Library Notes for Political Science

Teaching resources, news, and links to keep McGill’s Political Scientists informed

Inside Higher Ed: “Searching For Better Research Habits”

Posted by Megan on October 11, 2010

Inside Higher Ed recently published a report on a presentation by Andrew Asher, the lead research anthropologist at the Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project, which did a study on the information search behaviours of more than 600 Illinois university students in a variety of institutions.

It’s perhaps not a surprise that Asher reported, “students do not have adequate information literacy skills when they come to college, and this goes for even high-achieving students.”

From the article:

Of all the students that I interviewed, not a single one of them could give an adequate conceptual definition of how Google returns results,” said Asher. Not even those “who should know better,” like computer science students. The word “magic” came up a lot, he noted.

Another section of particular note:

Those libraries that have tried to teach good search principles have failed, he continued, because they have spent “too much time trying to teach tools and not enough time trying to teach concepts.” It would be more useful for librarians to focus training sessions on how to “critically think through how to construct a strategy for finding information about a topic that is unknown to you.”

The comments on the article offer additional interesting reading. Several librarians note that they would be thrilled to teach conceptual information skills, but rarely have the opportunity when “point-and-click” types of presentations are more valued by professors. But it’s clear that the mechanics of search skills are of little use to students (and others!) who don’t understand how information is produced and organized. The ethics around this production, organization, and use should also be essential parts of training in academia.

Kolowich, Steve. “Searching For Better Research Habits.” Inside Higher Ed, September 29, 2010.


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