All posts tagged “sources

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My Campaign to Get Political Science Students to Use Something Other Than JSTOR and GoogleScholar for their Research (like books or other stuff too)

The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to do Other Stuff Good too

My inspiration in life for all things (but particularly for this title): Mr. Derek Zoolander

In the past two weeks I’ve taught iinformal research sessions for two different upper-level political science courses (same professor for both courses): African Politics and Comparative Politics. Given the nature of these courses and the kinds of research topics the students selected for themselves, the professor and I decided to use these research sessions to introduce students to sources of information that they might not ordinarily use or even know about. Although I am not usually a fan of info-dump style classes, in this case, I think a discussion of types of sources (and why/how students can use them) as well as different research resources is totally appropriate. More often than not I’m finding upper-level students in this discipline who are only searching for scholarly journal articles and only searching for them in one of two places: Google (Scholar if I’m lucky) or JSTOR. They’re turning to journal articles for

  • background information & overviews of countries and issues
  • comparisons of issues across countries
  • statistics
  • historical information & data
  • explanations of different countries’ governing structures.

In short, students are looking for all kinds of information that doesn’t appear in journal articles, IN JOURNAL ARTICLES.

My informal poll of students in each of the classes I taught recently told me that of the 20 or so students in each class only 2-3of them were using anything other than Google, Google Scholar or JSTOR for their research assignments. I’ve had senior thesis writers tell me they don’t consult books for their research at all, which is a total shame in a discipline where books are still a huge avenue for scholarly output (as my thick stack of Political Science CHOICE cards can demonstrate). I’ve had students admit to only using one or two databases for their literature review (which is common across disciplines). I’ve met with other students who didn’t know that independent research organizations and policy institutes could be really great sources of interesting research. So I saw my opportunity to teach these two classes as the beginning of a campaign:

My Campaign to Get Political Science Students to Use Something Other Than JSTOR or Google Scholar for their Research
(Like Books and Other Stuff Too)

There is a world of survey data, working papers, policy briefs, open publications, statistics and backgrounders available online. Fascinating statistics, data and summary information about current political issues, governing structures and countries lives in our reference collection. Our books upstairs contain a wealth of research on every political science topic imaginable. But if there’s not a point in each political science major’s academic career when they learn about variations in information type–and when they might want to use some of these different sources of information–how can I expect senior thesis writers to know and use these information sources? So my campaign has begun in earnest and I’m plotting out ways to further its spread this fall. Initial feedback from students and the professor in the courses I taught recently has been positive. Some students are even (GASP) using some of the new info sources I showed them in class. In each class I brought an example of a book that a student might find useful for their research paper and in both classes I had at least one student ask to see that book after class because they were writing about that topic. These are small victories, but they are victories all the same.

I’m curious as to how other librarians are faring introducing different information sources to students in their respective fields of study:

Are your students as stuck on the scholarly research articles as my students are? When in their instructional sequence do you start to introduce different source types that are unique to their area of study? How can you do so without classes turning into an information dump?

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Audience Matters


Photo by Matthijs Quaijtaal on Flickr

This semester I’m fortunate to be the liaison to a First Year Seminar taught by the director of our college’s Writing Center. One thing that was quite obvious upon reading the syllabus and assignments for the class is that instructors with Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D.s GET IT. And by IT I mean the supreme importance of audience in writing and research. One of the first writing assignments the students will be developing is an essay taking a position on a “debatable hero” or the arguable issues surrounding the roles and responsibilities of heroes in modern society (see American’s Hero Problem as an example). What I loved about this assignment was that students were given extremely clear audience parameters and were asked to write as though the essay would be published as a long-form feature in a newspaper or magazine. In fact, the audience of the paper was the first parameter set by the instructor.

The students were also asked to use additional research resources to back up factual claims, discuss supporting arguments or highlight counterarguments. Here’s where I think that this concept of audience can continue to be useful to students. I’ve written before about the nuances of teaching source evaluation and selection to students, and plugged some fantastic articles on this topic by Joel Burkeholder and Michelle Simmons, but I’ll reiterate the importance of audience in source selection again here. Every piece of written information was created with a particular audience in mind, and as librarians we can teach students how to tease out and determine the audience of different sources so that they can find the ones that are most useful to making their own argument to their particular audience. I think sometimes we shy away from this kind of discussion, especially with first year students, because it seems too nuanced and complicated. I just have to keep reminding myself that research is complicated, and the sooner we teach students that there is a lot more grey area when it comes to using and evaluating sources, the better. I’d hate to see a senior thesis student chucking out a particularly useful source of information because it doesn’t meet a rigid set of criteria.
I’m super-jazzed to work with this class and can’t wait to talk about research source evaluation later in the semester.

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What Good is This Source?

I’ve written about the need for us to teach students the value of different types of sources, instead of simply breaking things up into a scholarly (good) / not scholarly (bad) dichotomy, but I have yet to turn this into any kind of lesson for a class. That is until last month, when I was asked to give an impromptu instruction session to a group of students in an Intro to Political Science class.

puzzle pieces

Photo credit: jhritz on Flickr

The students were assigned the writing of a literature review paper on a topic of their choosing related to politics. The professor of the course wanted her students to be aware of the differences between–you guessed it–academic/scholarly materials and everything else. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to talk to students about the vast info-verse and how to distinguish “helpful” sources from “unhelpful” ones.

My mantra for the class: “There is a time and place for almost every information source out


Here’s what we did:

Students worked in groups to answer the following questions about an information source I gave them related to now deceased former-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The Questions

1. What is this source (is it a website, magazine article, academic journal article, etc)?

2. What do you know about the author of this source?

3. Who is the intended audience of this source?

4. What is the purpose of this source?

5. What aspects of this source make you believe the content is accurate?

6. What makes this a helpful source to you?

7. If you were writing a literature review about Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan politics, would you include this source in your lit review? If yes, why? If no, why not, and how might you use it instead?

The Sources

I tried to pick out sources that wouldn’t automatically be dismissed as not credible because I wanted this evaluation exercise to be fairly realistic. I am not a fan of evaluation exercises that use hoax websites or similar materials. Here’s what I used (in no particular citation style):

The Discussion

After the students had enough time to work in their groups to look over their source and answer the questions I gave them, we came together as a class. I started off the discussion with this question: “Does any group have a source that they feel totally confident incorporating into their lit review?” The group with the academic journal article and the book were my only takers, but interestingly the group with The Nation article were sort of on the fence. They didn’t know what The Nation was, but the article seemed long and in-depth to them, which was a marker of some kind of scholarly-ness. So we talked a bit about how to find out more about publications when didn’t know much about them.

Overall the conversation was a good one. We discussed the usefulness of sources like the World Views blog to point us towards data and scholarly materials and just how to use Wikipedia to give us better background information and bolster our pool of search terms and ideas as we continue our research. We talked about the place of newspaper articles and their importance in relaying current information, and how books don’t always need to be read cover to cover. The students seemed to grasp the concept of picking the most useful sources instead of the most scholarly ones, and I can only hope that they take this concept with them as they start research for their own literature reviews.