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Book Review: The New Digital Scholar - Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students

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Julia Robinson reviews a substantial and timely collection of essays related to the research and writing practices of NextGen students. Expressing a call for change in the way educators approach Information Literacy teaching, this book invites the reader to redefine, re-evaluate and reflect on what we think we know about students’ research practices today.

The New Digital Scholar. Edited by Randall McClure and James P. Purdy

The New Digital Scholar: Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students. Edited by Randall McClure and James P. Purdy, ASIST Monograph Series, Information Today, 2013, 416 pp/hardbound, ISBN 978-1-57387-475-5.

McClure and Purdy bring together a mix of perspectives, from librarians and lecturers to professors and programmers, to give voice to the very timely concern in Information Literacy (IL) teaching, that we are not equipping our students for the future as we hoped. So-called NextGen students are engaging with information online in their personal, social and educational lives in ways that are shaping new approaches to and conceptions of research. At the same time, those teaching IL, whether librarians or writing instructors, are basing lesson plans and interventions on traditional pedagogies, arguably unfit for a research landscape so altered by the pace and change of information technologies. Students, IL instructors and academics occupy different spaces in the digital environment and work at cross-purposes. Traditional IL instruction has encouraged students to understand information sources in binary terms, right or wrong, leaving them disoriented and disengaged as they undertake research. Students should instead be encouraged to see research as a recursive conversation. IL instructors need to collaborate with academics to reposition themselves in this conversation and join students in their digital space at the point of need.

Structure and Content

The book is divided into four parts and sixteen chapters (see Appendix for full Table of Contents). In the introduction ‘Understanding the NextGen Researcher’, McClure and Purdy set out their premise that NextGen students are prolific writers, readers and researchers, using a multitude of digital technologies to engage in these activities simultaneously, and:

Because digital technologies intertwine research and writing, this book takes as its premise that we – as professionals from a variety of fields – cannot ignore, marginalize (sic), or leave to others the commitment to understand and help the new digital scholar. In its four parts, this collection explores the facets of that commitment. (p.2)

Part One: NextGen Students and the Research Writing ‘Problem’ moves through defining Information Behaviour (Chapter 1), giving a history of the research paper (Chapter 2), identifying key IL frameworks (Chapter 3) and introducing deep learning (Chapter 4). All of these chapters set the scene by providing a broad theoretical basis and shared language with which the reader can access the rest of the book.

Most interestingly, McClure defines Information Behaviour as separate and distinct from Information Literacy. He bases his argument on the American Library Association definition of IL, where information-literate people ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information’ [1]. However, he reframes the ALA’s definition, instead describing it as:

A set of abilities requiring individuals to (my emphasis) recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. (p.20)

McClure goes on to argue that if IL is a finite set of skills or abilities then Information Behaviour ‘is concerned with the complex processes and influences on the information seeker’ (p.20). Whilst his intention to highlight behaviour is laudable, he adapts the definition of IL to make his point. Indeed, many readers in the UK would see a focus on behaviour and influence as inherent to IL, and already accounted for within the term. For example, the SCONUL Seven Pillars Model of Information Literacy states that:

Information literate people will demonstrate an awareness of how they gather, use, manage, synthesise and create information and data in an ethical manner and will have the information skills to do so effectively. [2]

Information skills are separate here too, but they are part of IL, they do not constitute IL itself. The focus on how accounts for behaviour. Conceptions of IL are detailed and discussed throughout the book along with related but distinct terms such as Digital Literacy, Multiliteracies (both Chapter 7), Digital Agency (Chapter 9), Hyperliteracy (Chapter 13) and Technological Literacy (Chapter 16).

