A few weeks ago, I wrote about a simple yet rich activity I did with tenth grade students as the kickoff to a “one-shot” mini-lesson; this activity was helpful in getting specific feedback on what was particularly challenging for these students with research. Last week, I spent two days with English teacher Meg Batchelor’s sophomores and decided to do a similar activity. This time, though, the two focal questions were:
- What is most challenging for you when doing research papers or projects?
- What are you “go to” sources when doing research?
I thought it would be fun to have students share their responses anonymously using sticky notes and then capture their responses in three ways:
- photographing the responses
- capturing the responses with the Post-It App
- identifying all the responses and corresponding number of responses for each response
Students jotted their thoughts on the sticky notes and then placed them on the appropriately labeled “parking lots” (a bigger jumbo sticky note–so very meta!) on the wall.
Take a look at the tallied responses below:
I found both data sets fascinating and saw some overlap with the responses from the previous group (valid/credible/reliable surfaces bubbled up again as well as sources with information relevant to the research topic or question), but as you can see, there are some nuanced differences, too. We can also clearly see that the students rely heavily on Google and Wikipedia; at first glance, the responses don’t seem to reflect much prior knowledge or experience in using other sources such as the school and district owned databases from Gale or specific EBSCO databases provided at the state level through GALILEO. More research would be needed to peel back the layers of the stories behind the data and to better understand what might account for these responses, especially for me as a newcomer who has been here only since August. It would also be interesting to see do a large scale open-ended survey by grade level and compare results.
If we group student responses to identified challenges of research into the three categories of learner experience and six stages of information seeking using Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process model; we can see the majority of these responses would be related to cognitive tasks. However, we can also see evidence of what Kuhlthau identifies as the principle of uncertainty reflected in the student responses. This is an imperfect first pass at coding and categorizing the student responses—I could see how some of their responses could fall into multiple areas of experience (both affective and cognitive) as well as overlap in information seeking stages since students often move and back forth between uncertainty and clarity as they continually explore, formulate, and collect (see this great blog post on this interpretation by my colleagues at the Letting Go blog that is all about ISP). You can click on the image below for a larger view.
We could also categorize responses more broadly into these areas of challenge:
However you look at it, these kinds of data sets provide conversation points to evaluate and assess student information literacy skills in the context of current research practices by each subject area in our school. I see this data as a set of conversation points to help us look more closely at current practices with research assignments in the context of:
- alignment to the state standards—where are we hitting the sweet spots, where are the gaps, where are engaging in overkill?
- the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (most high school teachers don’t know about this set of information literacy learning outcomes; thank you University of West Georgia academic librarian and Information Literacy Coordinator Andrea Stanfield for pointing me to this LibGuide on the standards–I love how they organized the content.)
- engaging in some soul-searching and really thinking about what we believe about research—what do we need to keep doing, what should we let go, and what do we need to begin doing (see this great example).
Having the courage to interrogate what you believe about research practices is not always easy, but I think it is essential if we are to take an inquiry stance on many kinds of literacy practices.
On a side note, several of you from Twitter asked me to share the technical aspect of this activity with the Post-It App. Overall, it worked fairly well, but the image captures were limited in size, and responses recorded in pencil didn’t pick up very well or at all. You can see the less than ideal quality of the images here. If I use this app again as part of data collection, I will make sure students write on the post-its in pen; I also am curious to see if the app functions in a more robust manner on an iPad versus an iPhone.
In closing, I am deeply appreciative to Ms. Batchelor and her two sections of 10th Literature/Composition for their candid responses and the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges as well as an opportunity to introduce resources through our project LibGuide to help address some of those concerns. Their feedback and these conversations are wonderful opportunities for me to learn from the students and to continually revisit what I think know and how I am interpreting student learning.
I’ll never cease to be amazed by what you can do with Post-it Notes 🙂 I’m trying this idea out with my first year seminar students this fall!
How interesting! I see a correlation between where students are looking and not feeling like they’re finding reliable/valid/credible sources. This matches up with a poll I asked one of our English profs to do in his class about what students would like to see a librarian talk about. Reliable/valid/credible was top of the list, but I suspect that our instruction needs lean heavily on issues of authority and publication (where we’re looking) rather than a checklist of credibility criteria (what we’re looking for.)