Library Notes for Political Science

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

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

International Political Education Database

Posted by Megan on June 13, 2011

A recent find: The International Political Education Database (IPED) is a great resource for educators, managed and made available by the Teaching and Learning Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association in the UK.

IPED is a bibliographic index of “journal articles relating to teaching and learning in politics, international relations, public administration and related fields.” 800 citations are currently included.

Journals included are:

  • PS: Political Science and Politics – from volume 24 (1991)
  • Journal of Political Science Education – from Volume 1 (2005)
  • International Studies Perspectives – from Volume 1 (2000)
  • European Political Science – from Volume 1 (2001)
  • Politics – from Volume 1 (1981)
  • ELiSS: Enhancing Learning in Social Science – from Volume 1 (2008)
  • LATISS: Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences – from Volume 1 (2008)
  • LATISS: Learning & Teaching in the Social Sciences – Volume 1 (2004) to 3 (2007)
  • Australian Journal of Political Science
  • Innovative Higher Education
  • Public Administration
  • Perspectives on Politics

Posted in Database, Education, Resources of note | Comments Off on International Political Education Database

Undergrads and information seeking

Posted by Megan on December 5, 2010

Those who are preparing to teach in upcoming semesters might be interested in recent findings from Project Information Literacy (PIL), an ongoing research project based in the University of Washington’s Information School.

The large scale study explores “how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and “everyday life” use and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age.”

Obviously, this has enormous implications for those who teach undergraduates and help them with their assignments.

A recent part of the project was to investigate assignment handouts that are given to students. An article by Barbara Fister in Inside Higher Ed sums up some findings:

“What they found in a nutshell is that assignments describe in detail what the finished product should look like – how many pages, how wide the margins – but not so much about how to turn a topic into a research question or how to make good choices among sources. A majority of the prompts recommended the use of the library – with 60 percent recommending that students find resources on the library’s shelves. Another 43 percent suggested students use library databases, though most didn’t recommend which ones would be most productive. Around a quarter of the assignments discussed finding information on the Web.


All of this is particularly interesting in view of what the research project had previously found about students and their research habits. They pore over the assignment, trying to interpret what the instructor wants; virtually all students use the Web for resources, and nearly all use library databases, but not many go to the library shelves. They avoid being overwhelmed by options by using the same databases for most of their research needs, whether or not it’s appropriate for the discipline or not. And for the most part, they don’t turn to librarians for help, except when looking for search terms; librarians turn out to be a kind of babel fish for scholarly discourse. Though in interviews, faculty described the ways the librarians provided support for their students, the vast majority did not mention librarians as a resource in their assignments.”

And for those who are currently planning assignments for upcoming semesters, PIL researchers further offer these provocative statements:

In our study, we found that original, highly structured, problem-based research assignments encourage students to dig deeper. Such assignments might include real-world case studies, multimedia projects or team-based empirical research. They also demand far more of students than the classic term paper.

These highly-structured assignments stretch professors as well, encouraging them to teach research skills.

The results are graduates more capable of conducting research, applying information, and making more thoughtful, sophisticated judgments.

The video below gives a brief, general overview of the PIL research findings thus far.

Fister, Barbara. “Assignments: Being Clear about What Matters.” Library Babel Fish blog, Inside Higher Ed, July 22, 2010,

Eisenberg, Michael and Alison J. Head. “Add “Research” to Education’s Traditional Three Rs.” The Seattle Times, May 2, 2009,

Posted in Education, In the news | Comments Off on Undergrads and information seeking

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.

Posted in Education | Comments Off on Inside Higher Ed: “Searching For Better Research Habits”

Assignment calculator

Posted by Megan on February 28, 2010

Now that reading week has come and gone, term paper season is nigh. And it’s a good time to break out the library’s assignment calculator. The “Five Steps to a Better Paper” tool is designed to help with time management panic. Students can type in the due date of an assignment to plan out a timeline for each step of the research process. More, importantly, the web page includes links with resources for each stage (reproduced below).

Step 1

Knowing what you need – this is where to start!

Step  1
  • Read the assignment carefully, check the length required, and the deadline.
  • Make a list of questions as you read the assignment.
  • Brainstorm and generate ideas on your topic. Free think. Free write.

Step 2

Finding what you need

Step 2

Step 3

Evaluating what you find

Step 3
  • While reading, keep your topic in mind. Find alternative perspectives.
  • Evaluate your sources. Check the quality of the content.
  • Take notes as you read. Keep your notes simple and organized. <!–Use the Library’s DocLink(“ResearchLog.doc”); .–>

Step 4

Writing a draft

Step 4
  • Outline your approach to the assignment question.
  • Concentrate on getting your ideas on to paper.
  • Link statements with supporting evidence.

Step 5

Making the final product

Step 5
  • Critique your work. Cut unnecessary sentences.
  • Look at the wording, grammar, and the flow of ideas.
  • Proofread after completing all your revisions.

Posted in Education, Tips | Comments Off on Assignment calculator

Teaching tech

Posted by Megan on October 14, 2009


The relationship between technology and teaching is a topic that has warranted much discussion in higher education in recent years. In a recent post on Prof Hacker, Amy Cavender discussed her rationales for requiring the use of particular computer applications in Political Science courses. She finds that skills in specific technologies lead students to higher-order understanding of the research process and collaborative work. Self-efficacy—in general and with technology—is also an outcome of requiring students to use tools like Zotero (or EndNote) and Google Documents.

In a similar vein, John Sutton Lutz recently put together a useful checklist of digital competencies for graduate students. Again, the idea is that the specific technology skills will allow for the development of fundamental abilities in five key areas:

  • Research: information retrieval and fluency in working with different types of files
  • Communication: technologies for personal communication, collaborative work, and current awareness
  • Teaching: designing presentations and facilitating learning in the classroom
  • Dissemination/Presentation/Publishing: presenting at conferences, informal publishing, new publishing models
  • Critical analyses of the digital media: understanding “what the Internet is, how it works, and who controls different elements of it”

Both of these pieces, and many other like them, argue that tools for scholarship are just as essential for students to learn as the “content” of a particular discipline.

The library world (and the McGill Library in particular) is deeply involved in exploring the ways in which technology, research, and education are intertwined, as seen, for example in experiments with retrieval tools, e-books, and social media (find us on Twitter or chat with a librarian).

How is technology connected to your teaching or learning?

Full citation: Lutz, John Sutton. “Digital Literacy: What Every Graduate Student Needs to Know.” Canadian Historical Association Bulletin (2009): 40-1. [A PDF is currently posted on this blog]

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nic’s events. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Posted in Education | Comments Off on Teaching tech