Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Well, Duh....

A new report from the CIBER research team at University College London just reaffirmed what every teaching librarian already knows: most students are functionally information illiterate. The so-called "Google generation," while far more at ease and familiar with computers and the online environment than adults--at least when it comes to social networking--know squat about finding, recognizing and managing information.

Well, they phrased it more eloquently.

You can access the entire report here, but I'll summarize what I thought were the most interesting points.

User Behavior
According to the report, 89% of college students use search engines to start an information search. (I'd say that's even higher in secondary school.) Only 2% actually start from a library website. 93% are satisfied/very satisfied with their search, compared to only 84% who use a library assisted search (this surprised me).

What was especially interesting was the change in reading habits to what the study called "horizontal information seeking." And this was in adults (teachers, professors) as well as students. Users engage in "power browsing," bouncing and flitting from subheading to subheading, clicking on links, viewing no more than a page or two on any individual site. 60% of ejournal users view not more than 3 pages, and 65% never return.

In fact, people spend most of their time just trying to navigate around.

Information Management
Not only has students' information literacy not improved with technology (though it hasn't worsened, either), technology masks troubling issues.

  1. "The speed of young people's web searching means little time is spent evaluating information.
  2. Students have a poor understanding of their information needs, and thus find it difficult to develop effective search strategies.
  3. Their preference for natural language searching hinders an analysis of more effective key words
  4. Faced with a long list of search hits, students find it difficult to asses for relevance, and often print off pages with no more than a glance
  5. Many young people do not find library-sponsored resources intuitive, and therefore prefer to use Google or Yahoo."
Most interestingly, while many of the teachers interviewed were information literate, their skills and attitudes were not passed on to their students.

And, of course, students don't get it.

The problem here is that they simply do not recognize that they have a problem: there is a big gap between their actual performance in information literacy tests and their self-estimates of information skill and library anxiety.

As my title suggests, we all knew this. Yet as we continue to advocate for our increasing relevance in today's informationally overloaded environment, it's good to have the actual statistics to back ourselves up.

What I do find worrying about this study, and about my own students' information behavior, is the implication that we're doing a poor job of meeting their needs. As the study states,
Information consumers--of all ages--use digital media voraciously, and not necessarily in the ways that librarians assume. Any barrier to access: be that additional log-ins, payment or hard copy, are too high for most consumers and information behind those barriers will increasingly be ignored....students usually prefer the global searching of Google to more sophisticated searching....provided by the library, where students must make separate searches of the online catalog and every database, after first identifying which might be relevant.
In other words, when I tell students to ignore the interface that allows them to search every database at once (regardless of its relevance to their topic), and to search the databases individually (returning more useful results), I'm actually working against my intentions of making their lives easier.

I need to think about this one, and will certainly be posting more on it later.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Get 'Em When They're Young...And Make Them Laugh

When school started this year, I only had one of the 9th grade English teachers ask me to do a library orientation for the students (Thanks, Stephanie!), and none of the MS teachers were even interested. I was excited to do it, but I must say, it wasn't the most thrilling presentation I've ever done. I mean, how do you make library tours and a review of databases interesting???

So when I saw a pre-conference workshop entitled "Injecting Fun Into Library Orientation," I hauled out the credit card and registered on the spot. I plan to insist that all 7th and 9th graders attend an orientation next year, and I want it, if not actually to wow them, at least make the library an interesting and engaging place for them..

While the techniques discussed at the workshop are not exactly earth-shaking, they will keep students more engaged. Presented by Jacqui DaCosta, a British transplant to the library at the College of New Jersey, and Nigel Morgan, a BioSciences subject librarian at Cardiff University in Wales, the workshop was an explanation of Library Bingo and the so-called Cephalonian Method.

In brief: Library Bingo asks students to generate a list of five questions on what they expect from the library prior to the orientation You might ask, "list five services you expect to find in the library," or "What five things should a library provide?" Then, as you go through the orientation spiel, students tick off their questions as they're answered. When they've ticked off all five answers, they yell "Bingo" and receive a small prize (a Hershey's Kiss, for example).

Now, that's not Bingo as Americans would recognize it, but I do think it would at least keep students actively thinking about the library and how it relates to their expectations, instead of dozing off.

The Cephalonian Method orginated as a spin-off from an orientation one of the Cardiff librarians participated in on a package tour to the island of Cephalonia, Greece. The CM consists of planting color-coded cards with questions in the student audience, and calling on students to ask the questions on the cards.

There's more to it that I'll explain in a minute, but that's the gist. The presenters obviously thought this was revolutionary--allowing students to ask questions! How interactive!--and mentioned many librarians were against it because they feared they would lose control. Now, if any of you have ever worked with our British educational comrades, you know we have VERY different views on education. At this point, I had to laugh, because many British educators have a completely different view of classroom control. I remember one of the British staff in Egypt being proud that he had no idea how well his students spoke English. "Why would I allow them to talk in class?" So a student-questions based lesson, however contrived, is really mixing it up!

