ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Annual 2010 – Discussion 1

Helping Students Transition to College

Conveners: Judith Arnold, Wayne State University Libraries and Paula Garrett, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Saturday, June 26, 2010, 4:00-5:30 PM
JW Marriott, Capitol Ballroom E/F  |  Washington D.C.

Topic Description

The transition from high school to college challenges not only students, but also librarians, instructors and faculty.  First-year college students arrive with varying levels of research skills and library experiences.  Is the missing link communication among the librarians who work with high school and college students? The purpose of this discussion group will be to facilitate exchange among academic, high school, and public librarians to identify ways to help first-year students make the transition to the new expectations and resources they will encounter in the college or university environment. The large discussion will open with mention of existing collaborations involving academic, high school, and public libraries, most notably the ILILE/LSTA project involving academic and high school librarians in creating an online resource for transitioning students. Small group discussions will ask participants to:

  • define the research-related skills that students need to succeed in their new learning environment,
  • enumerate the information literacy skills their students currently have or lack, and,
  • consider what existing collaborations or possible collaborations would help ease the transition.

Rationale & Importance

The LIRT committee, Transitions to College, hosted an informal Brown Bag discussion, “Helping High School Students Become College Ready”, at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago and attracted 25 attendees.  Sixty percent of the participants were academic librarians.  One outcome of the discussion was that more opportunities for this type of discussion would be welcome and helpful.   A second need that was identified is for collaborations among school, public, special and academic libraries to help students bridge the transition of their research skills from high school to college.

Discussion among all types of librarians can help define possible collaborations or resources to help transitioning students. School media specialists, academic librarians, and public librarians who work with students who may feel less intimidated in their public library, can define a shared set of expectations of what research skills high school students should be taught to be prepared to undertake college research assignments. This discussion group will also give the participants an opportunity to discuss the current level of information literacy preparedness among their first-year students and brainstorm and propose collaborative solutions, utilizing models and/or resources from existing projects, such as the Kent State project referenced above.

Summary of Discussion

The event attracted 53 attendees from four-year, community college, and school libraries. As an entry to the discussion topics, Kent State University librarians, Tammy Voelker and Ken Burhanna presented a quick overview of their Transitioning to College website.  A lively and engaged audience exchanged ideas on four questions.

Question 1:What do you think are the “Five Research-Related Things Students Need to Know to Survive in their First Year of College”?

  1. Know that librarians are available, willing and able to help
  2. Understand that research is a process that includes:
    Critical thinking, analyzing (not just reporting)
    Synthesizing (not just summarizing)
    Writing the paper is the culmination of the process
  3. Distinguish between types of resources
    Scholarly (peer-reviewed) vs. popular
    Appropriateness of use, e.g., when Google, Wikipedia are useful
    Location of physical and virtual resources
    Organizational structure of resources
  4. Develop a search strategy
    Strong keywords
    Boolean, truncation techniques
    Database basics
    Finding journal articles
  5. Apply academic integrity
    Evaluate credibility and authority of resources
    Cite resources; give credit
    nderstand what plagiarism is and the potential ramifications of cutting and pasting from resources

An additional note for librarians:
We know the importance of collaborating with faculty to facilitate student research, and we know the difficulty students have in transferring research skills between subject areas.  As teaching is increasingly a central focus for librarians, we can also consider when to be “boundary crossers” by learning more about the research process in individual disciplines to best serve the students.

Question 2: Describe and discuss the range of research and information literacy skills you observe in your students/patrons.

The discussion of skills observed and/or lacking in students included a wide range of observations. Most often mentioned was the indiscriminate use of information and reliance on Google (or Wikipedia) as a research tool, which often means students are used to the keyword searching in Google and not sure how to search library databases.  The academic library is overwhelming to many students, and they have difficulty with the complexity of the website and the abundance of information choices.

Students in the same class often display a range of skills, both research and technological, sometimes based on socio-economic factors. Also noted was that students come with a range of experience in doing research assignments from poor to rich, often dependent on their school library experience. Additional discussion points noted a range in knowledge regarding the ethical use of information and knowledge about citing. The “copy and paste” mentality was observed. Others reported that the attitude towards research varies, from those who are interested and put in time to those who grab the quickest and easiest. Further discussion centered around general academic skills that students lack such as paraphrasing, subject skills, and the transferability of skills from one level to another. One skill students bring that was mentioned as a positive was the ability to adapt to different interfaces.

Question 3: What are the strengths of the Transitioning to College website and how might they be used in your environment? What other collaborative projects do you envision?

  • Strengths:
    Variety of media; 3-5 minute videos
    Modules can be used as needed
    Student presenters increase learning
  • Possible uses:
    Incoming students, distance learning, athletes, transfer and international students
    Test of academic readiness of entering students
    First year seminars; 2nd year students could act as peer mentors
    Put link to academic glossary on course pages
    Conversation starters
    New faculty
    Train the trainers
  • Other collaborations librarians could pursue:
    Admissions offices
    Academic support departments
    Students could advise and help adapt content for their campus
    Library students could present to high school classrooms
    High school and independent school organizations

Question 4: What existing partnerships or collaborations do you participate in? What are the biggest challenges to collaboration?

