Article Review of “Research Partners, Teaching Partners”

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Librarian Kathy Shields is this article’s author and head of reference and instruction at High Point University.

Shields, Kathy. “Research Partners, Teaching Partners: A Collaboration Between FYC Faculty And Librarians To Study Students’ Research And Writing Habits.” Internet Reference Services Quarterly 19.3/4 (2014): 207-218. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Shields presents here a small study performed at High Point University, a liberal arts institution in North Carolina, on collaborative efforts between faculty teaching first-year-composition (FYC) and instruction librarians.  The goal of the study is to explore and analyze the effect of integrating research modules, along with deeper instruction from librarians, into the FYC courses at the university. Shields notes that this study is motivated by the concept of “writing information literacy,” averred by Norgaard,  as a skill “shaped by writing” and not a “neutral, technological skill” applied to writing.  As such, the approach behind the study aims to counter the pedagogically light one-shot library instruction often utilized in FYC courses, and instead, it seeks to make research a part of the writing process.

The study itself follows the effect of five newly created research-related modules, designed with WPA Standards and ACRL standards in mind, featuring auto-graded assessments in Blackboard.  These modules were implemented in thirteen sections of FYC, creating an experiment group. The other sections of FYC did not receive the modules, creating the control group.  In addition to the modules, all students in FYC (both control and experiment groups) were required to complete a pre-and-post-course information literacy process narrative, asking them to explain how they would go about developing a 1500-word social issues paper requiring three outside sources.  Based on a random sample of thirty from the control group and thirty from the experiment group, the researchers coded the narratives on two levels: Level 1 described research-related actions, such as organizing and gathering sources and finding a topic and Level 2 described higher-level thinking, especially two core concepts of “writing information literacy”: inquiry and invention. Shields concludes that the findings were statistically insignificant because of too many variables in the study; however, she notes shifts in an increase in the use of terminology related to research from pre-to-post narrative, such as keywords, databases, credibility, scholarly, and citations.  One term that did not appear in the narratives as often, but had been given deep emphasis is relevance. 

To offer a critique of this article, I do not necessarily see it as groundbreaking, so I am relatively noncommittal about recommending it to fellow peers and scholars.  Contextually, however, it works for me.  This article proves useful, not necessarily so much for its study, but for the goal of librarians and FYC faculty attempting to unite research and writing processes into one. Norgaard’s concept on “writing information literacy” proves interesting and hopeful for encouraging writing faculty to take a more serious look at the deep connections between the writing and the research process and acting on them.  Moreover, the librarians’ work indicated in the article demonstrates a stronger level of attempting to situate their roles in the writing process, as not just information gatekeepers but as active participants in the writing process.  The fact that the study looked for rhetorical activities, such as inquiry and invention, proves hopeful toward greater discussion of librarians being more intentional about bolstering rhetorical strategies, which is usually not their bailiwick.  Overall, the article offers some solid theories and concepts. The unremarkable results, however, stemming from the implementation of those ideas may make others hesitant to spend much time with this article.

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Introduction to ENGL840 Micro-Study

Academic librarians hold a unique position; they, at once, help students become better researchers and serve as an integral part in the writing process. To flesh out that latter claim, I would argue that most of the research librarians perform, or teach students to perform, is applied directly to writing assignments. Despite such benefit in the writing process, librarians’ work is often treated as an add-on function.  Faculty frequently request a library instruction only at one “magical” point in a course, and students oftentimes select their topics and even write their essays before consulting with a librarian.  In addition, Todorinova (2010) reports that 26% of libraries collaborate with writing centers, and 74% express a willingness to do so in the future, meaning librarians are gaining greater opportunities to participate in the writing process.  For instance, at my current institution, a Florida community college, librarians and writing tutors share a public work space, providing writing and research assistance across the disciplines.

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Librarians and writing tutors share a public work space together called Writing Studio.

Couple this new way of collaboration with their traditional teaching methods, and librarians are positioned at the center of the writing process, but questions loom about librarians’ self-perceptions of their roles as (pre)writing instructors of sorts: How much do they know about or feel part of the process? How much do they knowingly work with rhetorical strategies? And in what aspects of writing do librarians feel comfortable in assisting students? These questions, among others, I wish to explore in my micro-study for ENGL840.