Sunday, 1 December 2013

7 Pillars - Through an Engineering Lens

I was delighted to be invited to speak at last Thursday's meeting of the University Science and Technology Librarians Group (USTLG) on the 7 Pillars of Information Literacy as they relate to Engineering students.  Readers will know that I have done some research on this model as it relates to students of English on first arriving at university.

Although I haven't yet done similar research at my new library (only there three months!) I have talked extensively to students and academics about the course, when/how information skills are applied and where the library could most usefully support with different types of information literacy support.  I decided the best approach would be to speak a bit about what I've learned about Engineering so far and how that compares with English, and then to invite participants to share their experiences of working with different elements of the 7 Pillars model with science and technology students. (For a write-up of the event itself, visit the USTLG blog).

What have I already discovered?
English students at Cambridge already have pretty good levels of information literacy when they first arrive at university, although there are areas for development.  For example, they are (unsurprisingly) more familiar with books than journal articles as a source of information and many benefit from support identifying the differences between book, article and chapter references on their reading lists in order to be able to locate the information they need early on in their courses.  The course then involves a large volume of 'supervision' essays through which the students develop their writing style and arguments. The first real opportunity to do some thorough research on a topic comes with the Part I dissertation which they submit in second year.

Engineering is very, very different.  I don't know yet what their information literacy levels are when they first arrive at university, but because of the structure of the course and types of assignment set the kinds of skills that are essential even for first year English students are actually less important until the Engineering students reach their third year and start writing essays and reports.  At this point many Engineering students appreciate sessions which will help them refresh their memory of how to structure an essay and how to reference, and the first longer-scale piece of research they conduct is their 4th year project.

What have others experienced?
Participants worked in groups of five or six to discuss a given pillar (Identify, Scope, Plan, Gather, Evaluate, Manage or Present) as it relates to their students.  The full descriptions of each pillar are available from SCONUL website, so I'll just include the comments I received here except where the comment is linked to a particular part of the pillar - apologies if I've misinterpreted anyone's handwriting!

I'd love more feedback so if you have any thoughts or questions to add please put them in the comments of this post.  I'd also love to see a lens for the model developed around this area - I don't have the time or headspace at the moment to do it but would love to hear from anyone who is interested and maybe work with someone on it in the future.

Identify (Group 1)

  • 'That new information and and data is constantly being produced and that there is always more to learn' - more explicit in sci-tech areas
  • 'That being information literate involves developing a learning habit so new information is being actively sought all the time' - "I've been to my library session"
  • 'That ideas and opportunities are created by investigating/seeking information' - Students understand this but don't relate it to library "It's all on Google"
 Is able to:
  • 'Identify a search topic/question and define it using simple terminology' - No!
  • 'Articulate current knowledge on a topic' - students find this hard (as UGs and PGs) - fail to see it in a wider context
  • 'Recognise a need for information and data to achieve a specific end and define limits to the information need' - can have difficulty defining limits
  • 'Use background information to underpin the search' - making connections - between modules - not always easy
  • 'Take personal responsibility for an information search' - They prefer not to!  Life/generic skills - not just IL skills - who is teaching those?
Identify (Group 2)
  • 'That being information literate involves developing a learning habit so new information is being actively sought all the time' - No, point of need requirement. Less able to transfer skills to work setting
  • 'That ideas and opportunities are created by investigating/seeking information' - Daily basis with lab work etc.
  • 'The scale of the world of published and unpublished information and data' - Yes searching Google - see scale of info world.
Scope (Group 1)
  • Early years are heavy users of textbooks
  • Don't understand that Google doesn't have everything - not aware that things are paid for, that there are sources other than Google
  • Need to teach evaluation
  • Hard for early years to understand research as they can't frame the question - no background in publishing literature, doing experiments
  • Students find keywords difficult
  • Where do librarians draw the line - e.g. approving keywords for good searching - is this students' decision?
Scope (Group 2)
  • Average undergraduate missing lots of these skills
  • Students can be spoon-fed so don't recognise information needs
  • Basic info skills taught in 1st year but not needed until final years
  • Departments need to set assignments that require information/research skills
  • Interested/engaged students will ask for library help - others will switch off
  • Assessments need to have info skills assessment built in
Plan (Group 1)
  • Computing - don't need resources much in first 2 years
  • Aware of algorithms and search engines but not necessarily library resources tools
Plan (Group 2)
  • Students select resources more by convenience than scope/appropriateness

  • Feel confident using Google - think they can use everything else
  • Do they know what journal articles are?
  • Don't know about free vs paid for e.g. Google Scholar settings.  Academics too!
This group added (I think as something to add to the model) 'Identify quality resources' at the end of the 'Is able to' section

  • This is an area that students need help with - both in terms of knowing that they need to evaluate and how to evaluate.
  • Academic involvement/requirement often sparks student questions/need.
This group focused on who provides the support for developing presenting knowledge.

  • Usually not librarians - academic writing or academic staff
  • 'Understands' - very high level when mostly teaching @ UG level
  • 'The difference between summarising and synthesising' - very hard - Academic writing
  • 'That different forms of writing/presentation style can be used to present information to difference communities' - some libs but often not
  • 'That data can be presented in different ways' - course
  • 'Their personal responsibility to disseminate information and knowledge' - X
  • 'How their work will be evaluated' - X [Couldn't read the comment that was beside this one, sorry!]
  • 'The processes of publication' - X
  • The concept of attribution' - Referencing
Some specific universities were mentioned
  • Teeside / Lincoln: Much done as part of course, not library
  • Middlesex: Learner Development Unit
  • [Something I can't read]: Academic writing and course

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