Critical thinking

Our library began licensing Credo Reference about this time last year. For those of you unfamiliar with the service, it’s both a web based platform and collection of virtual reference titles. We are considering a move toward a smaller print reference collection, and the use of Credo is a good first step. Now that we’ve had time to get used to it, we’ve been heavily promoting it to faculty and staff. We had a faculty information session on Credo a few weeks ago, and have been demonstrating it in classes throughout the year. We got an email from Credo during the Fall semester about having our students participate in a survey on information literacy and e-resources. We decided to participate in the survey. Students had a chance to win an iPad if they participated, and I think that definitely motivated our students because 196 of them participated!

We got an email a few weeks ago with the raw data results. I took some time to analyze them and shared them first with our library director, and then this week I sent an email to faculty highlighting some key points. The survey questions were interesting and covered usage, knowledge, opinions, and preferences. The main themes that jumped out at me are that students look to the Internet as a first source of information, they don’t understand plagiarism or why citations are important, they have trouble distinguishing authoritative resources, and they like having concrete materials from instructors/the library to use as references.

In the faculty email I ended with a promotion of some of the services we can provide such as instruction, custom research guides, and our upcoming plagiarism & citations workshops. I am very happy to have this data to use as I work through my redesign of our instructional program. In the upper level English classes I’ve been teaching the last few weeks I’ve moved away from showing students how to search our catalog and a selection of other databases and have tried to focus more on theoretical concepts that foster critical thinking about the research process. One of the main themes in the results that jumped out was that students struggle with critical thinking. I think this is generational, and by that I mean everyone who is living currently in this age of easy access to information NOT age ranges. Even though I have extensive training and knowledge about research, there are still times when I rely on the easy answer from a quick Google search.

One of the best moments I had this week was at the end of an English class where a student raised her hand to say something to the effect of “So why would we even use Google when the library resources are so much better for our research?”. I just about died on the spot, it was so perfect! That being said, I don’t think students should shun the Internet. There are fantastic resources that exist online and are accessed only via search engine or direct linking, and I worry that some instructors are finding it easier to ban Internet sources than to teach students how to critically evaluate them. I am happy to do that in library sessions, but I hope that message is being reinforced in the classroom.

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