One of my big pet peeves has to do with teachers and teacher-librarians who assign research requiring students to find sources in buckets that no longer hold water.
No more than three Internet sources. You must use three books from the library shelves.
These particular buckets are no longer solid or meaningful. They all have holes. On top of that, I no longer know where my shelves really are.
A little while back, I had a student visit from another school during our evening hours. She knew we had an archive of older magazines. It seems that a perfect article for her research came from a database. But using this Newsweek article as a print-out would put her over her Internet limit. She needed to borrow or copy that article from our print magazine and physically attach it to her project.
But what is an Internet source? My reference books are on our shelves, but many are available as ebooks are online. Our state-sponsored NetLibrary collection has as many collections of literary criticism, and more new science titles than we have in our own relatively wonderful catalog. My journal collection online is way, way bigger than what I can see in our stacks.
When a student wants to use a particular article from Time or The Economist, does it really matter whether it was photocopied or downloaded from one of our feeds or databases?
I understand that what we are really looking for is that student researchers look for balance and quality in their sources. (A likely unspoken motive may be that we want to ensure our substantial investment in print materials was justified.)
But these old buckets are the kind of restrictions that unnecessarily drive good students crazy and make reluctant learners more reluctant. They also make parents wonder.
The real problem, as I see it, is that in looking for balance, our kids don’t see any buckets anymore.
A stack of 8 1/2 X 11, black and white printed pages no longer looks like a table of library materials.
On those messy library tables of not so long ago, students could easily see: bookmarks noting great chapters in books and anthologies, entries in thick reference books, and perhaps, that the covers and content of magazines and scholarly journals look just a little bit different.
In 8 1/2 X 11, black and white, print-out format, ebook chapters look just like blog posts and reference and journal and magazine articles.
I now find I have to teach learners to discern some new (or old) buckets, well, buckets that are no longer obvious (even to my seniors!).
It comes up as students make decisions on how to cite those print-outs. It comes up as we ask students to evaluate their source lists for variety and balance and quality and relevance, according to their particular information task. It comes up when we ask learners if they’ve made use of the full range of materials available to them. (And these days those that full range includes blogs, and wikis, and tweets, as well as the stuff that makes its way through a longer publishing process. See Buffy’s comment below.)
(BTW, NoodleTools does a great job with this type of work, both as students decide on the type of source they are citing and in its List Analysis tool.)
Now before a major project, in addition to discussing evaluation strategies for materials of all sorts, I find I need to teach a little lesson or game about buckets that I like to call, What am I holding?
I bring up a variety of sources relevant to the project and ask what is this?
Regardless of whether it came from a database, or the free Web, or our shelves, we look for clues together. If the source has a city of publication and a publisher, it is likely a book. If it has both a journal and issue number, it is likely a journal. If it has both an author and an editor, it is likely an anthology or collection.
Delgaudm. Three Buckets. 5 Sept. 2005. Flickr. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2009 <‘buckets’ www.flickr.com/photos/8469072@N07/3421470726>.