A comprehensive new study recently released – Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project – highlights what college students don’t know about research, how they do research, and what needs to be taught to them about doing appropriate research. Results conclude that all Millennials are not information literate – yet!
With funding from the Illinois State Library, using funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) with federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, a collaboration of Illinois colleges and universities conducted a seminal two year research project. The five Illinois universities that collaborated on this research project were: DePaul University, Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS).
The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project is a two-year study of the student research process. The project is funded by an LSTA grant awarded to Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) by the Illinois State Library. The goal of the project is to understand how students do research, and how relationships between students, teaching faculty and librarians shape that process. ERIAL is also an applied study—that is, research pursued with the purpose of uncovering, understanding and addressing social problems. As such, its goal is to use the results to develop more user-centered library services.
Fortunately, ISL and ERIAL proponents were foresighted enough to develop tools from the research to address necessary changes to students’ information literacy capabilities. The research was exceptionally thorough.
In order to obtain a holistic portrait of students’ research practices and academic assignments, the ERIAL project integrated nine qualitative research techniques and was designed to generate verbal, textual, and visual data. While all five participating institutions committed to a core set of research questions and shared research protocols, the research teams at each university chose which methods would be best suited their needs.
The nine qualitative research techniques included; Ethnographic Interviews, Photo Journals, Mapping Diaries, Web Design Workshops, Space Design Workshops, Cognitive Maps, Research Process Interviews, and Retrospective Research Paper Interviews. A total of 719 students, faculty and librarians participated in the research.
Findings included such perspectives as those represented by the quotes below taken from an ACRL 2011 Conference presentation by Lynda M. Duke, Illinois Wesleyan University, Search Skills of the 21st Century Student, Mar 30-Apr 2, Philadelphia.
One of the “applied” results of this research project was the creation of Library Research Basics online course/tool kit designed for “undergraduates who are new to research”.
While I have been declaring that the Millennial Generation Digital Natives are more information literate than any other generation so far, this study clearly demonstrates that current college students lack those high levels of information literacy. This is not incongruent with the beginning of 21st Century Skills reform in education.
Considering that information literacy has only recently become a skill adopted by some schools/states, it will take another 5-10 years of application in a growing number of school’s curriculum (both primary and secondary) to show any significant shift toward a higher percentage of students entering college with appropriate research skills and evaluation ability to determine good resources from bad.
The obvious result of this study is to motivate librarians to increase their own research skills and prepare to offer services that the new information literate customer will seek.