Monday, February 17, 2014

Taking the Next Step

For many students, the jump from High School to College can be a real challenge for a variety of reasons. Many of these reasons are ones that our institutions tend to focus on, like whether a student is a first-generation college student, financial barriers that might interfere with a student being able to afford to go to college, and what factors affect a student's ability to come to campus and to keep moving forward towards a degree or certificate. We talk about student success and rightfully emphasize what we are trying to do to help our students be successful in college, and try to assess if our activities are helping to support that goal.

Less often discussed in the rarified air of Federal and State education policy are questions concerning how students adjust to the different expectations regarding how students acquire information in their new environment and how they manage, utilize, and synthesize information to apply to more the more demanding college environment. Lots of faculty and librarians have anecdotal  evidence to support the idea that this area is important and underappreciated, especially those folks who teach Freshman-level courses that have any sort of research element. There is an unfortunate trend in Education circles (well, in society as a whole) to make assumptions about the technology skills of our students based on no particular factual evidence. Most typically, those assumptions tend to inflate student skills, and to presume that mastering one skill (like using Facebook or the newest social media tool of the moment)is easily and commonly transferred to all other online skills and compentencies.

Sigh. Facepalm.

Here is a link to a new study [in PDF format] that, while small scale at this point, has some interesting things to say about difficulties that students face in acquiring and processing information that is relevant and useful to them as they transition from high school assignments (and library resources) to college assignments (and library resources).
I think it is very interesting to note the results of this study, especially as it relates to students who had limited or no appreciable library instructional presence while in high school. A lot of K-12 school districts have tended to view libraries and library staff as expendable resources, to be jettisoned temporarily (or permanently) when budgetary pressures have threatened operational staff. The importance of libraries, led by appropriately credentialed and experienced librarians as part of a school's instructional presence, simply cannot be overstated.

The study's first recommendation should come as no surprise to those of us in higher education:

Recommendation #1:
Building bridges between high school and college libraries
We were struck by freshmen in our sample that thought they were at a disadvantage with research from the
start. When professors assigned college research assignments, many of these students said they had no clue
about where to begin. It was not that they were not good at research — they were entirely new to library research. In particular, these first - term students had little experience with research in high school libraries. Moreover, they had written so few high school research papers they had a very limited understanding of what the research process entails and how libraries could best help them. For example, some freshmen we interviewed were surprised to learn help was available to them from reference librarians just by asking. Others
thought that everything a library owned was online so going to the academic library on campus was not necessary. Misconceptions like these about libraries are likely to perpetuate as long as school libraries are underfunded, do not hire full time professional teacher -.librarians, and, in some cases, are decommissioned.
We believe it is imperative for higher education librarians and educators to recognize the plight of
school libraries — and the widespread impact it is having. Many US school libraries from kindergarten to high 
school are fighting for their survival: From 2007 to 2011, the number of employed school teacher -librarians
in the US decreased more rapidly than other type of school staff.
In California’s school libraries, the books on school library shelves were published 10
years ago, on average, and have little value to students working on assignments.
The decline of school libraries and librarians is not only an issue for K-12 education — it needs to be
recognized as an issue affecting higher education issue, too. More bridges need to be built between high
school and college and university libraries, educators, and administrators. How can college - bound
high school students be better prepared for what to expect from college - level research? What existing collaborative efforts between high school and college and universities can be shared as a basis of replication? There is much to be gained from establishing an ongoing dialog and formal relationships between high school teacher - librarians and academic librarians as well as staff in first - year experience programs and faculty who teach first -year students.

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