Reading is Research: An Interview

Last semester, Instruction Coordinator for Atkins Library, Stephanie Otis, presented on her course collaboration with GIAS Instructor, Joyce Dalsheim.  Entitled Reading is Research, the presentation described a new way of thinking about the skills that students need to research, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate information, and how librarians can be more fully integrated into the classroom to help students through this process.  Recognizing that an essential component of research and writing is the ability to critically read, a skill often assumed and sometimes lacking in college-level students, Otis and Dalsheim worked together to address it in the classroom.  The following is an interview with Otis about the project.

How did the “reading is research” project begin?

Joyce came to me in 2012 with the idea for this project, since I was the librarian for Global, International, and Area Studies (GIAS). We found that we shared a common goal of helping students shift their perspective of research from a mechanical process of searching and gathering information to a critical approach to reading and thinking about information. Over the course of four semesters, we have continually updated and revised our strategies for integrating research instruction into Joyce’s 2000 and 3000 level courses. While she was looking to improve her students’ work and give them a set of lifelong skills, I was interested in the potential for the project to change the perception of the library and librarians among faculty and students.

How does this approach to working with a librarian differ from other models?

This approach requires deep collaboration and rethinking the emphasis of research instruction. It asks faculty to incorporate critical reading and thinking about sources throughout the semester, rather than simply requesting a demonstration of the databases from the librarian.  Librarians work with faculty to plan the syllabus, class meetings, and assignments/activities together. This approach allows librarians to share a different type of expertise and helps establish the library as an academic and curricular partner rather than an optional service.

How often did you, as the librarian, meet with the students during the semester?

I usually meet with the class 3-5 times during the semester. The first one or two sessions, we look at one of the class readings to go through the steps of reading for research. Later in the semester, we talk about searching for additional sources, and near the end of the semester we evaluate the students’ lists of sources for connections, relevance, and academic value. This semester, I will be grading an intermediate assignment for students (an annotated bibliography) between the third and fourth meetings.
 
What are some examples of exercises and activities that you used to help students learn how to critically read?

In one or two of the library sessions, we very closely consider one of the class readings, to identify major theory and main ideas, to connect to cited sources, and to think about how the author contributes to students’ understanding of major concepts and terms in the discipline. Throughout the semester, students keep a key terms journal, where they are adding quotes and notes from their readings to a “definition” of major concepts of the course. In an annotated bibliography assignment, the students have to write about how the source connects to others they have found, and why it is relevant to their work.

Do you think this model would work with other classes?

I think even the specifics of this model could be used with other classes. While it might translate most easily to other social science or theory-based classes, I can imagine many other applications with only minor modifications. The specifics of these class activities and assignments might not fit neatly in other classes, but we have seen that they inspire faculty to rethink some of the assignments in their classes as they shift the focus of their pedagogy.

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