September 2010 Archives

Coffee Club thoughts on PIL

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Some interesting themes from the Project Information Literacy Progress Report:

Finding Context

Students stress the importance of being able to find different kinds of context for their research and what a difficult process this can be for them.   The types of context reported by students were identified as: 1) big picture, 2) language, 3) situational, and 4) information gathering.  I think that we do a pretty good job of putting information in subject context on our website, but we should consider how else we could contextualize tools and information.  How can we do a better job of contextualizing research tools, not only by subject, but also by the type of information needed (e.g. background information or "big picture", primary sources, scholarly articles)?



 7 out of 10 college students interviewed went to Wikipedia first for course-related research even though they were aware that faculty do not want them to use it as a resource (many had been warned by their professor not to use it at all) and just did not cite Wikipedia as a source in their papers.  I am wondering whether and how we talk about Wikipedia in our instruction...Do you talk about use of Wikipedia?  If so, do you dissuade students from using it, encourage it, or say to use it with caution?

Coffee Club thoughts on PIL

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In no coherent manner here are some of the thoughts and ideas that jumped out at me:pil.jpg

How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today's College students:

  • How does or does not the assignment calculator provide a mechanism to "improve'" some parts of the problems with research handouts?
  • The average handout was 960 words or 3.84 pages
  • 6 out of 10 consulting the library's shelves (not those online)
  • 54% required students find their own topics--what tools can we develop that can help this?
  • "Economics professors, for example, define research entirely differently from civil engineering professors, anthropology professors or Shakespearean scholars." [how can we help student through this?]
  • 14% of handouts steered students toward starting off with a library database (JSTOR was most popular)
  • "Large majority of instructors we interviewed believed that students understood that plagiarism was unethical and should not be done, but not the finer details, especially as they related to the paper they were writing as part of their course work."
  • Based on their earlier work--they develop 4 "context needs of the undergraduate research process"
    • Big Picture
    • Language
    • Situational
    • Information Gathering
  • The handouts had higher levels of "situational" and less on "information gathering"
  • "Most students lack a seminal understanding about what conducting research means as a form of intellectual inquiry and discovery and the large majority of handouts we analyzed did not provide much context that would help."
  • Do efforts like the Library Faculty Seminar ( improve this?

One of the Libraries workshops was featured this week on the University events page:

The Instruction Coordinators are working to ensure that our workshops get added to the University wide events each semester.

And it is also featured on the Libraries homepage:

Coffee Club Thoughts on PIL

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So far I've only had a chance to read one of the articles that we're set to discuss next Wednesday (September 29th @ 3:30 in 308 Andersen--New Location!).

After my last post on this blog, it may come as no surprise that I decided to start with the "How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today's College Students".  (I've pretty much decided that every time I post to this blog it will in some form or another deal with handouts :)

I thought the entire article had an interesting tension as the author's see the print handout as the key information resource for students ("we would argue that handouts are often a roadmap for students to use during the course-related research process; they carry handouts with them when they complete assignments...") minimizing the importance of other types of support (both online and in-person) that professors may provide to student research while they simultaneously exhort professors to move past a focus on print based library materials.

That aside, one of their major findings appears to be that these assignment handouts don't include the library or guidance on information resources.

I think we've all encountered students coming to the library looking for information for a research project that they haven't been given enough guidance if we're not on the actual assignment handout (and I'm not surprised that we're not...although the libraries are central to's not always going to be foremost on the mind of everyone else) what are best practices to still provide support?

In the past when we've seen students from the same class come in to the reference desk to work on a particular assignment, we'll contact the liaison so they can email the professor and let them know that they're available to help their students (I'm always surprised when I tell instructors that they can forward students directly to me and they think that they'll be inconveniencing me by making me available for student questions!). 

I think our Library Course Page system and the way its been integrated into our new web presence is another solution...sure it's not a handout, but if they come to the Libraries website and log in, they can easily see course-related support.

The Phase II Environmental Scan may also be contacting faculty and instructors for syllabi we may be able to locate assignments before the handout is finalized and offer to have our contact info added to the handout, or offer to collaborate on its creation. (It never hurts to offer...the worst that can happen is that they'll say no.  And that would only put you back to where you currently are.)

How else can we bring the library to the students if not included in the assignment handouts?
The Information Literacy Collaborative invites you to the next Current Issues Coffee Club:

Wednesday, September 29, 3:30 to 4:30
Room 120 Andersen Library New Location: 308 Andersen
Coffee and treats provided

Topic: The University of Minnesota Libraries have participated in two rounds of research being conducted by Project Information Literacy. Learn more about our involvement and discuss the findings based on their two most recent research reports.

"Project Information Literacy (PIL) is ongoing research project, based in the University of Washington's Information School. Our goal is to understand 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."


1.) "Finding Context: What Today's College Student Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age", Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg, Project Information Literacy Progress Report, University of Washington's Information School, February 4, 2009 (

2.) Introduction and Major Findings Section, pp. 2-3
"Assigning Inquiry: How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today's College Students," Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg, Project Information Literacy Progress Report, University of Washington's Information School, July 13, 2010 (

3.) OR watch some of their short videos with findings on YouTube:

ASL Instruction

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Just last week a student registered for one of the Libraries workshops that I was the instructor for and sent me an e-mail requesting an ASL interpreter.  What do you do?  It's pretty easy to request an interpreter from Disability Services.
Just fill out this form:

Unfortunately, the student now has a conflict, so I can't give you a run down as to how it went.

The Art of the Handout

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(Image from Gregory Bastien via Flickr.  CC)

Last week was an instruction-filled week for me as I led two course-integrated information literacy instruction sessions, taught a drop-in workshop on Intro to Citation Managers, and gave an orientation presentation to a grad student research group.

Each time I was prepping for these very different workshops I found myself stumbling at the same to use the handout.

For a while I was anti-handout...I didn't think students found them useful, I figured that I was putting a lot of time into a product that most likely ended up in a garbage can (if I was lucky, a recycle bin--Save the Planet!).

But when I tried to institute handout-free instruction sessions I got a lot of push back from attendees.  In evaluation forms I'd hear things like "A handout of material covered would be helpful"  or "Would like a handout to jot down notes."  So I went back to providing paper mementos of my workshop.

But I never know what the best use of the the handout is.   After last year's Active Learning Workshop...I started incorporating the "reaction log" into most of my instruction sessions as a means of allowing attendees to interact with the information covered.

For some this presentation I just gave the Biomedical Engineering Design Class...I try to incorporate research tips into my handout.  But then for others I just include a list of useful links.

So I'm interested to know what your best practices are for handouts?  Are you still using them?  If so, are you sharing them in the IL Toolkit? It's a great place to visit to jumpstart ideas!


Love the idea of getting students to try to recreate (architecture, engineering, first year seminar)...

Read more:

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