Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Learning the Ropes:" High School to College Transitions

In December 2013 Project Information Literacy published its second report in their "The Passage Studies" series. This one focused on students' information transitions from high school to college, "Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College." 

The report discusses eight major findings:

  • Freshmen discovered their college/university library was much larger and more complex than their high school libraries.
  • Searching for academic literature online was difficult--struggling to identify keywords and effective search queries.
  • Freshmen had difficulty navigating the print and online collections of the library, and once they had collected literature they had trouble reading it and making connections between their various sources.
  • Most Freshmen realized that high school research had not prepared them for college-level research assignments.
  • Some Freshmen were transitioning from a reliance on Google to using library databases while others continued their "ingrained habit" of using Google and Wikipedia searches.
  • The most common adaptive strategy for transitioning to college-level research amongst the Freshmen interviewed was learning to read academic journal articles and abstracts.
  • Freshmen reported that campus librarians (29%) and their English composition instructors (29%) were the most helpful in guiding them through the research process.
  • And by the end of their first year in college, Freshmen had begun using the same information sources as their Sophomore, Junior, and Senior counterparts.

For those who work with first year students most of these findings will not come as a surprise.  Nonetheless some observations and recommendations from the report struck a chord with me.  

The researchers identified five recurring misconceptions they heard from the students interviewed, and which they called the "Freshman Myths." 

I think both librarians and disciplinary faculty may, at times, be at fault for perpetuating these myths. Sometimes we emphasize a particular scholarly database, for instance JSTOR, to the exclusion of teaching students about more appropriate scholarly databases for their subject area/discipline.  And almost daily I hear administrators, faculty, and students proclaim that "everything is online." This proclamation is often intertwined with the misconception that these "digital natives," our current undergraduate students, are adept at searching online systems. 

The final recommendation of the report is to "reframe [our] expectations...It is incorrect to assume that because most of today’s freshmen grew up with a thriving Internet at their fingertips, they are naturals at college-level research.  The cognitive skills needed for scholarly inquiry are very different than finding ready-made answers using a Google search."  How do we transform the skills students do bring with them into the skills necessary for navigating the complex information landscape available to them in college?  

Interested in joining the conversation?  Join us at the Armacost Library's Information Literacy Faculty Showcase featuring the History Department this year.  And look for report outs on the Armacost Library's action research project studying the impact of information literacy instruction on student achievement.

More reactions to "Learning the Ropes":

K. G. Schneider, "Project Info Lit and the “Ginormous” Problem"

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