Reflection on “What First-Year Students Know About Information Research”

Kate Manuel, “What do First-Year Students Know About Information Research? And What Can we Teach Them?”

This article challenged some of the assumptions about what freshmen students know about information literacy and how successful information literacy instruction can be. The basic assumptions about freshmen and information literacy is that they generally don’t know a great deal; they use unsophisticated searching techniques, follow the “principle of least effort,” and are likely to do research on the web and accept their findings uncritically. This study of a freshmen information literacy instruction class found that students know a bit more about searching than they are generally given credit for, but also argued that information literacy instruction was not as successful (at least in this case) as one might hope.

This article led me to thinking about what exactly our students seem to “know” going into their first sessions. Obviously this isn’t a complete picture as I’ve only observed and co-taught some sessions, but it seems like whenever students are asked why we use quotation marks someone always seems to know the answer. How many of them actually know why is a different story – some might have known but didn’t speak up, or maybe the only student who understood was the one who answered (only between 2.7 and 3.8% of the students in this study initially stated that using quotation marks was a way of narrowing a search). It seems like Boolean operators are a bit more of a foreign concept to students though, which isn’t really surprising as quotation marks are often used on basic Google searches. It would be interesting if we could find out (through some kind of questionnaire) what a certain class knows about information literacy beforehand, but that may not be really feasible.

The main thing I took from this article is that freshmen may not be the stereotypically lazy, uninformed searchers that they are portrayed as. The only real problem I had with this article is that I didn’t really know what they had taught the students during the instruction sessions. The students only showed a slightly better understanding of advanced searches based on the pre and post-tests, but we don’t really know how much time the instructors spent discussing advanced searches (we don’t really go into that for the most part). I also thought some of the gains shown in the post-test were a bit more significant than the authors apparently did (the use of quotation marks is one example).

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