacher myself and as a librarian.

Some things to consider from the article's introduction and literature review:

  • Here is the problem of relying only on Internet sources: "Students relying only on Internet sources will not only be deficient in their knowledge of a subject, but also in how to find more information on that subject" (5).
  • "Those individuals who are deficient in information seeking skills have difficulty in knowing when information is needed, the value of libraries in finding information, and how to evaluate the sources they do find (Gross 155)" (qtd. in 5). In other words, we are seeing a lack of information literacy skills. By the way, the Gross citation is to this article, which I read.
  • I found this particularly important: "The problems, however, extend beyond the classroom. These same skills are needed when graduate seek home or small business loans, research options for their retirement plans, or seek to make informed decisions in local or national elections. Research and evaluation skills learned in the classroom are needed throughout life" (5). I think we should probably enlarge that statement and put in every library, then show it to every professor who asks, "why should I give time up in my classroom for library instruction." We should also show it to every college administrator who does not see the value of the library, and to every student who thinks "everything is on the Internet." All we have to do is look at the current economic debacle in the United States. To a large measure, it is due to a serious lack of information literacy skills ranging from people being ripped off in bad loans to electing poor government officials. But that could be another whole post.
  • "The preference for the Internet over the library is not limited to inexperienced researchers. One study found no real difference in library usage among freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior college students (Van Scoyoc and Cason 51)" (qtd. in 6). The Van Scoyoc and Carson piece is found in portal:Libraries and the Academy 6.1 (January 2006): 47-58. I have not read it, but based on other readings I have done, that finding seems just about right. By the way, though I am keeping a copy of this article, I am trying to make adding citations coming from the article, if mentioned in the article, part of my notes, in case I want to look something up later.
The literature review also reveals that a lot of what is published in this area is not terribly substantial, and it is mostly based on satisfaction surveys. Given all I read in information literacy and instruction literature, I could have told them that for free, so to speak. And no, I am not being light when I say that. I am speculating that a lot of that has to do with ease and convenience as well, plus the need of some of my academic librarian brethren to publish in order to meet tenure requirements. Anyhow, putting together a substantial assessment instrument with clear outcomes and objectives takes much more work than just administering a survey.

And here is one more point from the introduction:

  • "The students' choice of resources was most influenced by the instructors' directions to the students; when the instructors enforced penalties related to student grades, the students cited more scholarly sources (Robinson and Schlegl 280)" (qtd. in 7). Consider the notion of actual BI making a minimal difference given this statement. Professor influence is more significant, but it is only because they wield a grade over the students. The article cited also comes from portal: Libraries and the Academy, but this time it is 4.2 (April 2004): 275-290.
So let's look at the results:

  • "Even though these students realized that library resources were more credible than Internet sources, they still chose to use Internet sources instead of academic library sources for both personal and class work" (9; emphasis added). This does not speak very well for the students.
  • And this is not greatly encouraging either: "Students who had attended a library instruction session were proportionally just as likely to use academic and non-academic sources as those students who had not attended a library instruction session" (10).
The study found that, although students did not find the library difficult to use, they still found more comfort using stuff freely available on the Internet (11). This seems contradictory, and my experience makes me question if the admission that the library is easy to use is all that accurate. I am thinking in terms of databases, which can be a bit difficult to access, especially when used off-campus and authentication becomes a serious access issue. This post from ACRLog on "5 Things I Didn't Realize I'd Be Working On," which mentions the issue of authentication, made me think of that just a little more. Just don't get me started on the whole issue of multiple passwords and log-ins in this campus; it could turn into a very ugly rant. However, that detail does make me wonder about the idea of students saying the library is easy to use. One would think I would like to hear that, but instead, since I have met enough students who say the opposite, I find myself being sceptical. Anyhow, if this is the case, going to Google is certainly more comfortable and convenient. I am just wondering if this little idea of mine was taken into account.

More from the discussion"

  • And here is the problem of students who follow their syllabi too literally; it may also raise the issue of some faculty who, to put it mildly, are not very good at writing out syllabi or instructions for class tasks. My two readers probably have no idea how often I have to interpret syllabi and reassure students doing research because they are too afraid of "breaking some small rule" when they need some research material. But do also note the reversal problem the article describes: "This raises a crucial question as to how much students are learning about research from simply following the rules written in their class syllabi. If students are not citing Internet sources simply because they are told to use more academic sources, it is possible that they will revert to using the Internet when they are not specifically instructed to do so, and they would not have gained a deeper understanding of the critical importance of using academic sources. This is important, since almost 90% of the students in this study said they use the Internet as a primary tool for personal research" (12).
  • "Academic libraries might be better served to invest their limited resources in for-credit library classes, mandatory multiple library instruction sessions, or in integrating librarians into the class curriculum. These changes in practice will not be easy" (12). The author is concerned this may devalue the concept of the one-shot, but I disagree since I think the one-shot may still serve some purposes. I do agree with some investment as described above, but I see there is an institutional problem the library always faces when it decides to embark on ideas like these: the school's and the faculty resistance. The library can work on promoting some of the concepts described, but we all know that without faculty support or buy-in and institutional support, those things will never happen. One option, which could be seen as a middle ground, is libraries creating online tutorials and literacy modules for the course management systems. The fear, of course, is the possible devaluing of our work if the professors feel they can just "plug in" the module and then think their students are set. But the tutorials and similar tools can be most effective when balanced with effective classroom instruction or with embedded librarians.

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