(I love my British friends, but we had to ban educational philosophy as a topic of discussion, because it always ended up in a fight. Imagine thinking you might lose control of a class if students ask questions!)

ANYWAY.... (sorry for the side note, but I was vastly amused)

To explain the method more fully. Generate a list of questions you think will cover what you want to present for orientation, then break them into categories such as "basic info," "Finding Items," "Databases" and "Service." Assign a color to each category, and print each question on a sheet of appropriately colored paper. e.g. "basic info" questions on red paper, "Database" questions on green, etc.

Generate the Power Point presentation to go with the questions. Up to this point, I was skeptical, but here's where I thought they really hit on something. Cardiff hired a (very cute) young guy to take humorous pictures to go with the questions. This guy they called "Tyrone" and the point was to phrase the questions in a creative, humorous way that will engage students. Tyrone appeared in various poses and various modes of dress. I thought this would work well in a secondary school if you chose a friendly, popular student to act as model.

Although the questions are color coded, so the topics will be in order, the questions aren't numbered, (though you certainly could). Thus, you don't really know what order they'll come in. You'll notice this slide is blue. That's to show it's a blue question. If you print out an outline of the slides, in numbered order, it's very quick to navigate to the correct slide.

Another key element was to play music at the beginning and end of the presentation, as students enter and leave. The music would vary, depending on time of day. Something classical or new agey in the morning, for example, but something more lively in the afternoon, such as Santana.

I don't know if it's a British/American thing, or an Academic library/school library thing, but, as you can tell I was rolling my eyes a bit at the thought that "planted" questions and music were really shaking it up. Even Morgan admitted the students sometimes "played" with the questions--either asking different questions or none at all, which suggests to me they also think it's a bit contrived.

Nevertheless, I do think the combination of Bingo and the CM work well together. The CM relays content and forces to students to pay some sort of attention, while the questions make them vested in finding answers to questions meaningful to them. And the candy doesn't hurt, either! If you set it up appropriately, and showed the students the method was just a bit of fun and you weren't take it too seriously, this could go over very well.

I'd be interested to hear other's thoughts, or ideas for variations.

If you want to find out more about the CM--which, apparently, is sweeping through British libraries, you can find the Power Point presentation used by the Cardiff BioScience Library here. (Link is on the right) There is also an explanation and rationale of the CM here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Back in PA

Well, here I am in Philadelphia, attending my first ALA conference. They may kick me out of the ALA for saying this, but I'm a bit disappointed. I was excited, planning to attend great workshops and learn heaps. Turns out, it's 95% committee meetings! ugh! Though I will say it's incredibly cool that we drive right by Independence Hall on the way to the conference center. And apparently the Liberty Bell is only a block or so from my hotel, so I must see that.

I did attend an interesting workshop yesterday on presenting fun library orientations. I'll blog about that next. And I'm going to a committee meeting this afternoon on best practices in video, with, I think, a nod to copyright. I'll definitely let you know about that, too.

I'm now off to tour the exhibits and talk to the 3M vendor about security systems!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Wikia Goes Live

A brand new search engine just entered the fray. Wikia, the brain-child of Jimmy Wales (of Wikipedia fame) uses an open-source concept similar to the famed online encyclopedia. Rather than the opaque and somewhat suspect algorithms used by Google, et al (which can be 'enhanced' by a hefty outlay of corporate cash), Wikia relies on user feedback to generate reliable, authoritative hits.

Obviously, as they're on day one, the results aren't the best. I ran a trial search for an upcoming 7th grade project on desertification in Africa, and only found a few useful sites on the second or third page. On the plus side, it only generated 476 hits--far less daunting than the 770,ooo on Google!

However, as more people use it and supply feedback, the results should improve exponentially.

One nifty feature the site provides is a mini-article at the top of each search page, fully editable, allowing users to add information. Again, most of the searches I used didn't generate an article, as they hadn't been created yet. The site proclaims the primary purpose of the article will be to provide definitions, "disambiguations," photos and a 'see also' reference.

I doubt I'll be sending students to this any time soon, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Video Resource Collection

How's that for a catchy title?

Happiest of New Year's to all! I've posted this video resource link before, but I've bee working on updating the collection, mostly because I'll be teaching a film studies course next semester, in addition to running the library. I'm probably nuts, but I'm looking forward to it. While the class will be partly a traditional film studies class (i.e. analyzing movies), I'm most excited about the production part--students will use what they learn in analyzing actual films as they work to create their own.

Either one of these is a semester in itself, so how combining both will work, I have no idea. It's an adventure! I'm also hoping this will start the school on a long trend towards building media study/production more thoroughly into the curriculum, as students show what they learn through producing PSA's, shorts, documentaries, etc.

With all that in mind, I've worked on upgrading the collection of video resources for the class. I found some wonderful tutorials, student media sites, etc. So take a look, and let me know of anything I haven't found yet!