Last week I had a breakthrough. It was during a class I’ve taught at least 2-3 times each semester for the past 5 years–Intro to Politics–and was such a welcome surprise. Faculty who teach this course typically ask students to write a short literature review on a topic of their choosing (related to politics, of course). I usually come in after the review has been assigned, armed with different information source types. I ask students to divide into small groups and determine which sources are “academic” and why, but then take it a step further and ask them to determine if (and how) a source is “helpful.” It’s a bit more nuanced and is my attempt at subverting the strong emphasis faculty place on “scholarly, academic sources” as the only sources worth using. We have a large class discussion about what makes an information source academic, but more importantly we discuss how different types of information sources can be beneficial to their research.
The class I taught last Tuesday followed this model, however the professor had students find their own information sources rather than having me provide them. The result was a much deeper discussion that hit on the economic underpinnings of information production. Students were quite savvy about advertisements in online newspapers, magazines, and blogs, but were completely unaware of the cost of academic information and barriers to accessing it. It ended up turning into a wonderful social justice discussion about academic publishing. Some myths I helped to dispel included:
- Academic journal subscriptions cost $50-150 per year for libraries (I WISH).
- Peer reviewers get paid to review article submissions (Ha!).
- Open Access journals are poor quality scholarship (nope nope nope).
- Academic sources are produced by non-commercial publishers (LOLOLOLOL).
That last comment was made by a wide-eyed student who stated that everything she thought about academic sources was wrong! It was such a fun, and powerful discussion, and it got me thinking: How can I purposefully integrate this serendipitous discussion (or ones like it) into my future classes?
I ended up partially revising a class I was teaching the next day: Research Methods and Writing in Psychology. I usually run this class as a workshop, introducing students to different databases and stressing the use of appropriate search language and following citation trails. I talk about the importance of keywords when searching databases, but I never talk about WHY we use them beyond the standard, it’s how databases work! After a call out to Twitter, and watching this supremely inspiring video by Maggie Murphy, I decided to really focus on the why of keyword searching. It was a great discussion to have with a group of juniors and sophomores, some of whom were die-hard Googlers and others who exclusively used database like PsycINFO. We talked about money and search algorithms, what database vendors spend their cash on, what Google is searching when you type in a phrase or whole question, and just what a keyword search does and why. I wanted students to understand the underlying structures of these information resources so that they could then explore them as more effective researchers. The students seemed to really internalize the difference in search approaches, and as I wandered around the classroom during their searching it was clear that they were using different approaches to databases than they were using to Google Scholar.
I don’t know if these are discussions I can incorporate into every class, but I am certainly going to try. Have you had an inspiring critlib teaching moment recently? I’d love to hear about it.