November 17th, 2010
A WVU professor and librarian have written an article about how their partnership in the classroom enhanced the academic environment for students.
Dr. Tim Warner, a geology/geography professor, and Linda Blake, science librarian, were one of five teams to participate in the WVU Libraries’ Information Literacy Course Enhancement Program, a joint effort between the Libraries and the Provost’s Office, during the 2010 academic year. The program’s goal is to incorporate information literacy concepts into the curriculum.
Their results will appear in the Winter 2010 edition of Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, an online journal published by the Association of College & Research Libraries, Science and Technology Section.
“People associate information literacy more with the humanities, where there is often a strong emphasis on term papers and writing,” Warner said. “I thought they’d be interested in how we’re doing it in a science class.”
Warner, who uses the Libraries heavily in his teaching, understands that students can often be overwhelmed by the flood of available information available online when they undertake a research project. He considers the ability to find quality materials a priority for students.
“It’s not like you can go to one or two places to find information and then you’re done,” Warner said. “There’s so many different sources. They vary so much in reliability and quality, and they can be in obscure places. That’s how a professional librarian helps me.”
The pair collaborated to provide students in his Introduction to Remote Sensing class with an understanding of how to evaluate scholarly literature, how to develop a more sophisticated approach when researching a topic, and how to avoid plagiarism. Warner dedicated two class sessions and two labs to the project.
In his teaching, Warner focused on assessing the reliability of materials. He explained the peer-review process and the role of publishing in a scholar’s career. He also touched on non-peer-reviewed material such as general Internet sources, the popular press, and gray literature.
Blake focused on the process of searching for information and explained that the Libraries maintain subscriptions to thousands of electronic journals indexed in hundreds of databases. Rather than using Google to scour the entire web, she directed them to the Libraries’ digital holdings. She also explained how to craft searches to net the best results.
“There are just so much information out there, and it’s not going to get less; it’s going to get more,” Blake said. “It’s largely uncontrolled on the Internet. That’s why it’s real important in the sciences to use library-funded sources to weed through it.”
The final piece was a lecture on plagiarism. Prior to the lesson, most students said they were aware of what constitutes plagiarism and were confident they were working within the rules. Afterwards, students said they will be more cautious when writing papers.
“Plagiarism is more complex than students realize,” Warner said. “Even professionals can get blasé. It’s easy to not think through something.”
Blake and Warner evaluated their efforts by surveying the class before and after sharing the information literacy curriculum.
Across the board, the comments were extremely positive, and almost all students expressed that they felt their information literacy skills had improved.
Warner and Blake saw a significant change in how students approach library resources. Students said they would previously go first to Google or Google Scholar. Now, the first place they go is the Libraries’ website. They will still use Google Scholar, but it will be a supplemental source.
Students’ enthusiasm about what they learned pleased Warner. He noted a student who said one of the research tools she discovered changed her life.
“She was obviously indulging in a little bit of hyperbole, but I think it shows that if you’ve been struggling and then see something that handles the concern so well, it really is life-changing,” Warner said.