Tag Archives: collaboration

Citations Needed

Yesterday there was a fascinating article on Inside Higher Ed about a presentation at the recent Conference on College Composition and Communication. The presentation reported on research undertaken by composition faculty members Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson in their Citation Project, which focuses on understanding how students approach their research writing to help instructors help students avoid plagiarism. Their research team reviewed 160 introductory English Composition papers from 16 diverse colleges and universities and found that the student papers they examined were full of “patchwriting” — the term they use to describe improper paraphrasing that’s essentially inadvertent plagiarism — and very short on true summarizing.

While the ways in which students incorporate sources into their writing was the primary focus of the study, the researchers also examined student understanding of sources. Here the evidence is equally bleak: students relied heavily on brief documents that were less than five pages long, and most of the material they cited could be found in the beginning of the source, within the first few pages. The Citation Project team found little evidence that students were engaging deeply and thoughtfully with their research sources, rather they were, as the IHE article is titled, skimming the surface.

As many librarians commented when this article link made the rounds on Twitter yesterday, this hardly comes as a shock to us — many of our encounters with students at the reference desk and during instruction sessions corroborate these findings. Still, I admit to a tiny bit of surprise that it seems like librarians were only barely mentioned at the conference presentation:

“Whatever else the Internet has done,” Jamieson continued, “it has made it easier to find sources and harder to tell what’s junk.”

Some in the audience said the findings point to the need to place greater emphasis on teaching students how to select proper sources. “It’s probably not far off to say that their sources are the first hits on Google,” one audience member observed.

Another commenter was not prepared to give up on the 20th-century expectations of student research and citation. “There’s some value to reminding students about the authority on certain subjects that are not in a digital archive,” she said. “What we’ve forgotten is that libraries were the repositories where people made judicious claims about what sources are worth reading.”

What does this mean for academic librarians? While I’m glad we were mentioned tangentially, it hurts a bit to see a faculty discussion about how awful students’ research sources are that doesn’t include librarians. At the recent ACRL Conference I heard lots about our relationships with faculty, which many of us still find to be unsatisfyingly one-sided. There are a variety of strategies we can (and are) try(ing), but everyone’s local conditions are different, and there doesn’t seem to be one silver bullet.

Two other relevant readings I came across yesterday might help. Kim Leeder on In the Library with the Lead Pipe shares practical advice in her post outlining five steps for collaborating with faculty. And Bobbi Newman lets us know about the Great Librarian Write-Out, in which Patrick Sweeney is awarding $250 to a librarian who writes an article about libraries that gets published in a non-library publication.

What other strategies could we try to collaborate with faculty to increase student engagement with research sources? Are there any strategies that have worked well for you?

Taxonomy of Collaboration

Back to school means back to library instruction, and while gearing up for the busy fall season I’ve found myself mulling over a few instruction issues. Outreach to faculty is something I think about often, especially outreach to those who either don’t know about or don’t seem interested in library instruction. Most of these faculty we just don’t see in the library because they don’t bring their classes in. But many of our institutions have one or more courses that require library instruction, often the freshman seminar or introductory Composition course. While some faculty are eager to collaborate with librarians on research and library instruction for their classes, others, unfortunately, are not.

I’ve encountered a wide range of faculty attitudes towards the required library session:

Enthusiastic Partners: These faculty members sincerely appreciate research and library instruction, and definitely seem to enjoy collaborating with librarians. They discuss their assignments and student learning goals with us before the session, and actively work with us during the session. These sessions usually seem most successful — the importance of library research clearly resonates with students more when their professors reinforce what librarians teach.

Quiet but Satisfied: Faculty members in this category do find value in library instruction (at least I think they do). However, they often don’t discuss their course with librarians before the research session, and generally don’t participate in the session itself. Some of these faculty might think that they aren’t as familiar with the research resources as librarians are, and feel hesitant to add their voices to the session. Others are probably satisfied with the content and activities of the library session and see no need to discuss any changes.

Possibly Unconvinced: What about the faculty who sit at the back of the room during the library session, checking their email, grading papers, or searching the databases for their own research? They might be like the Quiet but Satisfied folks and feel that the library session already meets their course goals well. But maybe they don’t — maybe these faculty see library instruction as dull and uninspiring, a chore to be gotten through so they can move on to the more important work of their courses.

Missing Out: Then there’s the (thankfully, very small) group of faculty who simply skip out on library instruction altogether. Sometimes these faculty are receptive to rescheduling the session they’ve missed, though not always. Clearly they don’t think that research instruction is at all useful for their students.

Luckily most faculty who teach the course with required library instruction at my college fall into these first two categories, and my colleagues and I enjoy collaborating with them. But finding ways to reach the faculty who are Possibly Unconvinced or Missing Out is a continuous challenge. They may not respond to email or spend much time on campus. Some are adjuncts, with office arrangements that aren’t ideal. On our end, it can be difficult to find the time to contact each faculty member individually (and multiple times) in a course with many sections. And it’s easy to become discouraged when our overtures go unacknowledged.

How can we convince these faculty that required library instruction has value for their students, and that collaborating with librarians is worth their time? Or should we focus on the positives — the faculty who are enthusiastic and satisfied — while we continue to try to replicate successful strategies across the board, regardless of faculty attitude?