As reported by The Times Higher Ed, recently a group of librarians, faculty and instructors at Cornell University ran a week-long Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative aimed at exploring “creative and effective ways to engage students by integrating research skills into the classroom and the curriculum.”
What struck me as different was the group’s use of competency (which denotes a skill set) as opposed to the historical preference for the word literacy (which denotes some sort of deeper and fundamental ability to function in society). The Association of Colleges & Research Libraries has maintained that librarians focus on information literacy.
Still, while groups battle over words, the concepts don’t appear to have changed. In fact, little seems to have changed since the mid-1990s – professors and librarians are still scratching their heads about how to engage their students in serious information research, considering that the web encourages skimming, bouncing, and shallow reading.
What does appear to work is setting minimal academic requirements for student research papers. Require that students include a minimum number of scholarly resources in their papers (with examples of what a scholarly resource is), and students seem to learn the skills to find these sources pretty quickly. We should avoid the temptation to think of students as stupid and lazy, and realize that they respond similarly to rewards as the rest of us.
Change the syllabus, and you’ll change the world.