Faculty, librarians and student research skills: are we on parallel paths?

ResearchBlogging.orgOne of the themes I’ve been writing a lot lately is that department faculty and librarians aren’t talking to each other as much as they should, especially in areas that they are both concerned about.  One of the biggest areas we need to be talking more about concerns student’s library research skills (or information literacy skills).  Librarians aren’t doing a lot of publishing in disciplinary college teaching journals, and we aren’t going to a lot of disciplinary conferences.

So when I saw two articles in the August/September issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching written by department faculty that included heavy doses of information about teaching library research skills, I began to be convinced that departmental faculty and librarians are on parallel paths with this issue.  It is wonderful that we are both exploring these issues, but the fact that our paths don’t intersect may lead to frustration on both sides.

Davies-Vollum, Katherine Sian, & Greengrove, Cheryl (2010). Developing a “Gateway” Course to Prepare Nontraditional Students for Success in Upper-Division Science Courses Journal of College Science Teaching, 40 (1), 28-33

Kitazono, Ana A (2010). A Journal-Club-Based Class that Promotes Active and Coorperative Learning of Biology Journal of College Science Teaching, 40 (1), 20-27

Both of these articles describe courses in the sciences in which information literacy skills make up an important part of the course content.  In both cases, the faculty consulted a librarian for assistance in teaching students about database searching, and the authors of both articles found this assistance to be helpful. But in both cases, the authors don’t cite a single article about information literacy from the library literature.  This is hardly surprising – these articles would be almost impossible to find in the typical databases used by scientists.

In a completely un-scientific perusal of articles from library journals concerning information literacy in the sciences (i.e. those that were on my computer or filed in my desk), I find that librarians aren’t citing this disciplinary literature either.

So we are both trying to figure out how to equip students with the skills they need to effectively search, locate and understand the scientific literature.  We are both writing articles about classes and exercises that can help students develop these skills, but we don’t seem to be talking to each other about these issues, at least in the formal literature about college-level science teaching.

I have had a lot of interesting conversations with faculty about how to develop these skills.  How can we move this discussion from informal hallway conversations into the formal literature?

I think this is up to the librarians.  I don’t think we can expect the faculty to start reading the library literature.  We need to keep our eyes on the disciplinary literature, take the opportunity to publish in them when appropriate, and present at disciplinary conferences.  And maybe get out of the library occasionally.

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How to Choose the “Best” Student Poster Presentations

Yesterday was SUNY Geneseo’s “GREAT Day” – a celebration of student achievement in the form of posters, presentations and performances.  There were 165 poster presentations and a similar number of oral presentations and performances.  Students presented research findings, class projects and original art.  It was amazing – our students are really quite smart and talented!

Great Day 2010
Geneseo Recognizing Excellence, Achievement, and Talent

Each year, the library selects a small portion of the posters to hang in the library for the following semester as an example of student work and research at Geneseo.  This year, the posters will also be displayed at a “Best of GREAT Day” event for college donors and board members.  The only issue is that these posters aren’t really the “Best of GREAT day.”  Librarians have 2 hours to review 20 student posters each and talk to the students involved.  We can’t really pick out the “best.”  (Next year, I think the event will have a name change to “Selections from GREAT Day.”)

So how do I make my selections?

Step 1: Delete the word “best” from the description.  Don’t worry about it.

Step 2: Talk to the students.  Do they know what they are talking about? Do they know how their research fits into the grad scheme of things?

Step 3: Find the interesting things.  Which posters showcase the variety of research being done?  Which posters have pretty pictures of students in exotic places?  Which posters have an interesting interdisciplinary appeal?

Step 4: Does the poster meet some minimum requirements for looking good?  I am not particularly concerned about how pretty a poster is, but I would like to see a certain level of competence.

Step 5: Stop dithering and make a decision already!  It is very difficult to narrow down my selection to just 25% of the posters presented.  At some point you just have to decide.

