19 May 2006

First Year University students and the Google Degree – Are your students Googling their way to a Degree?

Quote of the week – “In the dim background of our mind we know what we ought to be doing but somehow we cannot start. “ William James

First Year University students and the Google Degree – Are your students Googling their way to a Degree?
Do you need solutions to assignment problems? Are you happy to see your students Google their way through a Degree? Do they only ever use the Internet to search 'Google' and type the minimum words and use the first 10 results? Do they know how to evaluate information regardless of the search tool used? Do you determine your assessment pieces and the learning outcomes first and then work backwards for course content? Have you read the article written by Tara Brabazon,
"Bachelor of Arts (Google): Graduating to information literacy," Keynote Paper, IDATER on-line conference on e-learning in Science and Design Technology, Loughborough University, August 2004 (URL: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/cd/docs_dandt/research/ed/elearning/Lead%20papers/BrabazonPDF.pdf)
There are some clued up academics out there supporting their students and acknowledging the valuable input of librarians and information literacy content within the curriculum in very practical ways and Tara is one of those. In her article she offers suggestions on how to bridge the gap between operational literacy and critical literacy, and it's all about being explicit in your assessment pieces and Tara terms this the Information scaffold. How simple, but powerful and effective this is! How do you convince your colleagues and fellow academics that they can eliminate assignments with Reference lists compiled entirely of web sites found on Google. There are strategies which can be used to maximise the critical thinking opportunities of students. The assessment pieces 'spell out' for students which types of information sources are required. They then must 'think' about the source and be 'critical' about it. How many of you when completing your degrees had access to the Internet? Did you only ever need to search the library catalogue for books because that was all that was available? The University student of today now has many 'search tools' available to them, and they need to be guided and 'taught' that all of these tools find different sources of information. Otherwise they will continue to use the 'quick' method which is 'Google' or 'Google Scholar'. Do your students understand the difference between Primary, Secondary & Tertiary information sources? Do you encourage the use of Tertiary sources such as Subject-specific encyclopaedias to help students choose a topic of research. It is a valuable tool which assists students who are new to a faculty or discipline, to focus a research question and appropriately define their research topic within the particular discipline. (Quarton, B. 2003)
An annotated bibliography covers so many aspects of the Information literacy standards, but how are the following competencies developed and introduced in the course and are they assessed? It is well documented in the literature that infolit is much more effective if there are marks attached because students then think ‘Oh, this has marks, so it must be important.’ Quarton, Barbara (2003) argues that unless students are 'required' to do these things, search appropriate tools such as the catalogue and journal databases, and plan the search process, then it is very unlikely they will do so of their own accord. A small minority may, but isn't it the majority who use Internet search engines and no other search tools. How about setting an assessment piece for first year undergraduates that requires the submission of all of these competencies, and allocate marks for each section.
What did you say? “This is just what I need in my course, but don’t know where to start?”
1. Check out the Infolit Standards for your University Council, or a library organisation which has endorsed infolit standards.ie. In Australia we use the Information literacy Standards endorsed by the Council of Australian University Libraries & Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL) known as the ANZ Information literacy framework http://www.caul.edu.au/info-literacy/
2. Use this as your framework, look at the learning outcomes, decide which year to introduce each competency or standard, I prefer the term ‘competency’, (may vary depending on discipline), keep in mind that it is a ‘framework’ and there may be gaps between competencies and learning outcomes, also it does have limitations in that there are no assessment examples, but this is where you can 'think tank' with other academics in your discipline to come up with assessment criteria.
3. Contact your Liaison librarian or Information literacy librarian – perhaps there are already other courses within the Degree or program which have these competencies fully integrated. Your liaison librarian would be an excellent person to speak with initially.

Brabazon, Tara (2004). Bachelor of Arts (Google): Graduating to information literacy, Keynote Paper, IDATER on-line conference on e-learning in Science and Design Technology, Loughborough University, August 2004 (URL: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/cd/docs_dandt/research/ed/elearning/Lead%20papers/BrabazonPDF.pdf

Quarton, B. (2003). Research skills and the new undergraduate. Journal of Instructional Psychology, (30)2, p.120, 5p.

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