Class with Discovery: SearchPlus and Information Literacy Part 3

Written by: Emilia Marcyk

Primary Source: Information Literacy Resources

In Part 2 of this series, I looked at some best practices for incorporating discovery tools into information literacy sessions. Since I am currently in the midst teaching, I wanted to take the opportunity to try some of them for myself. I focused most closely on these two best practices:

  1. Have students use SearchPlus themselves
  2. Focus on critical thinking

I was working with a class that centered around science topics, and had received a request beforehand to talk about evaluating sources. Since it’s easy to find bad information about science topics (whether insidious or just misinformed), focusing on critical thinking was especially important.

Before coming to class, the students already had a research question, and were grouped in teams of 3-5. In addition, they had just completed an exercise that asked them to evaluate the credibility of a website. At the start of class, I did a brief group exercise that reiterated what they had just learned about evaluating sources, and emphasized that they would need to evaluate any sources they found, not just websites. We also did a quick brainstorming activity that modeled how to think about keywords and search strategies for a topic.

Then I set them loose. Since their assignment required them to find an actual physical book in addition to other materials, I demonstrated the book filter quickly, but otherwise gave them little direction other than to try SearchPlus. They had about 25-30 minutes to search for items on their topic, and choose one example to present.

After the time they spent searching, I asked each group to present what they found. As we usually do in class, I asked them to show how they found the source, but also why they chose it to show to the class, relying on the criteria we developed earlier. I was gratified to see that most students were very critically engaged with the sources they found, even going so far as to Google the author or publisher to make sure it seemed credible.

I was also encouraged by the search strategies I saw modeled. Groups pointed out useful filters to their peers, and talked about changing search terms until they were satisfied with their search results. Since they were in the exploratory phase of their projects, students found a wide range of materials, from trade articles to encyclopedia entries to help them think about their topic.

Some thoughts: I acknowledge that some students may have found better results in a subject-specific database. However, I decided that it was more important for students to demonstrate that they were thinking critically about sources, and SearchPlus lent itself well to that outcome, since it took some of the cognitive load out of searching and allowed them to focus on evaluation. The students will have access to a course guide in D2L, and I did point out that more resources were linked there, should they need them. But for an introductory freshman class, I was happy both with the quality of sources they found, and the quality of thought behind their examples.

Have you tried something similar? Were you satisfied? Why or why not?

Lovingly written by Emilia Marcyk

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Emilia Marcyk
Emilia Marcyk is an Instructional Technology & Information Literacy Librarian at the MSU Libraries, where she develops instructional content, leads information literacy sessions for the First Year Writing program, and works at the reference desk. She is especially interested in developing new tools and strategies to help undergraduate students acquire information literacy skills, especially as they transition from high school to college. She received her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her BA from Bryn Mawr College. In addition to her work in libraries, Emilia has been an environmental educator in Portland, OR, and Philadelphia, PA.