Study: Too much info for students
Posted November 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm in News
A recent study conducted by Project Information Literacy, an ongoing research project based in the University of Washington, suggests that college students in the digital age are facing new problems conducting research.
The study surveyed 8,353 students from 25 college campuses across the United States and found that in an era when vast amounts of information is easily accessible, students struggle sorting through everything and making sense of their research.
According to the study, 84 percent of students said that the most difficult part of the research process was simply getting started. Sixty-six percent struggled defining a topic, and 61 percent said they frequently had difficulty filtering through irrelevant results once they began their research.
Alison Head, who co-wrote the report along with Michael Eisenberg, said the study focused on revealing the truth behind the difficulties students face in conducting research.
âOur research was different because we really wanted to find out from the studentsâ perspective what itâs like to be a student today and do research in a college setting,â Head said. âWhat we were trying to do is tell the studentsâ story, get away from standards and tell what itâs like to be a student today on a college campus.â
When students have access to thousands of sources at their fingertips, the study suggested that this proliferation of information is precisely what causes problems for students. With so many sources available, simply navigating the information becomes overwhelming.
Robert Labaree, the head of the Von Kleinsmid Center Library, agreed that research skills have changed dramatically with the growth of technologies such as the internet.
âThe original conceptualization of the digital divide was that you had people who didnât have access to computers or the Internet,â Labaree said. âNowadays, itâs more of a divide between those who are skilled in locating the right type of information and those who struggle to understand how to search it effectively.â
According to the study, students often turn to online search engines such as Google to start their research, but Labaree and Head said that such techniques can often overwhelm students because of the amount of information that is returned by a search.
âSearch engines are the most difficult part of doing research,â said Matthew Redhead, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law. âItâs such a pain looking for information you need that is stuck in the [complicated] mess that is the Internet.â
Resources are available through the university to assist students in conducting research. Labaree said some of the most helpful and underutilized resources for students are the librarians.
âWeâre here for the purpose of helping facilitate the research and the learning of students here on campus,â Labaree said. âWe can make their lives so much easier if they just ask for help.â
However, he acknowledged that libraries still have work to do in order to adapt to the changing information landscape and continue to help students.
One suggestion Labaree made is that libraries need to extend their technological presence and take advantage of things such as smartphone applications, to be more accessible to students. Labaree said that there are still several basic fundamentals that libraries can improve upon in catering to studentsâ needs at USC but that some obstacles stand in the way.
âThe ratio of the number of library faculty here and the number of students at USC is not on par with similar research universities,â Labaree said. âThe faculty that are here do a great job, but when you see peer institutions that have twice as many, you become concerned about who youâre not reaching.â
Hugh McHarg, executive director of communications and public programming for USC libraries, said there is still progress being made by USC libraries despite some struggles faced by students and staff.
âWeâre trying to reverse the trend of students not going to librarians as a resource,â McHarg said. âIn 2009, we re-established the reference desk in Doheny and staffed it with librarians. For the fall semester last year, the number of students going to ask for research help increased by 68 percent.â
âThose numbers suggest that USC students are finding those resources,â he said.