June 19, 2007

WILU2007: The Information Seeking Habits of Students: Are They Really that Bad?

(Reposted from here.)

By Joel Burkholder (York College of Pennsylvania)


Yet more subtitle, as Burkholder said, so as not to sound too harsh: "or, Building on Alternate Frameworks for Conceptual Change."

A good session revolving around the behaviors that students have that we think are somewhat less than optimal and how we might organize ourselves to nudge them into a better practice using our instruction.

From the audience, some of those less-than-optimal behaviors: keyword vs controlled vocab, start with Google & end with Wikipedia, only want full text, only look at first screen of results, linear process, first hit reliance, wait until the last minute, only use recent articles, poor evaluation or results.

The background at York College is that librarians and other faculty/sessionals teach all students a 2 credit course on IL. Mostly students think this is a useless, computer skills course that's easy and skippable. The challenge is to change those ideas.

So, an alternative framework: constructivism/active learning. Students have frameworks/ideas about how the world works that do not reflect the way it really works, the challenge is to move their framework close to the world.

To get them to accept this alternative framework:

  • Any new idea has to fit into an existing framework at least a little
  • The existing framework is a standard by which any new framework is judged
  • Our job is to make them aware of the difference between the way they think the world works and the way it really does.

Internal image: all college kids have used the web; kids now 12-17, most use on a daily basis; it's an integral part of their lives. The influence of broadband can also not be ignored: can get more out of the web experience and learn more things. Some of the sources of student preconceptions: Google -- it works reasonably well even with a poor search strategy, will always get some hits.

Conceptual change, learning that actively involves students in changes to an existing preconception, this creates an internal conflict that can result in some acceptance of an alternative framework and make it easier to change. Actively involve students in method to change their preconceptions. They think "Google goes to 11" and we need to confront their perception that there is no better way. A deep understanding of the information environment with be attained when they have a deep foundation of fact, skill and tool knowledge; understand how these facts are placed within an IL framework and organize knowledge to facilitate its transfer from one task to another.

Conditions for conceptual change: preconceptions must produce dissatisfaction; new concept must be intelligible, plausible and fruitful. Dissatisfaction means that the student lose faith that the preconception solves all their problems and be motivated to change. Plausible means that students must understand the new model, analogies and metaphors, it's best to use real-world examples and be wary of jargon; Plausible means that the new model must appear to solve problems/questions that the old one cannot and be consistent with other concepts/knowledge/experience. Fruitful means that the new model must produce results that can be applied to other areas.

Implications for our teaching strategies & practice:

  • confront beliefs and reveal preconceptions
  • discuss and evaluate preconceptions
  • create cognitive conflict
  • encourage and guide conceptual restructuring
  • take your time, even if it means covering less
  • figure out what is important
  • analyze the library's role in overall information environment and in the research process

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