Exploring for information

There are a series of good quotes in this article about how librarians can get students to start understanding the scholarly frame for exploring information that highlight the general shape of the argument being made:

That exploration is important in learning: “When small children observe and imitate, they are testing the physical world around them and coming up with their own understanding of how things work. Explicit instruction short-circuits that process.”

That various pressures prevent students from seeing library research as exploration: “They are intensely curious about what the teacher wants, if not about the topic they’re researching, and often focus on getting that boring task done as efficiently as possible. It’s not just that there’s no time for creativity, or that they think creativity is a violation of the rule that you have to quote other people in this kind of writing. It’s simply too big of a risk.”

That further, they may not know exploration is the goal, particularly given the rules-focused manner they may have been taught about scholarly citation: “If you learn how to cite a source before you’ve had any experience seeing how scholarly writing is webbed together through these not-so-hyper links, if you’ve never sought a source that you first encountered in another source, this citation business is simply a matter of compiling an ingredients list that’s required by law.”

I’ve been having a few conversations recently about the start of college as a socialization process into academic norms and expectations, and about where and how much of that is required. The theme of how we read and why we read that way has come up, and it does seem to connect nicely to this idea of understanding how we explore a scholarly body of knowledge.

It also reminds me of a goal I need to get back to for my fall offering of programming. While I tell students that they may use Google searching, Stack Overflow, and the like as sources of ideas and even code for their homework so long as they comment where any copied code comes from, I also warn them that homework is written with an eye to what they have learned so far whereas internet sources may draw on the entire complexity of Java, so they may actually find it harder to get code copied off the internet to function within the constraints of an assignment than to go back to the textbook and class examples and think through a solution from there. A colleague pointed out that it might help drive that point home if I create an exercise that shows how the code that comes up on a search complicates rather than simplifies problem solving. I do this already with an exercise reinforcing the importance of reading the description of a method not just its name. So as a small piece to this much larger puzzle, I will be spending some time looking for a simple programming problem that the internet makes much too hard, but looking carefully at the resources you already have in front of you will make easy.

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