(Foster & Gibbons) Studying students- The Library Study [Mary Estelle]

Foster, N. F., & Gibbons, S. (2007). Studying students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

In an effort to better meet the needs of undergraduate students at the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries, this study was designed with three directions of inquiry (library services, facilities, and library technologies) to answer the question What do students really do when they write research papers? One researcher commented early on One researcher commented “Papers happen,” however no one was sure what processes or practices led to the final product of these papers. An exploratory qualitative approach was adopted and split into sub-teams, with a variety of methodologies, to examine as many aspects of the research paper process as possible from instructor expectations to when and where students access resources. The final report of the study is presented as a mosaic, with each of the eleven chapters shedding light on one aspect of the complex process of undergraduate research.

Chapter 1: Faculty Expectations of Student Research     Faculty assign research papers for a variety of reasons, impacting instructor expectation of writing style, resources types, topic choice, and final presentation. To explore the instructor expectations of faculty, semi-structured interviews were conducted during the latter part of the semester while most were engaged in the process of evaluating student research papers. Despite discovering many common threads, there was little significant consistency of expectations, regardless of discipline. Most interviewed expected students to have the research and writing skills without a clear idea of how those skills were acquired. This arm of the Library study produced a new collaborative effort between librarians and the writing center to better support students.

Chapter 2: Asking Students about their Research     Student survey and interviews were conducted to investigate the target assignment, student motivation to seek help from the reference desk, and specific research supported needed from a librarian. Many responses from both the surveys and the interviews are included in this chapter to add a sense of student voice to the findings of this sub-team study.

Chapter 4: Library Design and Ethnography     Researcher Librarians invited students to creatively contribute their ideas of what would make the library a better place to study, work, and collaborate with peers. Although this chapter is presented as ethnography, the methodology used to design the new wing of the library resembled more of an open sourced approach to the design process, design charrettes.

Chapter 6: Photo Surveys: Eliciting More Than You Knew to Ask For     In a photo survey methodological study, participants were asked to photograph their surroundings then interpret what they saw. It is described as a way to connect the concrete reality of the participant with their abstract conceptualization and understanding of their environment. The librarians set up a disposable camera with a set of 20 photo topics, such as “all the stuff you take to class” and “a place in the library you feel lost”. A review of the photographs was followed up by an interview with the participant photographer.

Chapter 11 Conclusion: Creating Student-Centered Academic Libraries     Since how a student : writes a research paper is as varied as the students themselves, the researchers present their findings in four student models that explain most students’ processes. Pseudonyms of actual students that were the basis of these models are followed by a third person narrative of their history, study habits, library use style, writing practices, and typical product.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Chapter 1: The results of this piece of the study directly impacted practices at the Rochester Library. What do you think would be the next steps if this study were expanded to a full action research study?
  2. Chapter 2: How can direct quotes of participants impact the reader’s understanding or the power of a qualitative study?
  3. Chapter 4:Using arguments of Barley from last week (“For a Definition of What Ethnography is Not’ article), how is what is presenting in this chapter an ethnography and how is it not?
  4. Chapter 6: How could this methodology aid a qualitative researcher in developing a thick description of an event?
  5. Chapter 11 What would be the benefits of using archetypal examples to present qualitative findings?
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13 thoughts on “(Foster & Gibbons) Studying students- The Library Study [Mary Estelle]

  1. I think that in Qualitative studies the use of direct quotes give more credence to the argument being made. This occurs because the reader can see exactly what the subjects said, and that it is not the researcher’s interpretation of a conversation.

    • I agree with this point. I often gravitate toward the direct quotes as a reader and believe they carry more weight because they are not skewed by the researchers bias.

  2. In chapter 6, the interpretations of the photographs aide in adding rich details to the study. I can see from reading Bailey’s chapter 6 that describing the setting of the library just from observations can be difficult to really pick up on all of the details. If you pair that with a photograph, much more can be added to the description that might have been lost just from notes or recollections. I can see this as a great tool in ethnography. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, I can see this adding important details that otherwise might be missed or forgotten.

    • Pictures are definitely an important part of ethnography. Pictures serve as evidence and descriptors that words sometimes aren’t able to describe to the readers.

    • Cari makes an excellent point. In qualitatve research, supplemental and supportive information such as photographs are an indinispensable in ethographic research.

  3. 1) If the study was expanded to be a full action research study, an evaluation of instructor perceptions of the quality of student papers who engaged in the collaborative would likely yield some valuable information regarding the effectiveness of the program. Additionally student perceptions regarding the assignment who had taken part in the writing center collaborative versus those who had not would yield interesting data on the success of the program.

  4. Chapter 1:
    I believe identifying a specific problem that still needs to be addressed is fundamental. For example, let’s say that many college freshmen do not know how to access and use scholarly journals for research writing projects.

    The second step would consist of formulating a plan of action that includes a development and implementation strategy. In this case, part of the strategy could be to teach students to access & use journal articles for research projects. This could be part of a required course (lower division writing/Engl.), which would facilitate the data collection process.

    Analysis of the data is crucial. This will help determine if the strategy is working or not. Interviewing freshmen students, faculty, and other key stakeholders would also be ideal at this point, as well. Using the data to improve/expand the strategy to would also be something to consider for future planning.

  5. Directly quoting an individual in a qualitative study is the ultimate act of awarding primacy to human subjectivity, and is part of the compelling nature of mixed-methods research design. However familiar with a reader is with a discipline or specific subject area, the evocative power of the individual human voice brings to life a phenomenon under study. Perhaps qualitative research design is recognized because of the emotional power it exerts on those that consume it, and how they are subsequently more likely to take action? I kid, I kid… If this were a piece of action research, I think the next step would be to coordinate with the Department of Interior Design to tailor those parts of the library identified by the students as being conducive to writing as being explicitly study oriented. Also, the library should coordinate with the Department of English or Writing to set up workshops in the library in the areas identified by students as being most writing-accessible.

  6. I think one of the benefits of using archetypal examples for qualitative research has to do with sheer volume. It is possible to have extensive notes and stacks of information on the research population. The ability to see themes and patterns and create archetypal examples makes it easier on the reader to be able to understand the findings. It’s a bit like synthesizing quantitative information or perhaps a lit review. When presenting the findings, it is extremely beneficial to the reader to have the information summarized for us. It would have made for very lengthy research findings if the authors had summarized each student’s approach to writing a paper. By creating archetypal examples that demonstrate the themes and patterns they found in their research, the reader is better able to absorb the information.

  7. The collecting of ideas of how to make the library a better place includes an element of subjective judgment that the library needs to be improved. In comparison to the other chapters where the data was collected as students were involved in the process of writing a research paper, Chapter 4 is not a compilation of objective data collected. The students creating the ideas of how to improve the library do not have the benefit of all the data the researcher has collected. Although themes may emerge in the suggestions for design, the process is not part of the observable, natural activities within the library.

  8. I think archetypal examples are an excellent way to convey qualitative findings if the findings can be grouped into fairly distinct cases. If they can be, archetypal examples provide a means to illuminate each of the respective cases and give a means to compare and contrast between the archetypes.

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