Have a look at some of the great things our students are doing – the GREAT Day program (PDF) is online.

A Different Approach to Plagiarism Prevention

First, we don’t call it “Plagiarism Prevention.”  In the approach I developed with a collaborating faculty member from biology, we teach students about “Citation Best Practices.”

Most students never have instruction on what plagiarism is or how to avoid it.  Library instruction about citation often focuses on creating the citation, not how to incorporate in-text citations into your document.

Wikipedian Protester
Wikipedian Protester. From the web comic xkcd.

The faculty member I work with decided that she would be willing to give up a bit of content time to discuss these issues with the students.  One of our major goals was that we didn’t want this instruction to be punitive – we didn’t want to focus on how bad plagiarism is.  Like many other plagiarism prevention strategies, we wanted to be positive and proactive.

We decided to focus on teaching students how to do citations properly – something they had probably not been taught before.

I spent some class time teaching students how to construct a proper citation, and how to tell what type of item they are citing (for example, how to tell the difference between an article or article abstract found through a Google search and a web page).

Then I discuss best practices for doing in-text citations.

First, I remind students that the articles they are using for their papers had authors – real, live people who did the experiments and wrote the papers.  When they cite their sources in their paper, they can acknowledge this in the language they use.

Biologists Smith and Jones (2005) discovered that something really exciting happened.

I provide some examples of how they may use their sources in different ways when writing their paper, and provide some sample language for incorporating the citations:

  • Using a source as background information
  • Using a source as an example
  • Criticizing or analyzing a source
  • Comparing two or more sources

At the end of a brief lecture discussing some of these issues, I provide students with sample paragraphs with citations. (See a sample power point lecture and sample paragraphs.)  Each paragraph uses some citations well, and others poorly.  We ask students to determine what is done well and how each sample could be improved.

In our class discussion about the examples we talk about:

  • How often do you need to insert a citation?
  • Citing sources at the beginning or ending of sentences.
  • Use (or not) of quotations in scientific papers.
  • What is implied if no citation is included?
  • What is considered common knowledge?

Does this cover all aspects of preventing plagiarism?  No.  We don’t touch on a lot of details, and we don’t go into the implications of what happens if you do plagiarize.  We don’t touch on cross-cultural issues of plagiarism, and we don’t go into detail about how to paraphrase or take notes so you don’t accidentally copy.

But by providing this type of instruction, we can help students write better papers, give them some strategies for avoiding accidental plagiarism, and make the connection between the term papers they are writing and the scientific literature.

Relationships online and off – ScienceOnline2010

ScienceOnline2010 Logo
ScienceOnline2010

One of the major themes of the ScienceOnline2010 conference was actually personal relationships.

Despite the stereotypes of scientists, effective communication of science comes down to effective personal relationships online or off.  For bloggers, journalists, researchers and librarians, personal relationships are an essential part of doing their job well.  In a session called “Trust and Critical Thinking” moderator Stephanie Zvan and panelists Greg Laden, PZ Meyers, Deiree Schell and Kirsten Sanford discussed how essential it was to establish trust and authority in your online or media presence.  We discussed the hope that as more scientists communicate authentically with the public, pseudoscience might be pushed aside – it would be nice if the top Google search results on certain science subjects would come from authoritative folks.

A lightly attended session from librarians Dorothea Salo and Stephanie Willen Brown entitled “Scientists! What can your librarian do for you?” turned into a great discussion about the need for scientists and librarians to work together.  The librarians discussed repositories, how they can help scientists understand copyright, and how they can help teach students about scientific communication.  Since most researchers get a lot of information from their peers, the scientists suggested that one of the ways librarians can be helpful is to help them make these connections – recommending social networks and other tools to assist them in finding collaborators.  (A great list of resources discussed at the session can be found here, and Dorothea’s slides are available here.)

