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What First Year Students Discovered With EDS

Discovering Dinos

A Discovery by Denise Chan on Flickr

Like many of my colleagues, I resisted teaching our library’s discovery tool for the better part of a year. Despite its front-and-center presence on our library’s homepage, and the fact that students were using it on their own, I stubbornly resisted teaching OneSearch–our branding name for EDS–in favor of the catalog and databases. It was not my finest teaching hour. I’ll admit that much of my reluctance to include OneSearch in classes stemmed from not really wrapping my head around how it might help students better understand the research process in general and their research in particular.

My attitude changed last fall after I was asked to teach a class for a Comparative Politics course. The course was way interdisciplinary. To understand the situations they were researching, students needed to delve into historical, economic, and social issues in addition to political ones. Focusing on individual databases wasn’t going to cut it. Using OneSearch was a great way to frame our in-class conversations in terms of where information comes from and is published. Students found interesting research outside of traditional political science publications (some in the economics literature or in sociological texts) and were quite surprised by it!

Fast-forward to Earlier This Week

I wanted to continue teaching OneSearch, but this time I wanted to incorporate it into a course for first year students, specifically, a First Year Seminar (FYS). Being able to use OneSearch and understand what it searches is one of our revised information literacy learning outcomes for the FYS, so there’s no out for librarians who are reluctant to teach it anymore. It’s a must-do. That said, what is the best way to actually DO IT?

The class I taught yesterday was for a FYS that examine how culture and time influences treatment and social acceptance of individuals with mental illness. One of the first research assignments the students work on is a biographical presentation on an important figure in the history of psychiatry in the Western World. Students select from a list of historical figures (HF) provided by the professor, which range from Sigmund Freud to Melanie Klein to John Garcia. Of course, they have to do some research on their selected HF, which presents an excellent opportunity for information literacy instruction.

The Class

I started off the class by giving students a worksheet and giving them 1-2 minutes to write down their HF and everything they currently know about the person. Of course this varied from student-to-student (some knew nothing, others had a decent picture of the HF). Then I gave them about 3-5 minutes to find biographical information about their HF in whatever way was most comfortable to them. As they were searching I asked them to note the following:

  • What did you learn about your historical figure?
  • How did you find this information?
  • Are you happy with what you found and would you use it in your presentation?

Naturally, they all started at Google, but the places they ended up were all just different enough to spark an interesting discussion about what kinds of websites are more helpful than others and how comfortable they felt including the information they found online in their presentations.

After that I introduced OneSearch as a supplement to the kind of online searching they are all already doing, which was backed up by their professor who wanted to see at least 1-2 presentation references that came from the library’s resources. We all did a search together so that I could introduce OneSearch basics (limiting to the catalog, limiting to biographies), and we could talk a bit about the different types of information that were brought up in the search. I asked them to note what they saw in results and got answers ranging from journal articles to books to encyclopedia entries.

But I really wanted to give the students an opportunity to discover OneSearch on their own, so I gave them a good 10-15 minutes to do individual searching on their own HF, and asked them to answer the following questions as they did so (also on the worksheet):

  • Is there a particular result (or results) that look(s) really helpful? If so, write them below.
  • How does the information you found on OneSearch compare to the information you found at the beginning of class? Is it less or more helpful? Be honest! You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise.
  • What is still confusing to you about using OneSearch? What questions came up as you were searching?

Our discussion post-independent searching was excellent. The students had really specific questions about mechanical issues like getting books that showed up in their results from other libraries or accessing the full-text of a journal article, but they also brought up really interesting issues about information format. One student noted that the journal articles in her results didn’t really have much biographical information but some of them did mention research conducted by her HF. We then talked about why that might be the case and what kind of information journal articles typically convey. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss how those articles might still be helpful in a biographical profile (mentioning their research interests). Another student found that her HF had such a common name (John Garcia) that she had to enter in a different term (that she picked up from web-searching!)–food aversion–in conjunction with his name to narrow down her results. This was also a great way to discuss using information from non-academic web sources to supplement research in academic library resources. Some students discovered fantastic sources for their presentation and others were way more fruitful in their web searches, which again presented an opportunity to talk about why that might be the case (and when it makes more sense to use open-web sources for research).

There was a lot of class participation and emphasis from their professor (which I always appreciate). It’s interesting to note the kinds of topics that came out searching in this tool that I don’t think would have been brought out by only focusing on the catalog or on a specific database. The whole experience has made me more confident about teaching with discovery tools for first year students, and I’m curious:

What has your experience been teaching with discovery tools for first year students? Upper-level students?

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