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What You Bring to the Table

Like many of my academic librarian colleagues, I’m in the middle of planning classes for the fall semester. One session that always gives me a case of the worries is a workshop I hold for psychology students beginning their St. Mary’s Project (SMP, or senior thesis project). It’s mandatory, so I hold a captive audience, but again, it’s mandatory, so the students may very likely be a) resentful of the hour and a half they are giving up, b) bored, or c) confused as to why they are are there in the first place. I appreciate the importance the psychology faculty place on information literacy and research instruction, but every semester I struggle to make this session meaningful and relevant to the students in attendance. They’re usually proficient with PsycINFO and Google Scholar, and therefore feel as though they know all they need to know. Given the disparity of sub-disciplines within psychology I have students with an amazing array of research needs, from those doing empirical studies with animal subjects to students focusing on educational psychology topics.

It is a tough workshop to plan and I am ready to try something new.

As i mentioned in a previous post, this past July, my friend and frequent collaborator, April Aultman Becker and I presented a session at the 2014 Library Instruction West Conference called Upcycling Instruction: developing effective approaches for teaching experienced researchers. In it we shared some instructional approaches to working with students who might be (or well on their way to becoming) subject experts, but not necessarily advanced (or even very effective) researchers. It was a fun presentation with great participant discussion, and at the end I was inspired to try something new with my Psychology SMP workshop this year.

I’ve sent out a short survey to students in hopes that I might be able to use their feedback to create a workshop that doesn’t bore them to tears and actually incorporates their existing knowledge as well as their research needs. I know I’m way late to the #critlib party, but I’ve been reading Critical Library Instruction this month and am reminded of how important it is to create a classroom environment that breaks down assumptions (both about students and librarians) and instead focuses on what each person brings to the instructional table. As a librarian, I can offer these Psychology SMP students an interdisciplinary perspective to approaching their research as well as frame the construction of information in its various formats. These students about to embark on an original research project with a faculty mentor have 3 years of content expertise to share, along with a more substantial understanding of the theories and subject matter related to their area of study.

I may get zero survey responses, and that’s ok. If that happens I’ll just have to use the beginning of the workshop to get sense of their research needs and expertise. I just thought this would be an interesting approach for a new semester.

If you’re interested, here are the survey questions:

  1. Which of the following potential workshop topics sound most interesting or useful to you? (followed by a series of options)
  2. What aspects of library research are still troublesome to you? Where do you still feel you could use some help? (open-ended question)
  3. Do you use software to organize references and format them in your papers? If so, which do you use? (followed by a series of options)
  4. What kind of research assistance would be most helpful to you as you work on your SMP?
    (Options: One library workshop at the start of the fall semester, multiple shorter sessions throughout the semester, one-on-one consultations with a librarian, other)
  5. If you feel comfortable doing so, please share your SMP topic below.

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