The last session of the conference got a little interesting – called “Online Civility and Its (Muppethugging) Discontents”.  Panelists Dr. Isis, Dr. Free Ride and Sheril Kirshenbaum lead a discussion about what “civility” means and how it applies to online environments.  At one point two participants were kind enough to demonstrate one type of online disagreement – the kind where two folks disagree vehemently about something, but it turns out that they were both talking about something slightly different.  I tend to dislike conflict, but the session gave me an opportunity to think about how ‘civility’ can be used as an excuse to prevent some members of a community from participating fully.

Of course, one of the best parts about a small conference like this is the chance to talk with folks over snacks, tea and available power outlets.  I got a chance to talk with some other librarians and a few scientists – these conversations are wonderful for helping me make sense of the formal talks and giving me ideas for how some of the concepts I learned about can be applied at my library and my college.

I really like my job

smiley face stickers courtesy of Flickr user South Carolinas Northern Kingdom
smiley face stickers courtesy of Flickr user "South Carolina's Northern Kingdom"

I enjoy searching for information – tracking down obscure citations and rejoicing over finding a related article in a different field.  I love a search that goes from online resources to older print materials and back again.

I was asked recently to work with a faculty member to do a literature review for a journal manuscript in science education, and I have been having a lot of fun tracking things down.

I had a starting place – a list of preliminary sources and a rough draft of the paper – to guide my work, but it took off in many directions.

So, what techniques have I pursued?

  • Starting from the preliminary bibliography, I can examine the works cited sections of those papers to find additional relevant material.
  • In addition, I can use Scopus to track citations forward in time.
  • Exploring keywords in multiple databases.  Like any search, there isn’t just one way to describe the topic we are searching.
  • Using Google and other specialized search engines to explore the web.  There is  a lot of science education material on the web that has been posted by various educators.

I was working with a topic I found interesting, in a field I am familiar with, with a faculty member who is nice to work with.  It all adds up to job satisfaction.

Why do I Twitter?

Everyone is talking about Twitter right now.  I thought I would talk about why I think using Twitter is useful to me as an undergraduate science librarian.

First, I can connect with colleagues.  While I have some amazing colleagues at my library, there are no other science librarians.  Using twitter I can engage in conversation with science librarians at far flung institutions to give and receive advice, assistance and support.

Second, it’s a great way to keep up with practicing scientists.  Even if the faculty I work with aren’t on twitter, I can get a good sense of what professors and researchers are doing.

Third, it is great way to find out about recent news from folks who are much more connected than I am.  I get pointed to great links and hear assessments of recent developments in the information world by people smarter than I am.  Folks provide commentary on the Google Book settlement, or about the now-defunct changes to OCLC policies.

And of course, it’s fun!  Sometimes you just want to tell the world what you had for breakfast.

Embedded librarianship

The SLA session on this topic presented some information by 2007 SLA Research Grant recipients David Shumaker and Mary Talley on what an embedded librarian was, and was constitutes best practices among those who have successfully implemented the idea.

Presentation slides are available on David’s Blog, “The Embedded Librarian“.

I think this is what we are trying to do at my library – right now, we’re working on the “integrated library instruction” part, but I think we end up doing more than just instruction.

After identifying programs that were highly successful and those that weren’t successful, the researchers were able to identify common characteristics of successful programs.

  1. Successful programs promoted themselves – by word of mouth, by print advertising and other methods
  2. Successful programs evaluated themselves – have their numbers (documents delivered, workshop attendance, classes taught) increased?  Are they getting a good return on their investment?
  3. Successful programs offer a variety of services including in depth research, co-teaching with faculty, data analysis, ILL document delivery.
  4. And importantly, successful programs have strong management support – librarians have the freedom to set up these special services, user have the support of their management, and everyone has a strong commitment to continuing education

The program at my library has some of these characteristics: co-teaching, assessment, word of mouth advertising, and strong support of management.  We need to work on other aspects such as other types of advertising, and brining together multiple services.

It is great to see some real analysis of what practices can make a program successful.