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ALT-C 2010: information literacy issues

One paper stood out for me as particularly interesting – it came out of a JISC study on user behaviour carried out at Middlesex University. The paper was entitled Electronic resource discovery systems: do they help or hinder when searching for academic materials and it was presented by Balbir S. Barn. This qualitative study examined students and researchers in economics and business studies, based at Cranfield University, LSE and Middlesex. The study reported that with academic libraries spending huge amounts of their budgets on electronic resources (£79 million in 2006/7) there was a concern that students were under-using these resources and relying on Google. The recommendations have been presented to librarians, but also to resource discovery system vendors. For quite a number of learning technology colleagues I think this paper was a little different, although it would have been completely standard at LILAC.
The findings were not surprising to me anyway, as I teach students to use electronic resources and frequently find they are confused by the interface of databases and overly reliant on Google in place of using subscription resources. However,  this study found that there are a number of factors when students make choices about electronic resources including their knowledge of the subject, knowledge of the strengths and limitations of resources. In addition trust was a key issue and  students trust Google. When they got lost, they would frequently go back to Google to find their bearings! Students also needed more than just IT skills to get the most out of electronic resources, they needed to be information literate. In addition students (and here the research was using examples from LSE) were not proficient in using web 2.0 technologies and the use of tagging in delicious confused them. They also struggled to find e-books.

The paper also looked at issues around managing information and storing what is found in electronic resources. This hit a nerve with me as I’ve been considering how to encourage students to start managing their resources from the outset but came across the issue that each database has a different way of getting you to store your references. In addition Zotero and delicious didn’t really work effectively, so encouraging good information management from the outset can be difficult to achieve and dedicated reference management software, while complex is often the only option.

The conclusion of this study is that students need more help in this area, and that the information and digital literacy support needs to be embedded into their course. I’ll certainly be reading the full report and circulating this to colleagues at LSE on my return.

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