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Research Therapy for Upper-level Students

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Photo by Kristian Niemi on Flickr

This spring semester I tried a new in-class exercise with a group of students in a psychology senior seminar class. Their assignment for the semester is to write an extensive literature review on an area of interest to them. Towards the start of the course I meet with these students to refresh their library knowledge, clear up any questions they may have about access to resources, and help address any issues they might have with the research process.

In previous semesters, the course instructor would ask students to write down at least one question they had for the librarian (me) about doing research in the library. The thinking was that students might be too embarrassed or shy to ask them in class and this way they’d be able to admit they didn’t know what Interlibrary Loan was without feeling bad about it. She would compile and send these questions to me a few days before our session, and I would try to address them during our class time together. I did this a few different ways: sometimes as a straight up show and tell library session, other times I’d divvy the questions up amongst student groups and ask them to find the answers.

It was ok.

There were a lot of mechanics that got addressed in these class sessions: How do I request an article through Interlibrary Loan? How do I get the full-text of an article? How do I use EndNote? They were helpful, but I wanted to try something a little different in the spring.

This time around, I scrapped the pre-session question activity and instead spent the first few minutes of class doing the following:

I asked students, and their professor (and myself) to take out a sheet of paper and write down at least 3 aspects of the research process that were still problematic for them.  These could be mechanical things like not knowing how to get articles from journals we don’t subscribe to or bigger things like finding research related to your area of interest or knowing how to structure your lit review. I also asked students to include any fears associated with research they might have. If some folks were still writing while others were through, I turned it into a think-pair-share activity and asked them to discuss what they’d written with the person sitting next to them.

After students had some time to put their thoughts to paper we came together as a class to share. I found it helpful to lead off with my own research problem areas and ask the professor attending to do the same. I thought that doing so would let them know that even people with more experience doing research still have plenty of stumbling blocks / things we forget / things we never learned.

It helped.

The students had a mix of mechanics and “higher order” information literacy questions and things to discuss. One student even bravely admitted that as a senior she still didn’t really know how to get good, relevant scholarly articles from a database in an efficient and effective way. We had a fantastic, student-led discussion and class, with some students having more expertise in certain areas than their peers. It was almost like a group therapy session: Students all working through similar issues were able to help one another by sharing effective strategies, techniques, and pointers. I was there to help clarify certain issues, step in when no one knew the answer to a question, and provide context for some of the issues they were having.

I’ll be trying this session out again with a few different classes in the fall. I’ll let you know how it goes! In the mean time, what are some of your favorite ways to draw our upper-level students in your library instruction sessions? They can sometimes be a hesitant bunch (either out of stress, boredom, or pride) and I’m always looking for great ways to reach them.

 

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