photo © 2009 arvind grover | more info (via: Wylio)
This week I had a chance to read a talk given by Andrew Abbott on the relationship between student learning and their reading/research environment. You can read the talk on his website: The Future of Knowing
Abbott challenges educators to shift their emphasis in the classroom from distilling knowledge to students to helping them learn how to learn. He argues that this shift is necessary because our students have grown up in a digital world where their online research skills have not taught them how to know something, that is how to come to knowing something. Without a clear sense of how they know something students, with the help of standardized tests, have confused knowledge (having information) with knowing (understanding something).
As a librarian I encounter students who fit Abbott’s description all the time. Students often seek help for finding information that clearly answers or states their ideas or answers the research question. I virtually never get students asking for background information to help them contextualize their research questions.
I also get to see students actively at work in the library- researching and writing papers. I often see students hunting, selecting, and pasting information from sources rarely concerned with reading a work from beginning to end. One time I assisted a student who wanted to cite a book chapter from an online book; she was only able to read the first 2 pages of the chapter, but “It has the information I need,” she said. I tried to press her and get her to consider the fact that she did not know the context for the information nor the author’s argument. She did not feel the need to know that as the information here was enough for her purposes.
Other scholars have looked at this issue from a different perspective. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” comes to mind. Abbott’s talk highlights more of the effect on processing and organizing information as opposed to retaining information. Both are useful though and would be good readings for any class on research skills.