Using Google for academic research
Type of snapshot
Provision in the curriculum: skills/literacies addressed in topic module
What was the context for this snapshot?
Subject librarians at Liverpool Hope University offer information skills teaching to students and staff within their academic subject areas as part of a coordinated information literacy programme. This programme is designed to embed core skills from initial library orientation to advanced literature searching skills. Sessions are integrated into the teaching curriculum to develop skills at the appropriate level from new undergraduate to doctoral research.
This snapshot concerns the delivery of a cross-cutting workshop on using Google to retrieve academic research sourced from the free web. The session has successfully been delivered to students at different levels of study and to academic staff. Each workshop was tailored to be appropriate to both the subject interest and academic level of the audience concerned.
What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?
The workshop was customised for delivery at several academic levels including:
- 1st Year BSc Computer Science – as part of the scheduled lecture programme
- 3rd Year BA(QTS) Education – as part of the scheduled lecture programme
- PhD / MPhil – core research skills programme
- Academic staff – annual university-wide Learning and Teaching Week
Each workshop was specifically tailored to the subject interests of the target group. For instance, the workshop delivered to the BSc Computer Science students was designed to include a greater degree of technical explanation.
What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?
It is widely acknowledged and often lamented by academics and librarians alike that university students, instead of relying on library provided trusted academic sources, will use Internet search engines as the primary tool for information gathering. According to the recent CIBER report into information behaviour of the ‘Google Generation’, 89 percent of college students use search engines to begin an information search. However, students do not necessarily possess the skills either to critically evaluate content sourced from the free web for academic quality, or to manipulate and filter Internet search results to produce manageable sets of academically useful links.
Google is acknowledged as the most popular Internet search engine; the Guardian newspaper in December 2007 reported that Google searches constituted 85% of UK searches. Given therefore that Google is likely to be the search engine of choice for the majority of both university students and staff, it was felt that a workshop that taught how the Google search engine works and how it could be used to source exclusively academic content, would greatly improve the quality of the Internet searches carried out.
Skills addressed cover both the core information literacy skills of identifying and evaluating sources and the digital/ICT literacies of exploiting advanced search functionality:
- Critical evaluation of websites
- Principles underpinning free text search engines
- Formulation of search strategies (identifying and linking terminology)
- Practical application of Google’s advanced search operators to retrieve open access academic content
Who provided the support? How was support provided?
Workshops were created and delivered by the subject librarians for the faculties of Education and Social Sciences. Workshops were delivered in a number of different contexts:
- As part of the core curriculum for several undergraduate courses at different study levels
- As part of a compulsory research skills programme for doctoral students
- As a self selecting workshop delivered at the university’s annual Learning and Teaching Week (a week of activities exclusively for academic staff to improve their teaching and research skills)
Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned
This workshop has been received positively by all target groups. The workshop has become the most popular lesson offered as part of the information literacy programme. The session has been formally evaluated with both staff and student groups who have both reported that the session:
- Has introduced new literature searching techniques
- Will improve the quality of their web searches
- Will save time spent on information retrieval and for academic staff time spent on teaching preparation
We believe that the workshop significantly improves students’ understanding of both the benefits and limitations of Internet searching as a means of online research. The session has the additional benefit for academic staff of ensuring that they develop a greater understanding of one of the tools that the students rely on most heavily than many of the students they teach. In future they are better able to impart to students how to use the Internet critically as opposed to censoring students use of the web for researching assignments.
session.doc | evaluation data
The popularity of this workshop has also delivered practical benefits for the library in terms of boosting the standing of both library staff and the skills programme offered. Illustrating to students that librarians have in-depth knowledge of a tool that is a fundamental day to day part of their information behaviour has encouraged students to see librarians and the lessons they deliver as being relevant and useful.
The session has also raised the profile of librarians amongst academic staff in that, for many, the workshop opens a whole new world of content of which they were not previously aware. This has encouraged them to request greater input from the library with their student groups.
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