A variety of collaborative ventures were discussed. A common collaboration is with high school classes (such as AP or Honors) coming to the academic library for instruction or to use the resources, sometimes through the initiatives of an outreach librarian. Similar to this is the instructional partnership with dual enrollment classes, where high school students receive college credit for their AP classes, which are taught by the university/college/community college. Summer camps for high school students or “at risk” programs were also mentioned as valuable initiatives to help students make the transition, as were summer orientation programs for incoming freshmen.

Other collaborations have focused on working with high school teachers, such as instructing them in how to use state-supported resources, supporting statewide assignments such as History Day, or holding an institute for high school teachers. One institution provides high school teachers with college library cards. Other initiatives focus on the students once they arrive; collaborations with freshman seminars, living and learning communities, and required classes such as English composition or Communication were mentioned.  Mailings to faculty at the beginning of the semester can be used to describe the role of the library as faculty prepare their students for the transition. Community or public library collaborations on “Big Read” projects were noted.

The groups also discussed the challenges to collaboration. Providing high school students with access to the campus, the library, and the databases was one of the big issues mentioned. Staffing issues, the increased workload, and the time taken away from the priority audience were another set of issues raised. Related to the workload issue is the sheer number of students, which necessitates a “train the trainer” approach with teachers. High school librarians are diminishing, which makes the collaboration more difficult to initiate. And sometimes the collaborators do not recognize the value of the collaboration. Another challenge is that required programs are presented outside the context of the assignment or not integrated with classes. Continuing programs, when grant or pilot funding ends, can be an issue. Most often information literacy is placed in social studies in K-12, but in higher education it is integrated into English/composition, which works against a smooth transition through subject. An opportunity for collaboration that was mentioned is that the loss of databases at the high school level has prompted teachers to reach out to the colleges.

Recommended Readings

Conley, D.T. (2008). Rethinking college readiness. New England Journal of Higher Education, (Spring), 24-26.
Broadens the definition of college readiness beyond grades and content knowledge to include academic and cognitive behaviors as well as self-awareness.  These behaviors include being able to analyze, interpret, and problem solve; a desire for precision and accuracy; time management skills; persistence; and the ability to recognize one’s true performance.

Donham, J. (2007). Graduating students who are not only learned but also learners. Teacher Librarian, 35 (1), 8-12.
College readiness is more than ensuring students master specific content. It includes the development of dispositions or habits of mind that enable students to excel in college and amidst dramatic change.  Along with traditional content areas such as English, mathematics, and science, students need to learn more about global awareness, entrepreneurial literacy, and civic literacy.  They also need critical thinking and problem solving skills, the ability to collaborate, leadership, ethics, curiosity, and the ability to use technology to develop their knowledge and skills.  Provides examples of how school library media centers can play a crucial role in the development of these dispositions.

Fuson, C., & Rushing, J. (2009). Climbing out of the “ivory tower.” College & Research Libraries News, 70(10), 566-569. (REQUIRES SUBSCRIPTION)
Discusses the Library Conversations@Belmont program at Belmont University intended for librarians for them to help freshmen students make a seamless transition to college. It notes that the program involves building relationships among area school librarians and is designed to make them apply the information to their own library instruction. Moreover, it notes the challenge for librarians to come up with topics which range from information literacy and general education courses. It states that the conversation impacted the librarians as indicated by their positive feedbacks on the program. LibraryConversations@Belmont is concluded to be a successful outreach program.

Gross, M., & Latham, D. (2009). Undergraduate Perceptions of Information Literacy: Defining, Attaining, and Self-Assessing Skills. College & Research Libraries, 70(4), 336-350.
Interview data and ILT scores were used to compare what students believed to be their level of  information literacy skills against their actual skills. Most students viewed themselves as proficient and also scored as “proficient” on the test. Findings included the following: students preferred to use people as information resources; they viewed research as a product rather than a process; and they considered personal interest important in the success of the process.

“Transitioning to College: Helping You Succeed.”
The Kent State website, Transitioning to College: Helping You Succeed, provides students and educators with a comprehensive view of what to expect from college. The homepage allows students to work through five modules covering the basics of an academic library, to databases and what to expect from college assignments. The videos are provided in various formats and supplemental pdfs are readily available for students to print and use. There are also sample assignments and worksheets available for students to practice with as they learn new skills. Apart from the student centered modules there are links to a glossary of terms found in higher education, comparisons of local Ohio libraries, additional resources on important topics such as plagiarism, and finally help for educators preparing students for college research. This section provides six sample classroom activities on topics such as developing a keyword search, using the web, Wikipedia, and plagiarism.


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