How do college students start their research? Most academic library employees know the quick answer: Google and Wikipedia! But there’s more to the story. How do college students move through the research process in the digital age, and why do they approach it as they do?
Project Information Literacy‘s (PIL) mission is to reveal the answers to this question. PIL is a nonprofit that is partnered with University of Washington’s i-School. Their goal is to re-shape research skills curriculum to help students as they are, not as we wish they would be.
PIL has already completed six major studies since 2008 in an attempt to “to investigate how they find, evaluate, and use information for their course work and for addressing issues that arise in their everyday lives.”
One of their findings is that while students’ lives are dramatically different in this age of technology, many college professors stick to old-fashioned teaching methods:
Despite the seismic changes in the way that information is now created and delivered, 83% of instructors’ handouts for research assignments PIL analyzed in 2010 called for the standard research paper. Few handouts asked students to present findings using other formats, including multimedia and oral presentations.
PIL also studies how students’ research skills carry over into their personal lives and post-graduate jobs. Even classically “information-literate” students still struggle in the workplace. In a column from late-2012 over on Inside Higher Ed, one librarian summarizes a key report from PIL documenting the struggles of recent college grads:
What they hadn’t learned was how to deal with questions that didn’t have an answer that could be found in a text, whether online or in print. Their work assignments lacked the structure and instructions that college assignments had, their deadlines were tighter, and the stakes were higher. They felt their jobs were at risk. One key need graduates identified was finding mentors and informants. As one focus group participant put it, “the biggest hurdle for me was getting used to talking to strangers” (19).
Even with the prevalence of social networking, students might still need to work on their social skills to help themselves get ahead in life!
Check out this overview of PIL that features super-hip music: