Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When Kanithia Looney, a sophomore from Chicago, IL., arrived at the University of Iowa last fall, writing an academic research paper was a new and daunting task.

“I didn’t know how to conduct research well,” Looney says. “I would have been devastated if I were asked to do a research paper.”

(From left) Katie DeVries Hassman, a 2011 graduate of the School of Library and Information Science master’s program, is pictured with undergraduate Kanithia Looney, a student in the information handling course taught by Hassman last spring.

It’s not an unusual predicament.

“Many students are very good at using Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but they don't understand concepts that academics use to decide how and when to use specific resources,” says Jim Elmborg, associate professor in the UI School of Library and Information Science.

Professors across the University, however, expect students to know those concepts.

So, to bridge that knowledge gap, the School of Library and Information Science offers Information Handling, a 3-credit-hour course that introduces students to basic information-literacy concepts, such as understanding a university library; formulating a research topic; choosing and evaluating scholarly sources; and understanding information ethics like plagiarism, copyright, and open access publishing. The course is open to undergraduates from any major.

Katie DeVries Hassman taught the class during the 2010-11 academic year while a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science. Hassman earned her master’s degree in May.

“The students in this class really have a leg up on their peers. It’s a course where they get to develop important research skills,” said Hassman, now a Ph.D. candidate in information science and technology at Syracuse University. “I like to tell them that they get the opportunity to have their own personal librarian for a semester.”

In the course, students choose a research topic that interests them, then find three books about that topic and discuss the significance of their authors, publication dates, and call numbers. During the process, they conduct research about their topic. They use this information when creating a blog site about the topic, which serves as their final project.

“In the information handling class we talked about the academic information environment,” said Hassman, whose advisor at the UI was Assistant Professor Andre Brock. “When you teach students how to cite sources, they’re not going to get the skills unless you teach them about plagiarism and unless you teach them about academic publishing.”

Looney and John DeMars, a sophomore from Iowa City, were among 15 students who took the course last spring.

“The course shows you how to use the library system to your advantage,” DeMars says. “I’m more prepared now that I’ve taken this course.”

Currently, Iowa offers one section of the course each semester, but more sections may be added.