Students making the transition from high school to college have quite a few things to learn when it comes to the research process. As librarians, we help make it easy for them by teaching information literacy skills throughout their educational career in college. We help them isolate problems, access the best information available, evaluate what they find, learn how to use it in a project, and do it all ethically and legally.
But we all know it's simply not that easy. There are many challenges that we face as instructors, some of which are simply because we take many tasks for granted. For example, we all know how to read a scholarly article and understand the basics of it so we can summarize it or analyze it. However, our students are highly likely to possess very few skills in this area. That's why if we are ever going to get students to use more scholarly articles in their research, we first have to teach them how to read them.
In my class, Computer & Information Literacy, we do an activity that helps the students understand the structure, value, and meaning of scholarly journal articles. I've been using this activity for only a couple of semesters now, so I'm still tweaking it and making it better, but in this blog post I want to share with you the nuts and bolts of how it works.
I usually begin the lesson with a short, concise lecture on the differences between original research and literature reviews. At this point the students are already familiar with what scholarly journals are and have accessed them at least once via an electronic database. I touch on key terms to look for and show differences in the structure between original research and review. Then we do a brief activity where students look at some pre-selected articles (I save them in MyEBSCO or just create a list of hyperlinks) and have them try to identify if they are original or review.
Then we begin the larger activity. I pre-select one article before I come to class. The key to making this activity work is to break the article up into sections: discussion/conclusion, introduction, results, and methods. I get the students to form four groups based on the sections of the article. For example, each member of the Methods Group would receive just the methods section of the article. For the next 10 minutes or so, each group has to work together to figure out what their section is talking about.
During those 10 minutes, I give the students a series of questions that they have to try and answer. Every group receives the same questions even though they are reading different sections of the same article. The questions are:
- What is the hypothesis?
- What do I hope to learn from this?
- What is the conclusion the authors come up with?
- Why was this study performed?
- What do the data and results look like?
- How did they acquire their data? What methods?
- What are some of the articles in the reference list that would be helpful researching this topic further?
The key here is that they won't be able to fully answer all the questions without the next step in the process. After the students have read through their section, discussed it amongst the group, and tried to answer the questions, I then assemble them back into one big group. In the big group, each section group takes a turn going through what they discovered and learned. It works best if you have them go in this order: discussion/conclusion, introduction, results, methods. It's kind of a "working backwards" method of understanding the article. After they have all spoken, the students have a much better idea of how the study was put together and what it all means.
When it/s all over, I give the students some tips on reading articles in the future: mine the reference pages for helpful articles, use highlighters in different colors (one color for questions, one for connecting ideas), grab your citation info at the beginning, etc.
It's a fun activity and the students enjoy it because they get to be involved in building something together. Plus, they don't have to read the entire article, just a piece of it.
Do you have a similar activity? Let me know how you teach this aspect of information literacy by responding in the comments below.