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Effective Teaching and Learning with Information Sources
by Claire Clemens

Most of us have mastered the skill of using a search engine to surf the Web for the least expensive book or airline ticket, but where do we learn how to search effectively and efficiently when it comes to scholarly research?  Consider the research challenges of locating and evaluating a quantitative study investigating political bias in the media, for example, or on the effect of Web-browsing interfaces in Web-based instruction.  The challenge seems even greater given the growing number and variety of sources available.  As members of the JMU community, we are fortunate to have access to a valuable and expanding collection of library resources.  With this abundance of information choices, the need for critical evaluation of information and all its sources has never been greater.


Many researchers, regardless of ability or experience, will be seduced by the Principle of Least Effort.  According to this principle, as defined by Thomas Mann, General Reference Librarian at the US Library of Congress, most researchers tend to be satisfied with the most easily available sources, regardless of quality. It is not surprising that novice academic researchers often follow the path of least resistance, relying on the Internet, a comfortable, familiar font of "facts" that informs other areas of their lives.  Students can’t be expected to intuitively determine and successfully apply the information skills required of them in their chosen academic field and ultimately in their profession.  A college education today must include the necessary preparation for lifelong learning.


Go for the Gold logoOur Go for the Gold online tutorial is a foundational program in for students to begin to acquire information literacy competency skills in their first year on campus.  Ideally, this initial experience is extended across disciplines as teaching faculty in academic departments define "information literacy" in the context of the major and, within the framework of the curriculum, develop a plan to teach and reinforce the competency skills in required courses.  Liaison librarians are ready to support you in this effort. 


Some departments have already begun to integrate information literacy into the required major courses.  If your coursework includes a research-based assignment, share your knowledge of information sources with your students.  Here are some suggestions to help guide your students' on their way to improving research and critical thinking skills, while avoiding plagiarism at the same time:


  • Place Library Contact Information On Your Syllabus:  Include the name and contact information of your departmental liaison librarian, and remind your students that research assistance can be obtained at the Public Services Desk in person, by email, or on the phone.  (Carrier Library 568-6150, CISAT Library 568-2731, Music Library 568-6041)
  • Verify Library Sources:  Perform a test search in the Periodical Locator for the periodical titles in your citations, reading list, or class handouts to be certain that students can find the source and that JMU Libraries has sufficient access for the assignment parameters.  Ask your subject librarian to provide a list of resources suitable for the topic to be researched.  It is always a good idea for the library to aware of assignment topics for which large numbers of students will be seeking information.  This will assure greater access to limited materials and more efficient service at the Public Services Desk.  Consider putting suggested readings (books or articles) on reserve.
  • Clarify Sources Of Online Information:  Avoid confusion about resources available via the Internet.  Although the Net-Generation has always had access to information electronically, the difference between a Web-based library resource and a Web site may not be apparent to your students.  Not long ago a clear distinction could be made between scholarly publications purchased by the library and lesser sources available free on the Web.  Now traditional journals are available in electronic format and peer-reviewed e-journals (journals published solely on the Web) are accessible in full text without cost (i.e., Open Access Journals in the Field of Education).

    Provide students with a list of research databases appropriate to the assignment.  They will feel less frustrated and their searches will be more effective.  If an assignment requires the use of scholarly research only, steer students to databases that allow them to limit to peer-reviewed or refereed publications.  Selecting scholarly articles from a list retrieved in a database search can be daunting.  A favorite database for general research, InfoTracOneFile, indexes over 10,000 periodicals.  In digitalized format, articles from Esquire articles look very similar to articles from Social Identities.  Just as email communication leaves more open to interpretation than a face-to-face conversation, a retrieved list of 250 article citations lacks many of the physical clues that aid in distinguishing the quality of one source from another. 
  • Go For The Gold:  Become familiar with the Go for the Gold modules.  This will help you to better understand what each of your students learned in order to pass the required Information-Seeking Skills Test (ISST) by the end of their freshman year.  Remind students to review the tutorial.  Refer to and build on the content of Go for the Gold.
  • Book A Library Instruction Session:  If a particular assignment requires library research, contact your liaison librarian to reserve a class session.  Through library instruction provides students research tools and strategies, hands-on practice where needed, and a friendly face to return to for future research needs.  Liaison librarians are also available to consult with faculty on information sources available to support a given assignment and ideas to help students develop information skills while mastering the course content.  As with all learning, incorporating information skills into one's own knowledge base is achieved only with repeated, guided practice.
  • Learn More About Information Literacy:  The Association for College and Research Libraries ACRL logohas prepared several documents detailing the five Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.  Their Introduction to Information Literacy is a good starting point.


NOTE:  Full-time JMU faculty are invited to apply for a workshop entitled Information Literacy for Teaching and Learning: A Workshop for Faculty and Librarians to be held on May 9-11, 2006 in Carrier Library.  During the workshop each faculty member/liaison librarian pair will design a course-related assignment that incorporates information-seeking and evaluation skills.  Dr. Terry Mech, Library Director at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, will facilitate the workshop.  Dr. Mech served on the Middle States Commission on Higher Education Advisory Panel on Information Literacy that prepared Developing Research and Communication Skills: Guidelines for Information Literacy in the Curriculum, 2003.  Deadline for Application:  Feb. 27, 2006


Thompson, Christen. "Information Illiterate or Lazy: How College Students Use the Web for Research." portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.2 (2003): 259-268.

"Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education." Association of College and Research Libraies. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlstandards/informationliteracycompetency.htm>.

Parker-Gibson, Necia. "Library Assignments." College Teaching 49.2 (2001): 65-70.

Mann, Thomas. Library Research Methods. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Houdeyshell, Mara L. "Navigating the Library." College Teaching 51.2 (2003): 76-78.

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