Research tutorial just a click away

Helps students avoid potential traps

karen herland

Two years ago, a provincial survey of undergraduates revealed that only a quarter of the respondents could identify criteria for evaluating web sites as sources. And fewer than a third knew how to find journal topics on their subject.

Concordia’s Libraries’ Information Literacy Working Group developed Info Research 101, an interactive online tutorial to help students negotiate the steps of producing academic essays. Their tutorial has just been added to the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Peer-Reviewed Instructional Material Online (PRIMO) database, where it will be profiled as a feature site in the coming months.

“It’s a way to equip students with skills to satisfy their information needs and offer ways to use that information properly,” said Patrick Labelle, Instruction Librarian. Labelle chairs the working group that developed the tutorial. Librarians Olivier Charbonneau, Dubravka Kapa and Sonia Poulin contributed to its development.

The tutorial is available here on the library website. Info Research 101 is divided into steps: defining a topic, identifying sources, using search tools, organizing material and how to cite sources in a final paper. Each subject is subdivided into sections, which include pop-up activities, examples and tips.

Students can learn how to identify issues that appeal to them within professor-defined subjects, or how to narrow their interests when they are expected to develop their own topic. Similarly, they can learn what sources offer information surveys and where partisan coverage is likely to turn up.

The library offers a series of on-site workshops at the start of each fall and winter semester. These workshops help students access different materials, or use specialized databases. “The tutorial reinforces that information, and students can fall back on it afterwards,” Labelle said.

Info Research 101 is the third iteration of the tool that the working group developed. Previous versions were too content-heavy and not interactive. “Students feel encouraged with this version.”

The tutorial is “part of a larger information literacy initiative which we would like to see across the university.”

Librarians try to connect to the classroom in various ways. Professors receive the bibliofile newsletter, which reports on new programs and tools the library has available. Subject librarians work within related faculties and departments and offer single class workshops for interested professors tailored to meet the needs of that class.

The libraries also organize presentations to new faculty as they arrive. They collaborate with Counselling and Development, the New Student Programme, the Office for Students with Disabilities and the International Students Office to promote effective information-gathering and research to students.

Labelle concedes that these efforts are still hit and miss. If students don’t sign up for workshops, or click on the tutorial link, they are on their own.

The working group would like to further integrate information research into the curriculum by requiring library workshops or modules for all disciplines or by making research skills acquisition the primary criteria of certain courses. Exit exams on research skills could also be integrated into programs.

Until then, Labelle hopes more professors will point students’ cursors toward Info Research 101 by providing a link on their syllabi, a link now available continent-wide on the PRIMO site.