Research Instruction at the Point of Need: Information Literacy and Online Tutorials
of Research Instruction
|Research Assignments and
Instructors Teaching Research
Please note that you will need Quicktime to view the videos in this article.
Another compelling reason for producing tutorials to teach research is that, as we note in “Competing,” many composition instructors are unfamiliar with many of the resources available to students.
Most of those interviewed or surveyed feel that their research instruction is strong because they take their students to the library and ask the librarians to introduce their students to specific databases. Boise State’s writing program portfolio assessment, conducted in the summer of 2005, confirms these results. The portfolio assessment teams evaluated portfolios to determine if students were “competent in using library reference sources to find information.” Their assessment reveals that 66.1 percent (82 out of 124) of English 102 portfolios demonstrated competency in this area (Portfolio Assessment Report, 2005). These results are probably misleading, however, as the assessment team only reads the essays to determine students’ research proficiency; assessment team members cannot with any confidence be certain of how many students located their materials.
In the clip below, Carrie Seymour talks about the initial step that she takes with her students when teaching them research.
The steps that we provide here are preliminary to research; they are not the main event. Our own experience and interviews with instructors at Boise State reveals that, initially, instructors simply want students to try other ways of searching besides Google, and that, in order to get students to try these other platforms, they have to show them where they are and how they work. Much of the work of research happens over time, in one-on-one and small group settings, and students and instructors explore the research possibilities.
What perhaps makes these tutorials in some ways more useful than library visits is that the instructor has significantly more control over the content of the tutorial than she does when she takes her students on the library tour. As many instructors have noted, librarians frequently pursue their own agenda when they introduce students to the library. Our tutorials have a tight focus, are directly linked to the writing assignment, and can be replayed by students on an as-needed basis.
There are, however, many compelling reasons for producing a tutorial and posting it to a course Web site. Such a tutorial is invaluable for distance learners, since in many cases they will only have access to the virtual library. A tutorial would also be a useful way to introduce the virtual library and other resources to students who missed the library introduction. A tutorial offers instructors a way to refresh the lessons of the library without having to return to the library. It also offers a way to monitor students’ activity; a tutorial can be coupled with a research-log assignment that will tell instructors whether or not students are engaging in multiple kinds of research. Students, like the rest of us, are most likely to follow the path of least resistance. Asking students to complete a research log that’s based on a tutorial is a more reliable method of ascertaining whether or not a student has actually tried the databases for herself.
For many reasons, the general introduction to the library can be very useful. Often, students have never been in the school library; some are not sure where it is. What the general introduction is unlikely to do, though, is to help students work through the logistical and intellectual challenges presented to them in the assignment they received from their instructor immediately before the tour. The assignment is likely to have specific research expectations (though these are often implicit), but it is unlikely to include instruction on how to perform that research. The instructor might expect the student to use documents that were originally in print but that are now also located in the library's database. What the instructor doesn't want is for a student to rely on non-professional Web sites, and so might provide the confusing instruction that the student "should not use the Internet." The extensive library tour will not eliminate the confusion. It will provide students with helpful information, but it won't be applicable to the problems at hand.
The focused tutorials that we offer have the potential drawback of fragmenting students' understanding of the available resources. They could understand that just one database is available to them, or that databases are always superior to general searches. The tutorial might, as with our PowerPoint example in which students are asked to search for obituaries, direct students to perform an activity that they are unlikely to ever have to perform again. Although our small study did not follow students beyond this particular classroom, we rely on the findings of Emurian (2006), Hulls et al. (2005), Sullivan (2004) and Tsang and Chan (2004) to reassure us that students are learning, through these tutorials, the basic, repetitive steps that researchers take as they sift through the possible sources.
As we close this section, we want to reiterate the importance of collaboration between librarians and discipline faculty. Composition instructors know that the librarians and library have a lot to offer students that they themselves are unaware of. They simply want their students to experience the use of other information sources besides Google and Yahoo. Unfortunately, most trips to the library devolve into tours and not pointed instruction. Imagine what could happen if the librarian and discipline faculty collaborated on the design of the assignment at its novice state. Imagine if there was a way for assignments to incorporate bite-sized research opportunities instead of broad overviews.