PRIMO Site of the Month Interview: December 2020

Putting Sources Together: Scholarly Conversation

Creators: Delaware County Community College, Library Services: Bethany Amilkavich, Erica Swenson Danowitz, Judith Donovan, Sara Drew, Louise Feldmann, Eleanor Goldberg, Michael LaMagna, Lillian Reynolds, Andrea Rodgers

Institution: Delaware County Community College

Interviewee: Eleanor Goldberg

Interviewer: Amanda Roth

Description of the project (provided by creators): 

This module introduces students to the basic principles of scholarship as conversation and covers the differences between paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting as a means of demonstrating participation in scholarly conversation. Questions, polls, and activities are included in each section as self-checks and reinforcement of the concepts. Although it stands on its own under a CC license, at Delaware County Community College, this module is part of a larger tutorial called “Research Fundamentals,” which serves as an introduction to information literacy. Access to the Research Fundamentals tutorial requires a student to login.

Q: Can you speak a little bit about the origins of the module? What was the motivation for creating it?

A: When we were planning our Research Fundamentals tutorial a few years ago, we also heard from nursing faculty that their students were struggling with APA style. Over-reliance on quotation and difficulty with paraphrasing and summarizing were two problem areas where faculty felt their students needed more guidance. Our students were most frequently learning MLA style in their gateway English composition course, so we felt the tutorial we were designing for that course was a good place to introduce the various options for integrating outside sources, whether in MLA or other styles. Eventually, we decided to address the topic within the context of the “Scholarship as Conversation” frame. The learning outcomes that we ultimately arrived at were for this module were for students to:

  • Describe various modes of scholarly conversation.
  • Recognize themselves as participants in scholarly conversation.
  • Differentiate between quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing. 

Q: Please tell me a little bit about the development process. Were any specific design frameworks or best practices used to create the module tutorial? 

A: The module was designed with some best practices in mind, particularly chunking the concepts into separate sections or pages, providing concrete examples, including interactive elements or questions on every page, asking users to confirm understanding on each page before moving on, and keeping the text as brief as possible. That last one, explaining academic concepts with minimal text, is not easy, and I’m not sure we succeeded.

Q: This module is number five of an eight-module tutorial. What was the thought process regarding the chunking of concepts?  

A:  The module introduces a concept on the first page, then provides an example and explanation on the next, then moves onto another concept, etc. Each page ends with a question or two that asks the student to apply the concepts. The early drafts of this module focused entirely on quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing, but as the module started coming together, it seemed like a clear explanation of Scholarship as Conversation would be a useful way to frame the discussion of quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing, as well as the citation module that follows. However, since Scholarship as Conversation is such a big topic, it seemed particularly important to explain the concept and example fully. Unfortunately, this resulted in a fairly text-heavy module. We tried to compensate by adding the visual, interactive element of the timeline. 

Q: The interactive scholarship timeline used in the smoking example is a brilliant element. Why was smoking chosen as an example topic?

A: A timeline seemed like a great way to visualize the development of scholarly conversation and its impact over time. But for the timeline to work, the topic needed to be relatable and uncontroversial, and its impact on society would need to be obvious. 

The work of Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and Watson and Crick always come to mind as examples, but I’m not sure these would be immediately relatable to our students, and it seemed like a timeline based on these examples would be complicated. Eventually, I came up with the idea of the surgeon general’s report on cigarette smoking. It seemed like a good example because it is well-known, it’s relatively uncontroversial (nowadays), and its impact is pretty clear to anyone who’s ever seen a “no-smoking” sign or the warning on a pack of cigarettes. Today there is growing research on the potential health risks of smoking e-cigarettes. Even with a 56-year-old example, the topic is as relevant as ever, and the scholarly conversation is actively advancing. 

Q: Quotation, paraphrase, and summary are often introduced to students when teaching writing composition or plagiarism. What inspired using these concepts as “the rules” of scholarly conversation?

