Posted by: Emily | November 11, 2009

How do we make this fun?

I have a class coming in today for their second library session. I talked with the (wonderfully communicative!) professor earlier in the week about what these students need at this point. First, they need targeted database practice and one on one help with pulling out relevant materials. They need some technical help. Second, she said, they need help thinking about their research projects as organic, fluid, and with the potential to change the way they think about their topics. They’re mechanistically plugging in two articles, one book, and one web resource into the thesis statements they came up with a month ago. When they find something that challenges their opinion or presents a nuanced argument, they put it to the side and get back to the hunt, for something that confirms what they knew at the beginning of the research process.

I get some of the economic reasons students would approach a topic this way. It’s expensive to be expansive, and for lots of us, just getting the thing done so we can get back to self, work, and family is the priority. But that’s also not what the assignment is about. And it might also be that students don’t really know any different. If your education so far has mostly been about regurgitating right answers on a test, being willing to be wrong and confused–necessary characteristics of the successful researcher, I think–can’t be easy.

So, what can I do as a librarian to help with this? I’m thinking I’ll toss up some visual metaphors that help me with this–whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, other kinds of activity that are messy and complicated and confusing in ways that can also be fun while you’re doing them but ultimately lead you to a destination where you can stop for a minute and check out the view. But beyond that kind of sales pitch, are there active exercises that I can do in a 75 minute class that will encourage some curious reflection before we get down and dirty with the databases?

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