Friday, March 01, 2013

Article note: On Helping Undergrads Read and Use Scholarly Articles

Citation for the article:

MacMillan, Margy and Allison MacKenzie, "Strategies for Integrating Information Literacy and Academic Literacy: Helping Undergraduate Students Make the Most of Scholarly Articles." Library Management 33.8/9 (2012); 525-535.

Read via Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

The article addresses a common concern: Can our students read the scholarly literature? The authors created a workshop as part of a research methods course to address this. Right off, this seems like a very good idea. As an undergrad, I don't recall getting too many formal lessons on how to read scholarly articles. I don't recall much of that in the basic composition classes I took as a freshman; you know, the ones where you have to write a research paper. As I think about it, I had to learn a lot of it on my own, and then teaching it to high school students finally made it second nature to me. Even in graduate school as an English major it was assumed I knew this basic skill (I did know it by then, but as I said, much of it I had to learn on my own). It seems pretty much every professor I came across either assumed I either knew the skill or that some other place-- another class, the library maybe, or the writing center-- would take care of it. Since I had to learn on my own for the most part, I am always interested when someone makes an effort to teach it. It is a disservice to our students to continue assuming they know how to read an academic article. If teachers expect students to engage in academic conversations, if we expect them to do research that goes along with the flow of academic inquiry, then it is necessary to teach the students how to read an academic article. Teaching this is part of giving students the tools they need so they can have a fair chance at success.

The authors mention that the lessons on how to read an academic article happen during the junior  year. Personally, I don't think we could afford to wait that long at least as it applies to our college here.


  • What the article does: ". . . explore the challenges students encounter in reading scholarly articles, describes a class developed to help them overcome the challenges, and reports the results of a survey of senior students students on their reading practices" (526). The article does deliver on this. I may be interested in seeing if we could run a similar survey here as part of our assessment efforts. 
  • "The academics also felt that practitioners did not read the academic journals" (527). This line caught my eye as it is a common complaint. I am also willing to bet that a lot of librarians in the field, "the practitioners," do not read the academic journals in LIS neither. Many of them may claim to read liblogs, and while there are some good ones out there, that is not enough. 
  • "If scholars and practitioners find the academic literature challenging, should be we suprised that students encounter difficulties" (527). 
  • "Most information literacy (IL) sessions focus on identifying, locating, evaluating, and citing material, but as Rosenblatt notes, 'Shouldn't we, as instructional librarians, be concerned about students' abilities to use the information they have discovered?' (Rosenblatt, 2010, p.60)" (qtd. in 527). We should be involved in making sure our students can read the material that we help them find. We can do it collaboratively with faculty, which would be the preferred way,  or just us doing it in the library. If librarians claim they can't teach it or that it is not their job, then learn how to do it so you can teach it to your students.
  • "We also discussed different ways of annotating, and showed our heavily-annotated copies of the article which contrasted with the near-inviolate printouts some students brought with them" (528). That is how I read academic articles, by the way: I annotate them as I go along. 
  • Modeling and leading by example when teaching is important: "Essentially, the authors modeled how they, as scholars would read the article, what they would check, inquire into, or let pass" (528-529). 
  • Professor MacMillan's page that includes links to pre- and post- test instruments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Many thanks on addressing this issue. I have been teaching a Media Studies class for several years and I've come to realize that a very high percentage of my community college students do not know there is such a thing as a scholarly journal, let alone that they might find reading the articles interesting and possibly useful. I started working with our college's librarian two quarters ago, taking my students on a "field trip" to our library, as well as including some basic writing skills in my lesson plans. The payoff is that I'm getting higher quality writing than I did before adding this to my class. We should never assume someone else has laid this foundation, and even if some of the students have had some grounding in writing and research, they can benefit from the review.