A: If we’re going to use the scholarship-as-conversation metaphor, it makes sense to discuss what that conversation actually looks like in a written assignment or a published article. On the reference desk, we see so many students who approach the search process as a hunt for quotes that support their pre-formed arguments. Often it’s clear that they’re not even going to read the articles we help them find. We’re hoping to shift this disposition so that they “see themselves as contributors to scholarship rather than only consumers of it,” as the ACRL Scholarship as Conversation frame puts it. Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are tools for researchers to demonstrate their critical engagement with outside sources. Yes, there is a crossover between writing and also reading, but there are also gaps. If a student sees a librarian and a writing tutor for help with a research paper, which one of those helpers is addressing the critical reading of multiple texts to find connections that are not on the page? Of course, neither librarians nor writing tutors can take this on themselves, but librarians can show how tools like quotation, summarizing, and paraphrasing serve a larger purpose, not just rehashing one’s preconceived notion or staying out of trouble for plagiarism.

Q: The module includes quizzes as opportunities for learners’ to check their understanding of content. Do you collect data from these, and, if so, what have they shown you?

A: These are intentionally called “self-checks” instead of quizzes because they are formative,  not summative, assessment tools designed to help students check their own understanding of the concepts and provide additional feedback.  

I check the responses occasionally to see what kind of participation we’re getting or if any questions are causing more confusion than others. 

 The tutorial is almost a year old now, so we’ll start a formal assessment project based on that quiz data soon.  If we start to see patterns there, we may look back to the self-check questions for areas where we could more effectively communicate the content. 

Q: It appears this module used LibWizard, a Springshare product. Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not? 

A: The module was designed as a LibGuide, which was then styled using LibCMS. It’s fairly simple in its design elements, and I’m proud of how it looks and works, so yes, I would recommend it with caveats.

We used LibWizard for the self-check questions; LibGuides has an option to embed LibWizard quizzes. But each set of self-check questions is a separate quiz in LibWizard. Creating all of these mini-quizzes is time-consuming, and more importantly, it means that we can’t gather data on a single user’s responses to all questions throughout the module.  

The module has its own LibGuide layout template, which looks different from our standard LibGuide template. This template was designed by our e-resources and website manager Andrea Rodgers, who put countless hours into designing and tweaking the template, as well as answering my questions and solving various design and function problems. If you don’t have a patient and collegial web-design expert to help you, I would not recommend making big changes to your LibGuide template. 

One of the things I don’t like about this module and others we’ve created this way is that users can not save their progress, and we can’t require them to answer any of the self-check questions or do the activities before progressing. This is something I’d like to investigate in the future. Some of these functions are available in the LibWizard tutorials, but those are really designed more for the side-by-side, Guide-on-the-Side style layout, which doesn’t work for this module.

Q: In future tutorials, will you make any changes to your approach? What have you learned from this process that you will carry over into the next tutorial?

A: Our library has typically done a lot of one-shot, in-person instruction sessions. Now that almost all instruction at our college is online (and it will be at least until next May), we’re all scrambling to put together online asynchronous content. This module has been useful to have as a conceptual framework. The short pages of text and multimedia content with a few interactive questions at the end are relatively easy to put together and, as long as the content isn’t too complex, it’s fairly user friendly for the students. The other nice thing about this is it’s a great way to reuse content. You can embed video and documents, as well as other elements like the timeline fairly easily. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: Because this module was introduced as part of a major tutorial project, it went through several rounds of review among stakeholders outside the library. We reached out to the English faculty several times throughout the process, and we received minor editorial feedback near completion. We got more feedback via student surveys that we conducted last Fall. We had 11 students go through the module and answer open-ended, multiple-choice, and Likert scale questions about their understanding and experience. Overall, the students’ comments about this module were favorable. There were a few comments about the self-check questions being unclear, so we worked to simplify and clarify them. Interestingly, when asked what the overall purpose of the module was, more than one student mentioned avoiding plagiarism, even though plagiarism isn’t mentioned in the module.

Anyone with questions is welcome to contact me: