Assessing An Academic Partnership Between A Librarian And Faculty Member:
Influence On Student Use of Research Resources
by Amy Hughes and Melissa Birkett
In 2010, the Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL) approved a set of information literacy standards for undergraduate psychology students, which aligned with the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major. The ACRL Psychology Information Literacy Standards were derived from ACRL’s general Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. The overlapping nature of these guidelines set the stage for a unique partnership between an academic librarian and a psychology faculty member at Northern Arizona University.
The primary goals of our collaborative effort were to promote students’ use of content specific information resources for a semester long portfolio project about a brain disease or disorder and to address the relevant guidelines set forth by the APA and ACRL. This project addressed Goal 6 in the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major and ARCL’s Psychology Standards. There are four distinct learning outcomes associated with APA Goal 6; however, we focused on the learning outcomes stated in 6.1, along with the ACRL Psychology Information Literacy Standards.
Goal 6: APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major
6.1 Demonstrate information competence at each stage in the following process:
Formulate a researchable topic that can be supported by database search strategies.
Locate and choose relevant sources from appropriate media, which may include data and perspectives outside traditional psychology and Western boundaries.
Use selected sources after evaluating their suitability based on:
Appropriateness, accuracy, quality, and value of the source.
Potential bias of the source.
The relative value of primary versus secondary sources, empirical versus nonempirical sources, and peer-reviewed versus non-peer-reviewed sources.
Read and accurately summarize the general scientific literature of psychology.
ACRL Psychology Information Literacy Standards
Help psychology liaison librarians and psychology faculty design the content of information literacy instruction for students in psychology.
Make possible an evaluation of the information literacy skills of psychology students by delineating competencies that should be addressed.
Encourage psychology liaison librarian and psychology faculty collaboration in the teaching of information literacy as a component of research methods in psychology.
Working together, we drew upon expertise from our backgrounds in research and teaching to conduct this pilot project to provide a means to (1) assess student use of research resources and (2) create a learning experience aligned with the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major and the ACRL Psychology Information Literacy Standards. The undergraduate Psychology class we chose to work with was a sophomore level course with an enrollment cap of 70 students. As part of a semester-long project in this class, students were required to create a portfolio containing a one-page letter to the reader, a table of contents, three student-selected research assignments completed at different times during the semester, a one-page reflection on each of the research assignments, a one-page conclusion and an annotated bibliography of all sources used to create the final portfolio.
During a single class meeting, the librarian introduced students to online research resources including psychology databases, popular within the discipline, and health databases such as Consumer Health Complete and PubMed. Medical dictionaries are included in many of these health databases and were demonstrated as a tool to assist with an etymology assignment. In general, for each database, the benefits and disadvantages were discussed and example searches were performed. In addition to the in-class lecture and demonstration, the resources discussed in class were embedded into the online course management site for the course. Students could easily access specific resources without having to leave the online course site.
The role of the faculty member in this partnership was to introduce research assignments, discuss research progress during the semester, answer student questions about resources and help direct students to appropriate resources. To facilitate the collaborative instruction, the librarian and faculty member met two times during the semester and communicated goals for instruction and design of the research project.
Annotated bibliographies from the semester portfolios were used as one factor to assess students’ use of research resources. Although students completed research portfolio projects in previous semesters, annotated bibliographies were included for the first time as part of this collaborative effort. The annotated bibliographies served as our primary assessment tool and encouraged students to think critically about the sources that they would include. To evaluate student use of research resources, each bibliography was examined for the total number of citations, format of resource (book, journal, web site), and specific type of resource, which was divided into six categories. The resource categories included (1) course textbook, (2) other books, (3) scholarly journal, (4) government health databases, (5) Google Health, (6) other websites. The graded bibliographies were reviewed by the librarian and the faculty member, and reflected the learning objectives described in Goal 6 in the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major and the ACRL Psychology Standards.
The annotated bibliographies provided a rich source of data on student use of research resources. In total sixty-seven annotated bibliographies, totaling 510 individual citations were analyzed. The number of resources cited in each of the bibliographies ranged from 0 to 19, with the majority of bibliographies citing between 9 and 11 resources. In general, students sought answers from the course textbook, 43 out of the 67 annotated bibliographies cited the course textbook. Databases from the National Institute of Health were also popular, including PubMed and MedlinePlus, and an EBSCOhost database, Consumer Health Complete. Two hundred references cited these online databases. Web sites were cited about as often as databases, accounting for 207 of all references. The three most commonly referenced websites were MayoClinic.com, WebMD.com, and Google Health. Online medical dictionaries, instead of the medical dictionaries included within the health databases, were cited in nearly 25 percent of the bibliographies. Several web sites specific to a brain disease or disorder were cited. General web sites such as about.com were cited less often. Wikipedia was cited in only three bibliographies.
Our secondary assessment tool was an anonymous and voluntary online survey to collect information about resource preferences and time devoted to research. The survey was available to students throughout the semester, linked to each assignment in the course through the course management website. Students were encouraged to complete the survey after submitting each assignment. More specifically, questions from the survey asked students which resource was most helpful for each assignment and how long (in minutes) it took to complete the assignments. The first question was intended to determine whether students utilized the same resources consistently for every assignment in the class. The second question was intended to help determine the length of time students spent on research.
In total 43 surveys were collected. Overall results from the surveys were not considered representative due to the low response rate. Furthermore, each assignment survey differed in the number of responses. The second assignment had the highest number of responses, in which 16 percent of the class responded. The remaining assignment surveys had a 10 percent or lower participation rate.
While the results from the online surveys were limited, several trends were noted across the surveys. The most commonly used sources to complete the homework assignments were the course textbook followed by an online database, Consumer Health Complete. From the surveys that were collected, which represented approximately 8 percent of the class, students on average completed the assignments in 20 – 25 minutes.
The assessment suggests that overlapping learning outcomes from different academic disciplines can be successfully integrated through course assignments. Furthermore, we were encouraged by the number and diversity of resources that students used overall. The partnership between the faculty member and the librarian reinforced the importance of using high-quality resources specific to a research topic. Repetition of specific resources, through discussions and online links, appeared to be helpful in guiding students to high-quality resources. We believe that students will be more prepared to begin upper division undergraduate psychology research because they have been exposed to key resources in the field.
In the future we plan to implement a pre- and post-survey, during a class period that will ask students about their research behavior. Allowing time in class to complete the survey may be one way to increase the response rate and collect more accurate data regarding resource preference and time spent on research. Furthermore, we believe an in-class pre- and post-survey design could be used to provide additional information about student information literacy skills. Undoubtedly, these skills will help students as they progress through the psychology curriculum.
To conclude, we recommend collaborative projects between faculty members and librarians for courses that require this type of research component. Fully utilizing resources, such as the expertise of faculty members and librarians, can also help achieve overlapping learning objectives and align coursework with nationally recognized standards such as those of the APA and ACRL.
Amy Hughes is Academic Programs Librarian,
and Melissa Birkett is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Northern Arizona University.
American Library Association (ALA). (2000). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Association of College and Research Libraries. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
American Psychological Association. (2007). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/resources.html.