Friday, July 01, 2011

Article Note: On Using Blogs to Teach Students About Scholarly Work

A brief note (if you just want my article note, skip ahead). I noticed that I went on a bit of an unintentional hiatus for the blog.  I am still reading the literature, and I am still keeping up with the profession. Work for one has been a bit rough in terms of keeping me busy (among other things, and I will speak no further on MPOW). Also, I have been writing, but I have been doing a bit more of it in my personal journal (and some random things plus some things that are a bit of fun over in the scratch pad. If you are really curious, the link to Alchemical Thoughts is on the sidebar). In terms of this blog, let me just say I am being very selective about what I may blog about here for various reasons (that I may or not blog about as part of my reflective practice. Some things are better left unsaid). At any rate, if any of my three readers missed me, I am humbled that you did and let this be my small explanation for my absence. I will warn you three that given how things are going lately, the blogging here may get a bit sporadic for a while. If you bear with me, thank you.

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Citation for the article: 

Deitering, Anne-Marie and Kate Gronemyer, "Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students' Understanding of Scholarly Work." portal: Libraries and the Academy 11.1 (2011): 489-503. 

Read via Project Muse.

I am keeping a copy of this article for my files. Deitering and Gronemyer offer some good ideas, and their article lists some things I would like to try out in instruction. After reading it, I was asking myself how to apply some of the ideas presented. Maybe the answer to that will be material for another post.

The authors report on work at Oregon State University. They discuss their library instruction work with the university's 200-level composition class (WR 222 is their designation). They are teaching students "new ways to use the participatory Web, browsing through scholarly blogs to find conversations about their topics" (489). The idea of using scholarly blogs caught my eye. It was not surprising as I've had to answer a question or two about blogs and how to evaluate them as information resources. The authors clearly go further, and they have collaboration with their writing faculty.

The usual, typical research paper involves students looking ant citing some magical number of peer-reviewed journal articles. The requirements is almost exclusively peer-reviewed journal articles; "scholarly articles" is another commonly used term, but the typical goal is pretty much the same for the students: go into a database (print indexes are pretty much seen as fossils at this point, even though in some subject areas, most if not all indexed data is in print. But that is another comment for another day), find the magical number of peer-reviewed articles the professor asked for, and make them fit somehow in order to complete the assignment. I've taught composition, so I can say that many low-level students have that mentality. So, how can you deal with that?

Some more questions. This is one I have pondered once or twice when I've actually had some time to reflect. From the ACRL standards and documents to the testimonials and actions of instruction and information literacy librarians in the field, a common point of agreement is that information literacy knowledge and skills form the basis of lifelong learning. However, if a lot of what our library instruction sessions teach is based around how to find what you need in an expensive online proprietary database, what happens when the students graduate, and they no longer have access to those expensive databases if they come to need them? Do we teach alternatives? Do we teach them to think critically? Do we illustrate connections, say promoting the possibility of visiting your public library for access? More importantly, to me at least, do we answer what one of my professors called the "so what?" question? These are some questions I have attempted to address in my practice, and yet there are more challenges. This article discusses these questions and offers some answers.One way they do so is by going back to the idea of the academic conversation.

We need to teach our students not only about the concept of academic conversations. We also need to teach them how the process works and how to located it, research it, and join in. On this, the authors write,

"The conversations scholars have always had about their scholarly work still happen at conferences and along faculty hallways, but today they are also happening online in publicly available forums. In these public spaces, the dialogs become searchable, browsable resources that students can use to see the debates, the arguments, and the intellectual energy beneath the surface of polished, published, scholarly work" (490). 

The authors seek to illustrate how to help students learn about and take advantage of these academic conversations. Learning this skill can help students not only write better papers, but it will help them in creating and exploring their own questions as well. The article then goes on to discuss application with tools such as blogs, academic portals, and other public conversations.

Some notes from the article with some brief thoughts:

  • Reflective thinking goes along with information literacy. In fact, when we teach information literacy effectively, we are exemplifying reflective thinking. "An essential characteristic of reflective thinking is the ability to manage uncertainty, to evaluate potentially contradictory claims, and to evaluate the evidence one uses to construct meaning out of new information" (491). 
  • Students need to be taught about the concept of shared standards used in building knowledge and meaning. This is the process that scholars use, and yet many professors fail to teach this; they take for granted that students either know it already when they get to a specific class or that they'll pick it up along the way. "When we require students to read and analyze these sources without explicitly addressing the intellectual assumptions that govern what and how material comes to be published in this literature, we are asking them to grapple with multiple and often implied intellectual standards that they do not understand and may not know exist" (491). 
  • "A student can find and use peer-reviewed sources without learning that those sources represent a different way of thinking about knowledge. That student can still write a passable research paper and receive a perfectly satisfactory grade, but he or she will not learn as much from the experience as a student who is pushed to question his or her held beliefs about knowledge and learning" (491-492). That passable paper may have working in some other class. When I taught composition, I had student hate me precisely because I forced them to push themselves and raise questions. We need more of that, and we need to illustrate it at all levels of the educational experience. This is another way in which librarians do teach, even if it is just at the reference desk. 
  • Furthermore, "it is important that librarians and faculty both recognize that they need to make some of those unstated assumptions visible to their students if students are to understand what academics really mean when they decide an article is worthy of publication" (493). 
  • "The overarching point to remember is this: informal channels of scholarly communication can enhance information literacy instruction, whether it is delivered by a librarian or a classroom instructor. Instruction librarians should be aware of the ways that scholars in the disciplines they work with are using the Web to communicate. Helping disciplinary faculty to see that there are new ways to connect to students with scholarly research other than the peer-reviewed journal is an important role for librarians to play" (494).
  • Why librarians, as generalists, may have an advantage in teaching information literacy and reflective thinking to students: "Librarians usually teach in disciplines in which they do not do research and can potentially understand where the practice of discipline is confusing to students more easily than their partners among the disciplinary faculty can. It is important that librarians advocate for their students' needs, pointing out gaps that might prevent the students from being successful" (499). One of the most important roles and duties of an instruction librarian is to be an advocate for his or her students. Personally, advocating for my students is part of my teaching and librarianship philosophy, and I am proud to say our current instruction librarian here shares and practices that as well. It can be a challenging path at times, but our students deserve our best effort. 
  • The article makes the point that students need to learn more than just how to use proprietary databases. My colleague and I were just talking about this recently: what happens when students graduate, have information needs, and no longer have access to EBSCO products, so on? This could lead to another post, but for now the point is that we have to teach good information literacy skills and include exposure as well as practice with publicly available tools and resources. For faculty, telling your students that they can't use the Web does not pass muster. For librarians, this also means keeping up with those diverse resources and tools. 

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