Part Two: Explorations of What NextGen Students Do in the Undergraduate Classroom details experiments in student research practices including sentence mining (Chapter 5), student self-perceptions of research-writing behaviour (Chapter 6), research strategies (Chapter 7) and using databases (Chapter 8). It becomes clear that the students featured here are disengaged with information sources; ‘students do not know how to read academic sources or how to work with them to create an insightful paper’ (p.126). They conceive of information in binary terms, right or wrong, scholarly or unscholarly, an approach which:

[M]ight reflect how in earlier years of schooling students frequently were permitted to use only sources already vetted by others and were not allowed to use other internet sources and, therefore, did not gain experience in evaluating sources on their own. (p.144)

Current IL instruction does little to counter this approach, with library databases ‘good’ and Google ‘bad’ (p.151). Students should instead conceive of research as a conversation, and be able to talk about a subject in different formats and to different audiences, showing their understanding (p.110-111). IL instructors can help by opening up conversations, encouraging contextual approaches (p.151) and recognising that research tools (search engines and databases) are not ‘neutral’ (p.189) but affect practice. For example, if a tool returns a ‘no results’ page:

A savvy researcher would likely identify this as a database limitation, whereas a novice researcher may perceive a no-results page as an indication of a topic’s limited breadth. (p.162)

Thus our instruction should make an example of database quirks (p.205) and show students how to exploit and evaluate Google, if that’s where they prefer to start (p.203).

Part Three: Pedagogical Solutions to Enrich the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students continues with the evidence-based recommendations for future IL instruction. We are invited to position students as knowledge workers (Chapter 9), researcher-writers (Chapter 10), empowered learners (Chapter 11) and primary researchers (Chapter 12). In this way we recognise and validate a student’s contribution to the research conversation, helping them to engage with information.

Most thought-provoking in this part is the work of Teston and McNely on ‘the development of the researchable question’ (p.219) and the problems students encounter when defining their purpose as being to find information on a broad-based topic instead of answering a question (p.219-221). The authors advocate a pedagogical shift in approach to:

  1. Questions, not topics.
  2. Conversation, not verification. (p.223)

Questions demand development, articulation, purpose and perspective where topics lead to generalised reporting of accepted fact:

Students, when invited to ask researchable questions rather than report on fixed topics, might more readily embrace the ways in which knowledge does not exist a priori, but is actively and collaboratively constructed. (p.223)

This opens students’ minds to the subjectivity of information sources and the tools for finding them, bringing information behaviour to the fore.

Part Four: Programmatic Solutions to Enrich the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students focuses on practical ideas for moving the pedagogical approaches of Part Three into IL teaching. Key themes from throughout the book are revisited and incorporated into potential activities, for example, separating topic formulation from the research question (Chapter 13), creating effective collaboration between writing instructors and librarians (Chapter 14), designing instruction to account for the ‘Google effect’ (Chapter 15) and developing ‘Just In Time’ IL interventions (Chapter 16).

Many tools and techniques are discussed including the Think Aloud Protocol (or Research Aloud Protocol in Chapter 16) where student research practices are captured and analysed:

Student volunteers are asked to spend approximately ten minutes online, conducting research for a writing project. Using Camtasia Studio, the videos capture what the students are doing on the computer screen as well as the students’ voices detailing what they are doing and why. (p.357)

This approach allows IL instructors to counterbalance and compare students’ self-perceptions of their IL with the evidence of their research practices. Such an approach could provide a valuable avenue for assessing the impact of IL instruction at key points in the curriculum.

McClure and Purdy conclude the book by identifying six common insights, five common ideas and four suggestions for the future. This makes for a very accessible, succinct conclusion which could easily be adapted for institutional meetings, ensuring the call for change is all the easier to articulate and take forward.

Conclusions and Recommendation

McClure and Purdy have brought together a substantial and timely collection of essays related to the research and writing practices of NextGen students. I will certainly use the evidence and ideas presented to reflect on my current IL teaching practice and think about basing my sessions on research conversations. I can see that my students do suffer the disengagement with information sources highlighted in this book and I believe the pedagogical and practical ideas for re-engaging students presented here could bear fruit. One potential barrier to implementing the call to action is that so many of the session ideas are based on regular and repeated interaction with students in a given semester. As the book is designed for writing instructors and librarians working together, it assumes a level of interaction with the students very few UK librarians get to enjoy. The authors recognise the limitations of the ‘one-shot’ approach to teaching IL and focus on the benefits of collaboration. Whilst these benefits are easy to see, it does not make the task of creating and embedding IL collaboration any easier. Any pedagogical shift is unlikely to arise in the immediate term. That said, this book does invigorate the reader with fresh and evidence-based ideas which make you want to close down the Power Point presentation you had planned, grab the phone and talk to the lecturer about embedding IL where it will make a difference.

