Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Student Productivity and Information Literacy

[Special weekly post from Rachel Jorgensen, Digital & Information Literacy Librarian, University of the District of Columbia]

Back in November, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay written by a man who works as a
professional ghost writer
for students.

“Ghost writer” is the polite name for what he does – writing research papers, masters theses and dissertations for students. The article garnered a large number of responses (at last count, 641) – the responses are as interesting as the original essay. I thought this one was particularly astute:

America has placed a high premium on quantitative results but has completely undervalued the process necessary to achieve those results. As a nation, we have become acutely aware of certain concrete "goals" (increase test scores, improve high-school graduation rates, ensure that students enter college and exit with diploma in hand). However, we have become so absorbed by meeting these goals that we've lost track of our reasons for having them in the first place. As a result, we have students who emerge from high school …

hardly capable of articulating their thoughts, out loud or on paper. They see college graduation as the key to future professional success (and in many cases they're correct), but they see their classes as merely a means to an end. The true purpose and value of education have been obliterated by our orientation as a society toward having the correct
The full comment, as well as many others, can be seen here.

The article and the conversation it sparked speak directly to the failure of educational systems to provide students with basic skills, such as writing, reading and critical thinking. Paradoxically, it also speaks directly to the value of information literacy as a fundamental skill.

Unfortunately, our students at UDC do not come to us prepared for what we ask of them: in my perfect world the union of “remediation” and “college curriculum” would be undone. At the college level, our task as professors should be the refinement of intellect and skill, not the teaching of basic competencies.

That being said once students are here it is our responsibility to provide them with opportunities to learn. This entails taking away opportunities to cheat.

The Information Literacy program can provide curricular support and direct assistance to students to make these opportunities possible. Here are just a few examples of how this can be done:

  • Have a research guide created to help guide students to appropriate materials.
  • Have the students meet with one of the librarians so that they can have a discussion about appropriate resources.
  • Integrate a library instruction class into your curriculum.
  • Model the research process and break it down into components.
  • Use alternatives to the standard research paper that would require students to find, assess and critique relevant information.
  • Utilize the worksheets created by the Information Literacy program.
  • Collaborate with librarians to create effective assignments that address identifying, finding, assessing, critiquing and creating -- the
    core information literacy concepts.

It is too easy to become overwhelmed when reading such articles in the professional literature – the failure to provide learning in core intellectual
competencies is a grave situation that will have (and has had) consequences. Leave any suggestions for effective coping mechanisms in the comments!

You can use this form to make a request for curricular support -- students can also use it to request an individual session with a librarian!

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