Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peer-Driven Learning: Forcing Students to Visit the Library

Today, with my Peer-Driven Learning class that is less self-motivated than the other, we went to the library. The class decided that we were going to get our "required essay" out of the way first. The required essay needs to be "an analytical essay that connects multiple texts across disciplines" (to quote our Gen. Ed. Student Learning Outcomes requirement). We are still working on the broad topic of "Wealth, Poverty, and Social Class" and we've been brainstorming ideas as to what to write about. But, the essay requires multiple sources from across disciplines, and I knew that this wasn't going to happen without some help.

So I assigned a short annotated bibliography. I know, this is old-school me assign/they do format that we are trying to avoid, but I am so glad that I am requiring this particular mini-assignment. The annotated bibliography is due Friday, and we met today in the library to do research. Keep in mind that this is a 200-level course and most of the students are Sophomores. About halfway through the class, one of the students came up to me and asked if she was able to check out a book and if so, how to go about doing it.

Oh dear. This lead to some very interesting conversations on Twitter about how my experience is not unique. 

In each of my classes I stress how important it is to physically go to the library to do their research. I also mention that their tuition pays the salary of the reference librarians who are there to help them do their research more efficiently and effectively. In the same way that I am a "trained" expert and thus hired to be their teacher, the reference librarians all have Master's degrees in Library Science; they are also "trained" experts hired to help us do research. Their jobs, their raison d'etre is to help you do research. Why else do you  a) get a Master's in Library Science and b) go work at a primarily undergraduate university library? 

But it also brings up a larger issue that I have been struggling with all semester with my peer-driven classes: how much can I "force" or require them to do? How do I find a balance between what they want to do versus what I know they need to (or at the very least should) do? The annotated bibliography was not their idea, but when I introduced the requirements for the essay, they were dumbfounded. Multiple sources? Across disciplines? Research? The library? 

When I typically assign annotated bibliographies, I ask for one book, two peer-reviewed articles, and then two other sources of any type. I expect a very brief (1-3 sentence) summary of their source and then a brief description of how they will use the source in their paper. I think in a class of less-than-motivated students, this can be an effective tool to help them refine their topic and start to move in the right direction. And I'm curious to see how much guidance my other peer-driven class is going to need when we get to that stage later in the semester (they wanted to save theirs for last). 

Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience today, having students unable to find books on the shelves or know that the books could be checked out. But, like I expect my students to do, I learn and I adapt. And I readjust my expectations. 


  1. Well, unfortunately, I'm not surprised by this phenom either, especially when I regularly have students who say that they have never read a book from beginning to end.

    Like you, I struggle with the line between what they want to know versus what I think they need to know. I've had horrible experiences with the annotated bibliography in my comp. courses-even with examples and step-by-step instructions, my students rarely actually do what they're supposed to do. So, I switched to a graphic organizer that I created-it has the exact same questions that an annotated bib addresses, but because it's organized in a more visual way, the students have done much better with it and I have seen improvement in their ability to synthesize their sources by using their anno. bib. graphic organizers. This semester, for my Challenge-Based learning project, I'm giving the students options on how they summarize/synthesize their sources. Their options include infographics and a glogster poster, in addition to more traditional methods, like my graphic organizer. We'll see how it goes.

  2. Have you considered having one of the librarians speak to your class before they start their research? A librarian should be able to give them a presentation or provide an activity (or both) covering the basics of research and information literacy. This also allows your students to make a connection to a librarian so that they aren't just approaching a stranger at a reference desk to ask for help.

    Your librarian may even be able to offer some suggestions on your assignment. Although I think an annotated bibliography is a useful way to learn how to research and about different types of sources. My first real exposure to research (beyond looking up books in the library catalog) was with an annotated bibliography assignment for a 400-level anthropology class. The research skills I learned in that assignment helped me in other courses and prepared me for graduate work.

  3. As I've posted in FYCCHAT, I just finished two different activities in the library. I figure most students have never checked out a book in the university library and rarely has anyone touched one of the journals sitting out. It's a great pleasure for me to be part of the experience that intros the students to the excitement of what's in the journals. Of course I hear lots of library experiences that are BORING. :)

  4. P.S. I've happily subscribed to this blog! :)

  5. It is so easy to be shocked at what they don't know - it seems there is so much! (I recently wrote a blog post entitled "I Can't Believe They Don't Know That" - )
    I think it can be helpful to accept that many of our students haven't been exposed to academic libraries (or clearly libraries in any form) and be glad that the lesson you've designed is providing that exposure.
    And I agree with The Torg that lots of library experiences are boring - I have rarely sat through a class presentation where students were engaged, even when we were teaching key word searches on topics of their choice. It can be a hard sell.
    Part of the issue too can be simple exposure - get them there, walk them through the access points and resources, and their next visit might be more likely to occur because they know where to go and who to ask.

  6. Hi Dr. Skallerup, I realize I'm commenting on this post over a year after the fact, but I felt compelled to comment anyway. I'm a librarian at a community college in New York, and coordinate the library instruction/information literacy program here. I sympathize with your frustrations, I've had similar experiences with students. Jami is right, part of a librarians responsibility at colleges/universities is to offer appropriate library instruction to assist faculty/students. Where I work, many of these are done as "one-shots" where the faculty member consults with us before-hand, informing us of a particular research assignment their students will be working on, then we design an instruction around that. Most of these are done in English/Comp classes but we're trying very hard to promote library instruction across disciplines and for higher level courses since students can't learn everything there is to know about research in one class, and the research skills often need to be tailored according to the discipline they're studying. If you haven't already I would definitely contacting one of the librarians on campus to ask about instruction. We tend to be a rather helpful bunch normally. :-)


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