References

  1. American Library Association (1989) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential. Accessed: 29 May 2013.
  2. SCONUL (2011) The SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy: Core Model, p.3  http://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/coremodel.pdf Accessed: 28 May 2013.

Author Details

Julia Robinson
Assistant Liaison Librarian
Newcastle University

Email: julia.robinson@ncl.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/

Julia Robinson is an Assistant Liaison Librarian at Newcastle University Library. She currently offers information literacy teaching and research support services to the students, staff and researchers across the Science, Agriculture and Engineering Faculties. She has special interests in Open Access publishing, EndNote, reference management and copyright. She collaborates with people across Newcastle University and the LIS sector to offer information and guidance in these areas.

 

Appendix: Table of Contents.

Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg

Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .xv

Introduction: Understanding the NextGen Researcher . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
Randall McClure and James P. Purdy

 

PART ONE: NextGen Students and the Research-Writing “Problem”

Chapter 1: Min(d)ing the Gap: Research on the Information Behaviors of NextGen Students ..19
Randall McClure

Chapter 2: The Research Paper Project in the Undergraduate Writing Course . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Karen Kaiser Lee

Chapter 3: Professional Statements and Collaborations to Support the New Digital Scholar . .65
John Eliason and Kelly O’Brien Jenks

Chapter 4: Fighting for Attention: Making Space for Deep Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Brian Ballentine

 

PART TWO: Explorations of What NextGen Students Do in the Undergraduate Writing Classroom

Chapter 5: Sentence-Mining: Uncovering the Amount of Reading and Reading Comprehension
in College Writers’ Researched Writing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .109
Sandra Jamieson and Rebecca Moore Howard

Chapter 6: Scholarliness as Other: How Students Explain Their Research-Writing Behaviors ..133
James P. Purdy

Chapter 7: Can I Google That? Research Strategies of Undergraduate Students . . . . . . . . .  .161
Mary Lourdes Silva

Chapter 8: Encountering Library Databases: NextGen Students’ Strategies for Reconciling
Personal Topics and Academic Scholarship . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . .189
Ruth Mirtz

 

PART THREE: Pedagogical Solutions to Enrich the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students

Chapter 9: Undergraduate Research as Collaborative Knowledge Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
Christa B. Teston and Brian J. McNely

Chapter 10: Re-Envisioning Research: Alternative Approaches to Engaging NextGen Students .233
Rachel A. Milloy

Chapter 11: Embracing a New World of Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . ..253
David Bailey

Chapter 12: NextGen Students and Undergraduate Ethnography: The Challenges of Studying
Communities Born Digital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .271
Neil P. Baird

 

PART FOUR: Programmatic Solutions to Enrich the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students

Chapter 13: Teaching Researching in the Digital Age: An Information Literacy Perspective
on the New Digital Scholar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . 295
Barry M. Maid and Barbara J. D’Angelo

Chapter 14: Teaching and Assessing Research Strategies in the Digital Age:
Collaboration Is the Key . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .313
Thomas Peele, Melissa Keith, and Sara Seely

Chapter 15: Understanding NextGen Students’ Information Search Habits:
A Usability Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .331
Patrick Corbett, Yetu Yachim, Andrea Ascuena, and Andrew Karem

Chapter 16: Remixing Instruction in Information Literacy . . . . . . . .  . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .349
Janice R. Walker and Kami Cox

 

Conclusion: The New Digital Scholar and the Production of New Knowledge  . . . . . . . . . .  . . .369
James P. Purdy and Randall McClure

Date published: 
9 July 2013

This article has been published under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence. Please note this CC BY licence applies to textual content of this article, and that some images or other non-textual elements may be covered by special copyright arrangements. For guidance on citing this article (giving attribution as required by the CC BY licence), please see below our recommendation of 'How to cite this article'.

How to cite this article

Julia Robinson. "Book Review: The New Digital Scholar - Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students". July 2013, Ariadne Issue 71 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue71/robinson-rvw


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