Category Archives: Research skills

Resources and Authority

Biteable BearI rolled out a new user education session last week – yes, you could call it information literacy (though you know I’m a bit conflicted about the expression, because I always fear students will find it patronising!)

A colleague had related anecdotally that students seemed to have picked up the impression that everything on our library discovery-layer was authoritative “because the librarian said so”.  Proud that we had been quoted as such an authority, I was nonetheless a bit alarmed.  EVERYTHING? Had we told them to place blind trust in EVERYTHING there, recordings, digital scores, the lot?

It was time to sort things out.  I offered a seminar about primary and secondary research sources, authoritative and less authoritative ones, what you could trust, and where you needed to tread with caution.  What might be “authoritative” in a sound recording, and why “online” is actually just a format – it’s the content that matters.  It seemed to go down well.

Throwing caution to the wind, I let the students know they were trialling this session, – although I would never usually TELL students they were guinea-pigs –  and sought feedback about my Biteable reminder at the end.  I was convinced they’d find the bear cartoons childish, but apparently not – he went down perfectly okay!  However, I do intend to have another look at the cartoon options, because there’s a limit to how often you can employ the same bear!

I had an idea – and it worked!

Doc mugI have often thought that when students have problems using Shibboleth institutional logins for our e-resources, the best solution would be to go for a Costa coffee – then we could practice logging in and searching the different resources.  There’s only one problem – I can hardly ask students to take me out to coffee, and also, they’re often distance-learners.

Yesterday, we solved one of those problems.  We took a class out to coffee, admittedly not Costa, but by arrangement with a nearby cafe – they sold 30-odd coffees, and we all played with our various electronic devices in search of specific keywords that I had set the students in advance.  I won’t go into detail here – it might turn into an article later! – but suffice to say, I was delighted by how well the exercise went.  It had involved a bit of advance preparation, first on my part and then on the students’, but it was certainly worth the effort.  Away from the usual instant access via Eduroam, there was no option but to engage with the institutional access process, and these students had remarkably little bother with it.

Funnily enough, in years gone by, when I tried to teach catalogue use in a computer suite, there seemed to be too much temptation for students to play with Facebook or other social media.  But yesterday, I didn’t give that possibility a thought, and because the students had an engaging task to do, it didn’t seem to happen.  (If it did, then certainly not to any noticeable extent!)

Active learning? Certainly.  Scaffolded learning? Arguably, yes.  We started with what the students knew, then I offered some more suggestions, and these were added into students’ own search strategies, with improved results.