Students’ confidence radically mismatches librarians’ assessment of their skills, two reports from EasyBib conclude, particularly in website evaluation, paraphrasing, and direct quotation. Also, students are using the open web less often than they were two years ago, and dramatically more librarians are stressing the role of faculty in promoting information literacy. The first report, Trends in Information Literacy: A Comparative View, was published in May 2014; the second, Perspectives on Student Research Skills in K-12 and Academic Communities, came out the following October; taken together, the two reveal some thought-provoking data on information literacy across the country.
The universe of citation styles can be difficult for even an experienced writer to navigate; to high school and college students it can feel like a foreign language. Fortunately there are now a number of platforms available online to help automate the different forms and rules. EasyBib, a citation generator, allows writers and researchers from K–12 through college to create bibliographies in MLA, APA, or Chicago styles, export a fully formatted version of them to Microsoft Word, and create in-text citations. It also provides cloud-based note-taking and research tools. A basic version of the platform is available for free; the paid institutional version is used by more than 1,500 colleges, universities, and school districts.
Originally created in 2001 by two high school students, Darshan Somashekar and Neal Taparia, EasyBib is one of several products developed by Somashekar and Taparia’s New York–based ImagineEasy Solutions, as is ResearchReady, a cloud-based instruction and assessment platform. EasyBib also offers a series of professional development webinars coordinated by Emily Gover, the company’s in-house information literacy librarian, who has a particular interest in information literacy and how ImagineEasy can tap into its network of users to provide much-needed data.
Gover joined ImagineEasy in January 2012 to work on curriculum development for ResearchReady. As the company’s first staff librarian, she was curious to see what could be learned from the students and librarians who use EasyBib’s services. With some 42 million users a year, and a wide network of subscriber librarians, Gover saw a group that had useful information to offer. EasyBib, she explained to LJ, had a built-in opportunity “to see how they’re teaching research skills, and what their perspectives are on how students are information literate or not today.”
In 2012, Gover developed and emailed a series of questions to EasyBib’s list of librarians and educators asking about their school’s information literacy instruction practices, how they envisioned their students’ understanding of web resources, and their institution’s stance on plagiarism. The data was compiled into an infographic, Trends in Information Literacy.
A follow-up survey, consisting of eight multiple-choice questions, was sent to librarians in May 2014. At the same time a four-question, multiple-choice survey for student users, which asked similar questions on information literacy from their points of view, was placed as a pop-up on EasyBib’s site. Data was collected from the librarians through a Google form; the student survey used Qualaroo, a subscription-based survey analysis tool. More than 10,000 responses were received from students, and nearly 1,200 from librarians.
OVERCONFIDENCE, GOOGLE DEPENDENCE
Responses to the student survey came from a range of educational levels, from middle schoolers through graduate students, with most—59 percent—in high school. Librarians and educators were spread more evenly, from elementary through four-year academic institutions, although the majority, at 31 percent, was also based in high schools.
The survey’s most notable finding involved the discrepancies between how students and librarians perceived students’ levels of information literacy. Students evaluated themselves, and librarians evaluated their students, on the following competencies:
- Level of understanding of website credibility
- Frequency of students using the open web (i.e., Google) versus authoritative library resources
- To what degree students struggle with effectively using paraphrases and direct quotes in research
The levels of confidence students reported in their own abilities far outstripped librarians’ assessment of their skills. 36.1 percent of the students surveyed felt that they had an advanced understanding of website evaluation, whereas only two percent of librarians considered their students to have a high degree of skill in the same area.
The numbers of students who believed they had only an average understanding of website evaluation, at 49.7 percent, more closely matched the 47 percent of librarians who said the same of their students.
Results were similar when students and librarians were asked how often they struggled with understanding how to paraphrase and quote correctly: 58 percent of the student respondents answered “rarely,” whereas fewer than five percent of librarians and educators agreed. However, on the question of using open web resources over authoritative library sources, students’ and librarians’ responses matched closely.
Gover believes these results are a direct result of poorly funded or closed school libraries. Students “get by using things like Google or Wikipedia and putting together shoddy paraphrases,” she told LJ, and end up unable to do “the quality research that’s expected of them by the time they get to college. And they assume if they can get a passing grade that what they’re doing is sufficient.”
While, unsurprisingly, all academic librarians reported that they offered some form of information literacy instruction at their institutions, only a quarter of them offered full-length courses on the subject. Roughly 12 percent of all K-12 librarians (and more than a quarter of the high school librarians who answered) provided no information literacy instruction on how to conduct research at all. Academic librarians were more likely to teach one-shot sessions than K–12 librarians, who were more prone to do collaborative or multiple lessons with students.
The results of the 2012 and 2014 surveys suggest that, while students’ dependence on sites such as Google has decreased—teachers’ reports of students using the Open Web “very often” decreased from 84 percent to 60 percent—librarians’ perceived roles as the sole purveyors of information literacy have also been minimized. In 2012 close to 95% of librarians identified the library’s role as “extremely important”; by 2012 the number was slightly more than 50 percent, with a nearly 40 percent increase in the answer, “pretty important, but faculty has an influence.” The report attributes this, in part, to the increase of collaboration between library and faculty, but adds, “other factors may influence this trend as well, such as state or national standards that require more research in the classroom.”
A more troubling statistic is the 29.3 percent increase, over the past two years, in the perception that students have a rudimentary understanding of web evaluation. “Despite data showing that librarians feel students are now using the open web for research less than they did in 2012,” the report says, “when students are on the open web, their evaluation skills are more lackluster.”
USEFUL AND IMPORTANT DATA
Gover hopes this data will be of use to educators and librarians at all levels. “I can see K-12 librarians using some of these statistics to show the importance of their roles in teaching these critical skills to students,” she told LJ. “Students have certain perspectives on these really important and foundational skills they need beyond college—for their careers as well—and they just don’t have it.” She envisions K-12 librarians using the information to push for an increased presence in their schools, and academics potentially using it to create discussion around improving instruction, or whether their institution’s information literacy program is where they want it to be. And given some of the more dire statistics regarding nonexistent information literacy capabilities, public librarians could use it as an opportunity to provide research instruction in communities where school libraries may be lacking.
While a citation generator like EasyBib is a useful productivity and research management tool, Gover said, “we help students with information literacy but we’re not teaching it to them.” ResearchReady, however, is better positioned to fill those needs. It currently uses four levels of scaffolded curriculum from third grade through college freshman level to “teach effective and ethical research methods,” according to its website. If future data show a shift in information literacy statistics—more online instruction, blended learning, or collaboration with professors—Gover told LJ, “we may want to tweak ResearchReady so it fits in with more specific-subject areas…so [students] could hone in on those critical skills they need for their various disciplines and majors.”
EasyBib will be conducting further such surveys and improving on them in the coming years. “I feel like it’s becoming increasingly important,” Gover asserted. “We’re hoping…these statistics [will] show how there needs to be improvement within information literacy instruction in school library programs around the country.”