They can find it but they don't know what to do with it: describing the use of scholarly literature by undergraduate students

Stephanie Rosenblatt
2010, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 50-61


This article discusses a two-part research study. In the first part, the impact of a library instruction session on the quality of sources cited by upper-division undergraduate students was measured. Student papers and bibliographies were analysed with the use of a checklist in order to determine if students who attended a library instruction session were more likely to cite scholarly sources that addressed their paper topics than students who did not attend a session. Twenty students in total participated in the study and it was discovered that most of the students had no difficulty finding and evaluating sources in order to meet or exceed the professor's bibliographic requirements, including those students who had never attended a library instruction session. However, half of the students in this study had problems synthesising the quality information they found and incorporating it into their papers. This realisation led to the second part of the study. The students’ papers were reexamined in order to describe students’ use of the scholarly materials. A rubric was created in order to determine if the papers exhibited evidence that the students had synthesised the materials they found. Many of the students only summarised the scholarly sources specified by their professor’s bibliographic requirements then went on to make assertions about their topics without making any connection to the scholarly literature they so carefully accumulated. These findings question some of the assumptions about the information literacy needs of undergraduates held by many practitioners, as evidenced by the emphasis most instructional librarians place on teaching students how to locate, retrieve, and evaluate materials from “acceptable” sources. Further research on how undergraduates actually use the information they find can only inform librarians’ pedagogical efforts and may lead to increased collaboration between librarians and discipline faculty.


information literacy; undergraduates; citation analysis; rubrics; synthesis

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