This first week of the new year, a critical time when millions of students wake to a harsh reality – the end of vacation is at hand and the assignments remain in a state of potency. Whether the facts face a high school working on a History Day project, a PhD candidate with a dissertation that needs some touch up, a parent or spouse of a student who would rather play than probe, there is one happy thought – The first step is the hardest.
Matt Lee who publishes a rich newsletter for Minitex speaks to that very point, reminding us that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to Confucious. (Or maybe Lao Tzu. A Google search cites both. Anyone knows a college student who can verify this information?) As verification of that adage Matt points the way to the report, “Truth be told: How college students use and evaluate information in the digital age” . The survey of over 8300+ students at 25 institutions, conducted by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg of the University of Washington Information School, offers a surprisingly good read. Though focused on students navigating in a digital environment the findings are totally applicable to any time and most tasks. Most fun of all is the great YouTube presentation of the results – you don’t even have to crack a book to get the gist of the 72-page report.
Gustavus Adolphus faculty member Barbara Fister, writing in the Library Journal, reports that 84% of the students surveyed reported that getting started – defining a topic, narrowing it down, and filtering through relevant results — proved to be the three major stumbling blocks to confident student research. This in the day when everything is right there on the computer – or not. Fister reflects on the good news that today’s students are “very conscious of the need to evaluate the sources they encounter. They don’t take them at face value, but are choosy about finding sources that are current and authoritative.”
Fister’s mention of “unhealthy info-gluttony” suggests a concern of mine. A quote from the report resonates, though I’m quick to note that there’s a generation gap: “A 32-year-old librarian relates what now seems like a quaint memory from a simpler time. Not that many years ago, while conducting a literature review for her own humanities dissertation, she was able to search and exhaust every information source her campus library had to offer. .But for many of todayʼs undergraduates, the idea of being able to conduct an exhaustive search is inconceivable. Information seems to be as limitless as the universe. And research is one of the most difficult challenges facing students in the digital age.” Still we information enthusiasts need reminders that, in some cases, more is more, not better.
Happy New Year’s Resolution (beats dieting) is to research, think and write more about the world of digital resources in blogs-to-be. The inescapable fact that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is inescapable. Defining a topic, narrowing it down, and filtering through relevant and reliable results require time and active engagement with the topic. The iPad and laptop are quick to fetch, not so good at figuring it all out. Time, teachers and librarians are essential to the process.
Happy surfing and sifting to learners who can pretty well discard the old alibi that “the library didn’t have anything about…”