A must read for librarians and teachers is the latest report from Project Information Literacy at The University of Washington, “Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age.” The paper abstract describes the study:
A report about college students and their information-seeking strategies and research difficulties, including findings from 8,353 survey respondents from college students on 25 campuses distributed across the U.S. in spring of 2010, as part of Project Information Literacy. Respondents reported taking little at face value and were frequent evaluators of Web and library sources used for course work, and to a lesser extent, of Web content for personal use. Most respondents turned to friends and family when asking for help with evaluating information for personal use and instructors when evaluating information for course research. Respondents reported using a repertoire of research techniques—mostly for writing papers—for completing one research assignment to the next, though few respondents reported using Web 2.0 applications for collaborating on assignments. Even though most respondents considered themselves adept at finding and evaluating information, especially when it was retrieved from the Web, students reported difficulties getting started with research assignments and determining the nature and scope of what was required of them. Overall, the findings suggest students use an information-seeking and research strategy driven by efficiency and predictability for managing and controlling all of the information available to them on college campuses, though conducting comprehensive research and learning something new is important to most, along with passing the course and the grade received. Recommendations are included for how campus-wide stakeholders—faculty, librarians, and higher education administrators—can work together to help inform pedagogies for a new century.
Dr. Alison J. Head and Dr. Michael B. Eisenberg identify the seven major findings of this study:
1. Students in the sample took little at face value and reported they were frequent evaluators of information culled from the Web and to a lesser extent, the campus library. More often than anything else, respondents considered whether information was up-todate and current when evaluating Web content (77%) and library materials (67%) for course work.
2. Evaluating information was often a collaborative process—almost two-thirds of the respondents (61%) reportedly turned to friends and/or family members when they needed help and advice with sorting through and evaluating information for personal use. Nearly half of the students in the sample (49%) frequently asked instructors for assistance with assessing the quality of sources for course work—far fewer asked librarians (11%) for assistance.
3. The majority of the sample used routines for completing one research assignment to the next, including writing a thesis statement (58%), adding personal perspective to papers (55%), and developing a working outline (51%). Many techniques were learned in high school and ported to college, according to students we interviewed.
4. Despite their reputation of being avid computer users who are fluent with new technologies, few students in our sample had used a growing number of Web 2.0 applications within the past six months for collaborating on course research assignments and/or managing research tasks.
5. For over three-fourths (84%) of the students surveyed, the most difficult step of the course-related research process was getting started. Defining a topic (66%), narrowing it down (62%), and filtering through irrelevant results (61%) frequently hampered students in the sample, too. Follow-up interviews suggest students lacked the research acumen for framing an inquiry in the digital age where information abounds and intellectual discovery was paradoxically overwhelming for them.
6. Comparatively, students reported having far fewer problems finding information for personal use, though sorting through results for solving an information problem in their daily lives hamstrung more than a third of the students in the sample (41%).
7. Unsurprisingly, what mattered most to students while they were working on courserelated research assignments was passing the course (99%), finishing the assignment (97%), and getting a good grade (97%). Yet, three-quarters of the sample also reported they considered carrying out comprehensive research of a topic (78%) and learning something new (78%) of importance to them, too.
I plan to study this report in more depth during my week-long Thanksgiving vacation, but I think finding #4 speaks to what we have been trying to do with the Media 21 project. Overall, it looks like academic libraries are facing some of the same challenges we are in K12 schools in trying to build collaborative partnerships to provide a more authentic and integrated approach to positing research as a tool for learning rather than an isolated event that seems to lack relevance for students. I’m also thinking it would be meaningful and insightful to replicate this study at the high school level and compare findings. I’ll blog more about my reflections on this project post-Thanksgiving holidays, but in the meantime, take a look at the report and share your reactions/reflections.
You can see other reports and work from Project Information Literacy by the link beneath the screenshot: