Motivating Students to Go Past Google

This week has been busy and productive. Long weekends typically make a week feel more compressed and frenetic, but it’s been a good energy this week. I’m embedded in two Nursing Research classes, and students have to complete their library assignment by the 7th or 14th depending on the section. The library assignment has four open ended questions that I grade manually, so I’ve been busy grading for most of this week. Nursing students on average seem to be more engaged and more highly motivated than typical undergraduates which seems to increase their academic anxiety. I’ve been drawing a lot from my counseling skills in my communications with the students over the last few weeks.

I inherited the assignment and the Libguide that accompanies the course, and I am one of four librarians embedded in the Nursing Research classes this semester, so I don’t have the option to modify anything. Fortunately, I like the assignment but I think the Libguide can use some work. Three of the questions are grouped together, and require the student to locate an original research article written by a nurse. I love the question because it is sufficiently difficult but allows them to use their own search terms and methods, and it is actually testing them on the skill of locating articles related to their research question.

Most of them have been very successful in this, but I still wonder if we’re teaching them in the most comprehensive and efficient way. In my two years as an academic librarian it’s become obvious to me that students typically equate library resources with meeting needs of a specific assignment, and don’t see them as fulfilling the greater ideal of locating quality information. I wonder if our library instruction is often too mechanical, but when working inside the limitations of a roughly 60 minute single session it’s difficult to not focus on mechanics.

Yesterday one of my nursing students sent me this message: “I have to do an assignment on religious and spiritual beliefs of the people of India and right now I’m not sure where to start. If you have any suggestions besides Google, I would appreciate it.” My initial reaction was that I was thrilled that she accepted my offer for help with any of her classes. After I digested her request I was a bit taken aback because she already completed (an excelled) at her library assignment which required her to use several different databases to locate articles and analyze her results lists. She learned the mechanics of using CINAHL and Medline without understanding WHY she was using them and the concept that databases collect “good” information for other disciplines as well.

I referred her to some of our sociology focused databases and to the library catalog. She replied that her sources needed to be credible, so she did recognize that Google may not have given her the most credible results but did not connect that back to what the library had to offer. Students may  have a sense that Google isn’t the best source but they can’t articulate why and don’t seem to be motivated to go past Google. This is troubling and is something I’m trying to focus on in any instruction and reference that I do. Another goal is to teach students how to locate credible information once they are working in a career. For our nursing students, they will likely have continued access to medical databases but students in other fields need to be made aware of the scholarly/trade publications and online resources unique to their field.

In between my grading and communicating with nursing students, I’ve been planning a Psychology instruction and a workshop on presentation skills. They have both been exciting and I hope to report that next week’s Wednesday night Psychology class will be a success! The last new thing I’ve thrown in the mix is the Hyperlinked Library MOOC from San Jose State University. I didn’t make the first cut of invites, but got an email on Tuesday that some people had dropped out. So far I love the course and will be blogging there as well.

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