ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Midwinter 2010 – Discussion 2

Beyond the Basics: Teaching Students through Experiential Research

Convened by: Jackie Belanger, University of Washington Bothell/Cascadia Community College & Amanda Hornby, University of Washington

Saturday, January 16, 2010, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Boston Convention & Exhibition Center– Room 151 A/B


While librarians are accustomed to teaching students to identify and evaluate the research methods used in an information source, should they also be collaborating with faculty to teach research methods?

This question is borne out of the co-facilitators’ experience of working with an Approaches to Cultural Research course at the University of Washington Bothell. The librarians and faculty collaborated on the design and teaching of a class for the course that was intended to help students explore such research methods as interviewing, participant observation, visual and media analysis, community mapping, and historical analysis. Working in small groups, students used these methods to collect information about a set topic. Rather than simply describing these methods to students, they were able to use them actively.

We believe librarians are well placed to help students understand the different kinds of information that they would get using these various research methods. For example, students conducting interviews discovered that this method provided them with a first-person, subjective perspective on an issue, while those using observation got a broader overview of an issue and saw that observing people going about their daily business can reveal particular kinds of truth.

The importance of this topic for librarians is twofold: firstly, it asks us to consider the limits of what constitutes Information Literacy teaching, and our roles in delivering instruction that may fall outside traditional definitions of Information Literacy. Secondly, given that librarians often use methods such as interviewing for their own research, why is this generally not part of the discussion about Information Literacy instruction?

This discussion group provides a forum for librarians to discuss whether this type of instruction should be part of our practice. As a group, we will also share ideas about how teaching qualitative research methods can be used to engage students in hands-on scholarly work and how research methods teaching can be incorporated into an Information Literacy curriculum.


1. How can librarians make connections between our research (practices and methods) and Information Literacy teaching?

  • How many of you teach research methods? – about 5 or 6 raised their hands
  • Link between research methods and IL teaching?
    • 1 st year exp – social justice for 1 st year – discuss research methods about homeless.  Send them out to the shelters (do they provide training…etc)
    • Psychology students – have to have a research proposal and the go out to the community to carry it out. Within this they have to do a lit review, which allows for teaching more traditional IL.
  • Only about 5-6 people had to take research methods in library school.
  • One person suggests that the term ‘research methods’ is outdated and there needs to be an evolution of the term. These are new techniques for research and the term need to reflect this and allow for different approaches to research.

2. How broadly should we consider the concept of Information Literacy? Should we expand Information Literacy instruction to include hands-on research methods teaching (and, if so, what are the implications of doing this)?

  • “Student as scholar” model: Field work activities for first-year students to teach research methods much earlier with students. With this model, the Faculty turn into mentor/facilitator. Develop critical thinking skills much earlier. Do we need to wait until upper-division level to work with students on research methods? In the student-as-scholar model, helping students go out and do fieldwork and research helps then to be able to understand arguments and evidence in scholarly literature.
  • Librarians get annoyed when faculty say students can search Google to do their research – are we stepping on social/hard science toes if we say we can teach research methods?  Do we really know as much as we think we do?
  • Librarians can be “negotiators” within the research process. Librarians as ‘discourse mediators’ (see Michelle Simmons, Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators). Faculty may sometimes be too immersed in discipline/methodologies to see what students don’t know – may overestimate student’s knowledge because they take a certain baseline understanding for granted; librarians are at one remove and may be well-positioned to help mediate between faculty expertise and students’ needs/abilities. One participant referenced Gloria Leckie’s article (1996): Desperately seeking citations: uncovering faculty assumptions about the undergraduate research process. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 22(3), p. 201-15.
  • Should we expand the definition of IL? Depends on discipline and students’ “level” – how do you fit with where they are? Library and faculty are in exploratory area – everyone is learning together.
  • Should we expand our roles in IL or expand the concept of IL?  Question was raised about whether this was an information literacy issue or an issue about the institutional role of the librarian. Are these two things different?
  • Enquiry-based research approach: encourages librarians and faculty to let go of controlling the classroom and the notion that we are “experts”. The library/classroom become a portal and we assist in refining questions. Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach (used in ACRL Information Literacy Immersion course): promotes the idea of authenticity in the classroom and to be vulnerable in the classroom. Our job is to remind faculty that their students are learning – remind them how students think.
  • Do we bring up IRB?  Some do (or think we should), others leave that to faculty.

3. What are some of the potential benefits (to students, faculty, and librarians) of taking this approach to Information Literacy instruction? What are some of the challenges librarians might face in doing this kind of teaching, and how might we overcome them?

  • While working with the writing department, the focus has been to distinguish between writing and research. There needs to be a shift to demonstrate the link between writing and research.
  • Identifying the problem: students don’t know how to enter the conversation of IL.

4. Are you already teaching research methods as part of your Information Literacy curriculum? If so, how? If you aren’t teaching research methods, how might you envision teaching hands-on research methods at your institution? Please brainstorm a list of how you can use the ideas discussed in your own teaching.

  • The one-shots – how do you integrate “research methods” if you don’t have a quarter/semester long class?
    • One solution: Mini participation – go out for 15 minutes – have materials ready or have them find different types of research
  • Role of research methods in teacher education – prepare K-12 teachers to teach research methods to students; therefore, when students reach college, they are more prepared.
  • Have more librarians teaching Freshman seminars.
  • Work more closely with Instructional Design staff – they are being pulled more into the library but they tend to lack the experience or expertise to support the teaching of research method.

Suggested readings to prepare for the discussion:

Dupuis, E. A. (2009). Amplifying the Educational Role of Librarians. Research Library Issues, 265, 9-14. Accessed December 2009.

Hodge, D., et al. (2008). Takes a Curriculum: Preparing Students for Research and Creative Work. Liberal Education, 94.3. 6-15. Accessed February 2010.

Saunders, L. (2009). The Future of Information Literacy in Academic Libraries: A Delphi Study. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9.1. 99-114. Accessed December 2009, Project Muse.


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