Students learn how to research

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Two librarians on campus are hoping to make students a little smarter with their information literacy program.

Keith Rocci, the information literacy librarian, and Alan Bearman,  Washburn’s dean of libraries, decided to adopt the same program as Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis after visiting the university in the spring of 2009. Rocci spent his first year at Washburn getting the new program up and running.

One of the goals of the program is to develop students’ skills, knowledge and attitude with regard to finding, evaluating and using information. The program has four components: credit courses, one-shots, outreach and user services.

Library research strategies and a special topics course are the two information science courses offered. Library research strategies is a one-credit course that can be taken online or in the classroom. One-shots involve a faculty member inviting their class to the library to focus on a specific area of information literacy such as plagiarism, citation styles or narrowing a topic. The outreach section of the program works with local high schools to ensure that students coming into college will be better prepared. User services offers reference or in-depth appointments.

The library research strategies course focuses on sifting through less useful information and being able to detect usable sources. Rocci frowns upon the use of information sites such as Wikipedia for gathering research.

“Wikipedia is like talking to the guy at the bus stop. You’ve got to get a really solid source,” said Rocci.

When Rocci began shaping the program there were 20 students enrolled in the library research course. Last fall, the enrollment number increased to 275 students and this semester there are 180. A new requirement making the course mandatory for all conditional students increased the class size by 146 students.

“Our goal is to get it so every student takes a class in information literacy. Because it just makes them better at being students,” said Rocci.

When Rocci’s restructuring of the course caused class sizes to increase, he decided it was time for the librarians to begin teaching. There are currently seven librarians teaching the course. Sean Bird and Michelle Canipe are new to the librarian staff. Both are currently instructors in the course. Both Bird and Canipe have past teaching experience.

“Students need these skills,” said Rocci, “they have to be able to locate information. We teach discovery and evaluation. We teach the students to find balance in their research.”

Rocci and Bearman are both very passionate about the impact that this program will have on the Washburn community.

“We have more access to information than we have ever had,” said Bearman. “We are just overwhelmed by it. Questioning how to make sense of it and determine what’s good information and what’s bad information. That’s information literacy.”