Wednesday, 11 January 2012

How much help?

I've been stimulated to write this post in response to Simon Barron and Georgina Hardy's post mentioned in Funktious's comment. (Hope all those references make sense!)

The thrust of Simon's post is that we shouldn't help too much in academic libraries to ensure the students develop their own information literacy, however Georgina considers that we can over emphasise this and "We must be very careful not to value process above principles."

We have had similar discussions in FE libraries - the natural inclination of the library staff I've worked with is to help and find the information the students are looking for; but we have tried to wean ourselves off this and support students to use the catalogue etc to find resources themselves.

I can very much identify with both sides of this debate as I also wanted to get our students (HE & FE) to use the online resource we subscribed to, and this was very much an uphill battle.  I agree  with Georgina that the main point of providing these resources is for the students to engage with them as part of their learning.

I have no data to back this contention, but I would estimate that in any cohort of students there will be the following categories of students in varying proportions:
  1. those who are actively engaging with the online content and learn the research skills alongside their subject and can carry those forward into future careers 
  2. those who struggle but who will come to info lit sessions and ask for help at enquiry desks
  3. those who struggle and get by on the bare minimum not fully engaging with the resources available or picking up any research skills despite our best efforts.
If we facilitate students accessing the materials with direct links on reading lists, VLEs etc then at least the students in group 3 will be enabled to access the resources and learn from the content. Those in group 1 having easy access the essential resources will have the time and energy to extend their reading and develop the research skills to support this.  Lastly those in group 2 will gain confidence and with support hopefully move into group 1.

Maybe the solution is to offer different levels of content links as the students progress - lots for first years and decreasing for second and third years, together of course with lots of tips on searching and evaluating. We also need to be explicit as to why we are doing this so that the students don't think they are just getting a poorer service in later years!

On a personal note I have to confess that the best mark I got as an undergraduate was for an assignment where I left it too late to get access to any of the (print only) resources and had to muddle through with what was to hand.  This drove my creativity and I made links I might not otherwise have done.  I wouldn't recommend this as a strategy to others though - there have been plenty of times where deadline surfing has done me no favours at all!

Picture credit: Jessica M Cross

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