What Can I Expect my Students to Know? First-Year Library Instruction

Often, we make assumptions about what our undergraduate students know or should know when it comes to college-level work. Because smartphones are virtual extensions of our students, and students grew up alongside Google, we assume that our students are both tech-savvy, as well as fully capable of finding anything using the internet. And of course, if they can search using Google, they must be able to search other tools like library databases. But if you have ever been disappointed by the resources students include in their bibliographies, you know this is not true.

So what can you expect your students to know about research? efficient ways to get around the city

At DePaul University Library, we make no assumptions about the research skills or information literacy competencies that our students bring to DePaul. We work to provide research instruction for all first-year students. Our goal is to lay a foundation for our students that they can build on throughout their careers at DePaul and beyond. Our Reference, Instruction, and Academic Engagement Department works closely with Discover/Explore Chicago and WRD 104/HON 100 instructors and administrators to provide freshmen with foundational research and information literacy skills. Because Discover/Explore Chicago and WRD 104/HON 100 are required courses for all students and WRD 104/HON 100 includes a research paper component, these courses provide the best entry point for ensuring that librarians reach as many students as possible.

Students in Discover/Explore Chicago are given a simple assignment that asks them go to the library, locate an item of interest, and check it out. Students then write a piece reflecting on their experiences. By completing this assignment, students have the experience of walking into and using an academic library–hopefully overcoming any fears they may have about this new experience.

The Library’s instructional program for WRD 104/HON 100 provides students with their first in-depth encounter with using library resources. In Spring 2014, the library formed a First Year Writing Instruction Working Group (Jessica Alverson, Elisa Addlesperger, Krystal Lewis, and Jennifer Schwartz) to examine the library instruction curriculum for WRD 104/HON 100. For a year-and-a-half, the group gathered feedback from WRD 104 instructors and administrators and librarians; examined models at other institutions; and used several instructional design tools to analyze our current model. After a pilot in Winter and Spring quarters 2015, the library officially launched the revised curriculum this Fall quarter.

The revised curriculum  uses a flipped model and consists of two parts: pre-class activities and a one-and-a-half hour library instruction session. Prior to the instruction session, students complete a topic development activity and learn to search one general article database. During the class, through activities, librarians cover topic development, evaluating information (including the concept of scholarly literature) and article database searching. Thirty minutes of class time is devoted to hands-on searching, allowing librarians to give students individual guidance.

One of the goals in revising our program was to ensure that all WRD 104/HON 100 students have a consistent library experience. Ensuring that the same content was covered in every class means that both librarians and faculty teaching upper-division courses can make some basic assumptions about what students should know in regards to research.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the library instruction program does not reach all students in their freshman year. Most, but not all, students take WRD 104/HON 100 during their freshman year; for various reasons, students may take the course as late as senior year. Transfer students often do not take WRD 104 as they will have already taken a comparable course at their first institution.

Some other assumptions you might make:

  • Students have searched Academic Search Complete, but may not have searched discipline-specific databases or resources. Despite being exposed to some specific databases, students often continue to rely on tools they are comfortable with: Google, WorldCat Local, Academic Search Complete, JSTOR, etc.
  • Students most likely will not know the difference between primary and secondary sources unless they have been taught this in another class or library instruction session.
  • Students will not understand how information is created and disseminated within your discipline. They most often lack mental models of how information has been organized since they did not grow up with the physicality of information (e.g., book shelves, indexes, printed newspapers)
  • Students will want to rely on what is readily available in full text online. The value of using different types of resources (background, books, articles) may elude them.
  • Students will still need help in navigating and evaluating the literature specific to your discipline.
  • Students will still need help constructing effective search strategies–especially as they move into discipline-specific resources where controlled vocabulary becomes much more important.
  • Your words carry lots of weight. If you mention a specific database or resource, students will automatically home in on that resource. Be explicit with your students if you want them to use specific resources.

If you are teaching any course with a research component, we highly recommend consulting with your departmental liaison librarian . Librarians can provide assistance in designing research assignments, develop an online course guide, or schedule an library instruction session for your class. If your students are struggling with basic “where to click” tasks, we recommend that you direct them to our Tutorials & Videos  which provide self-help options for students. If you have questions about how the Library work can work with your students, Heather Jagman, Coordinator of Reference, Instruction and Academic Engagement.

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