Sensations Or Experiences: Which Do We Want To Provide

I may have a tendency to beat the drum about the importance of integrating our resources and services into the teaching and learning process – and advocating user education - so that we can help students achieve important learning outcomes. That goal often seems in conflict with those who advocate that we need to make things as simple as possible to eliminate complexity for library users for fear that complexity will drive them away. “Keep it simple” is usually code for “make it more like Google.” I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who thinks we might be shortchanging college students by making their education a series of technology sensations rather than a true learning experience.

Well, thanks to Bob Rogers, an associate professor for 34 years at Queensborough Community College in New York, I know there is someone else out there who shares my concerns. In an essay in the November 2005 issue of University Business titled “When Will They Learn“, Rogers writes:

There is a difference between entertainment and learning, between sensation and experience.Experiences change us. We see a play, climb a mountain, visit a foreign city, go to war, have a child–or struggle to reach any grasp-exceeding goal–and we are changed. Such experiences don’t need to be repeated; we are different people for having gone through them once and the change is permanent. Sensation, on the other hand, is something that merely happens to us; it’s more like a stimulus that momentarily alters our state of mind, perception, or awareness. But when that stimulus is removed, the sensation will fade. Sensations need to be constantly renewed, re-experienced, and repeated in life…Change does not occur without resistance. It requires work, sometimes sacrifice, even hardship, to achieve.

I really like this idea of experience versus sensation. Do we want to help our students learn how to conduct research? If so, we need to create a persistent change in their research behavior; that’s what learning is – a persistent change in knowlege and behavior. That change is likely to occur only as a result of coordinated user education (call it information literacy if you like) that takes place in collaboration with faculty and is integrated into the curriculum. If we choose to simply provide a “search sensation” through a smorgasbord of resources for students, and we provide no guidance nor create expectations for their use and application for learning, than it should be no surprise when we discover they begin their research at search engines and largely avoid library resources. If this trend continues it won’t be because we were too complex for students, but because we didn’t integrate ourselves and our resources into their learning experience.

What will it be? Sensations? Experiences? Which would you rather provide?

4 thoughts on “Sensations Or Experiences: Which Do We Want To Provide

  1. Does it have to be either/or? Can’t we work to build better tools AND work to integrate into the curriculum? I have been talking with a number of student groups at my institution this fall. They LOVE the library. They WANT to use the library. They TRY to use the library. But – they just can’t figure it out. Sure – instruction/user education/information literacy can help. But the students also have suggestions for making the tools easier to understand and use. None of which would “dumb down” the tool – they would just make them better tools because the users would be able to understand and thus use them better.

  2. You make a good point Lisa. In my post about “simplicity vs. complexity” I said that it would not matter how great our resources are if no one used them, so part of our conundrum is how to provide the either/or option – library databases that are complex enough to allow users to achieve precise searches, but that don’t overwhelm them at the start. The article I refer to does make a good point about creating an experience for the student so they’ll retain information about using appropriate research resources, and perhaps that is what needs to happen in the instruction setting – although the challenge there is that we don’t always have the time or resources to create memorable instruction. If your students have some ideas for improving the tools, can you capture it and put it in the hands of the folks who make the aggregated databases. If the resources are going to get better, they are the folks who need to make the changes.

  3. Be assured I don’t keep these “words of wisdom” from students to myself. In addition to communicating with vendors on these (pretty much my whole focus in visiting the ALA exhibits since I have no collections budget responsibilities), sometimes it is important to communicate with whoever has the administrative password to a given system. In many cases, the vendor has built in capacity for change – we just have to do it! And, then, there are our library-developed resources (e.g., all those library homepages out there) that we control ourselves…..

  4. I agree that helping students learn to do research and creating “persistent change in their research behavior” should be the goal, and that integrated classroom instruction is one of the best ways to achieve that goal. Often, the students I help haven’t yet learned how to choose good keywords for their search; no matter how simple the interface, they will have trouble doing research until they lean some basic skills.

    But one indication that our interfaces still have a long way to go is the number of faculty who ask for help with using these resources. If our tools and interfaces were really up to the task, then faculty–who have already had the “experience” (in Rogers’s formulation) of doing research and earning a PhD–should have no trouble using them. Yet, in my experience, many faculty find the array of databases, catalogs, and add-on services (such a link resolvers) bewildering. If these experienced researchers can’t untangle our many offerings and interfaces, why should we expect an incoming student to be able to do so? Let’s keep trying to make our tools and systems more transparent and easy to use while still insisting that integrating library instruction in the curriculum is necessary.

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