Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Skimming the Surface

So recently came across this article on freshman writing and failing to engage with sources.
Note that the group studied was first year composition classes emphasizing that 1) these kid are coming in not ready to write for college or engage their sources and 2) the writing classes are critical and 3) I think, continues to call for unified writing requirements across the curriculum to avoid frustration and continue development for the students as they move quote unquote upward.
One of the researchers uses the metaphor of “digesting the material” which is a process that takes time to do correctly. Ingest/eat/consume too fast and you get indigestion. When our bodies digest food it is a background thing because our bodies literally have been trained to do so. There’s a reason, other than teeth, that babies are fed increasingly varied types of food as they grow older/mature because their digestive systems are able to handle the intake and the processing. The question then becomes how do we help our students to 1) develop the necessary time to digest and 2) break the habit of bouncing from one screen/distraction to another which is not digesting but rather dipping and skipping from one informational source to another. And there’s not really a lot of time to do this because they are in it and need to get themselves up to speed as quickly as possible. It’s interesting to read the comments of this paper because some of the commentators lose it a bit. One of the commentators, though bathed in bitterness, hits upon another aspect of this issue and that is the required endurance on the part of the student to read/skim the necessary material. Either this is a timing issue, waiting until the last minute, or it’s a fatigue issue. From talking to student I think a large part of this stems from where the student genuinely feels exhausted by the unsuccessfulness of their search and blames the search engine, whether the library database(s) or the catalog because they haven’t immediately found what was wanted. When a mistake is made the assumption is that the technology is failing to do what is requested or is not able to be manipulated in the expected fashion. In some ways, as has been rehashed in many other places, this is a design issue with library databases/catalogs. On the other hand, they are different than Google and should not be expected to act in the same manner. A different frame of resource and thinking needs to be cultivated and applied to those sources.
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