Written by Donna M. Bickford, Associate Director of OUR
The Multimodal Librarians initiative is approaching the end of a summer-long workshop series. In the second workshop I was able to attend (read about the first one here), Jonathan McMichael, UNC’s undergraduate experience librarian, discussed some pedagogical considerations in using the digital tools available to help support undergraduate researchers and faculty embedding undergraduate research in their classes. He noted that the most effective projects/assignments are a careful balance between order and chaos, a concept that I love.
Jonathan posed a number of interesting questions to reflect on as you consider your pedagogical choices and classroom practices.
- How do you figure out what tool works best for what kinds of data sets?
- Can the tool you are using answer the question that you’re asking?
- Can the data that you’re using generate an answer to the question that you’re asking?
- What are the learning benefits in using this tool and/or this digital assignment?
- Does it help teach a concept/fact/skill better than you currently teach it?
- Does it provide a learning environment for a unique skill that can’t be taught any other way?
Jonathan suggested two specific questions to ask when you are designing an assignment or implementing a particular tool:
- What will students be able to do at the end of this learning experience?
- How often will they use this new capability in their future?
Sometimes there are costs to consider in using a designing a digital assignment – and Jonathan didn’t mean only financial ones:
- Does it create anxiety or boredom for students? (From my own perspective, student anxiety is not necessarily bad and can provoke a teaching/learning moment. But I agree that it needs to be managed effectively.)
- How are you going to grade the assignment?
- What, if any, are the extra organizational or administrative needs for the assignment?
We discussed the Association of College & Research Libraries framework for information literacy, which is based on a set of threshold concepts. Two that resonated for me were “research as inquiry” and “scholarship as conversation.” Undergraduate research is often described as one approach to inquiry-based learning. At OUR, we are frequently guiding students to think about how, as researchers, they are entering an intellectual conversation. How does their research question interact with what’s going on in their field and with what others have done and are doing?
This approach to scholarship as conversation also helps with the tendency many undergraduates exhibit when they’re thinking about a research paper for a course. They will share that they are writing about X (Jane Eyre, the Civil War, poverty in India, whatever their chosen or assigned topic may be). But selecting a topic is not the same thing as designing a research question. In my own teaching, I try to help students reframe their project by asking them to tell me what question they are asking – or trying to answer – about their topic.
Jonathan also mentioned the concept of visible learning, discussed in a book of the same title by John Hattie. According to the Visible Learning website, “Visible Teaching and Learning occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.” This is the kind of empowered learner undergraduate researchers generally become as they move from being consumers of knowledge to knowledge producers.
I encourage faculty to think of our librarian colleagues as partners and co-educators. There is a plethora of expertise available as we think about how to innovate our pedagogy and support undergraduate research in and out of the classroom.