We owe it to students to make them think

Inspired by (and not as well written as) Emma Coonan’s recent blogpost: The ‘F’ word: information literacy, ‘find’ and other verbs

Until this semester, I hadn’t taught literature searching since being a subject librarian a few years ago. Over the last few months, in my new role as a Library Learning Advisor (I have been an Academic Skills Advisor for the past few years), I have been delivering the literature searching sessions that were previously delivered by a subject librarian. Arranged by the department in computer clusters, I found that despite my best efforts, the focus was usually, and perhaps inevitably given the teaching environment, on the technology not the thinking.

What I observed from students from the first right up to the third years, was that they often found it difficult to conceptualise their topic and formulate and ask meaningful research questions. They don’t always understand how information is created and therefore find it difficult to make critical decisions about what information to use and how to use it. Being able to synthesise and link their thoughts and ideas with what they are reading and learning in their modules is hugely challenging. We know students are often looking for “the answer” and it should be the job of higher education (well all education) to develop students as critical thinkers, ready and eager to accept a lack of definite answers and instead analyse and evaluate different possibilities. So, the question that seems to arise again and again is why do we focus on the finding rather than the thinking? Without thinking doesn’t the finding just come down to luck? Students may well find useful information without really thinking through what it is they are looking for, but we owe it to them to help them develop their critical thinking skills. They need to understand the questions, problems, issues that they’ve been asked to address as well as identifying their own, particularly for their final year project, before and alongside their discovery of information that will help them to understand, interpret and construct a meaningful discussion around those areas.

Over the next few months I want to design some teaching sessions that will help students with their information seeking that take place outside of a computer cluster. An academic recently shared with me her shock at the lack of reading students do. I thought about how we teach literature searching and well, sitting behind a PC does not inspire or engage students with reading- it certainly would not inspire me! So I want to design a searching workshop that will inspire students to want to find and read interesting material.

I will share my ideas on the blog but please feel free to share your ideas with me!

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2 thoughts on “We owe it to students to make them think

  1. Hi Michelle, I couldn’t agree with you more. From my almost 11 years in university libraries, I’ve come to the conclusion that this happens because we librarians don’t always get ourselves educated about learning and teaching. If we had basic learning and teaching knowledge, we would come to our teaching roles knowing that this is exactly what we could expect to happen. Learning and teaching are both human activities and the technology can be leveraged to enhance our human-ness and promote our learning. And, on top of that critical thinking is just hard and we have to employ good pedagogy to encourage it and we have to have enough time to apply those pedagogies. Often we get a chance to do the first, but how often to we get a chance to do the second? Love your post. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 Sandra

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  2. Hi Sandra. You’re absolutely right. Luckily I work for a well resourced institution and I had the opportunity to undertake a teaching course, go to conferences, training days etc. I’ve found blogs, Twitter and mailing lists an invaluable resource. Luckily our profession is excellent at sharing but I think the onus can be put too much on the individual to seek opportunities to develop these skills. I think this issue also needs to be tackled by CILIP. A major part of the problem is the lack of “teacher training” in CILIP accredited library and information professional courses. I wrote my MA dissertation about this 6 (ish) years ago and I don’t think the situation has changed much (I might be wrong). I certainly didn’t feel educated in these areas when I finished my course and I do wonder what would have happened if I had worked for an institution where professional development opportunities were far fewer. Thank you for your comment- I feel another blog post coming on… 🙂

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