Re-Writing the Research Process

Happy New Year, dear readers!

In the month I’ve had off between semesters, I’ve reflected on “The Research Process”—the foundational process that informs most of what we teach our students. Here and here are sample versions. For several years now, I’ve made minor tweaks to the “Seven Steps in the Research Process” lecture I inherited from my mentor because I feel it is outdated and missing something integral. Why must students wait to look for web sources only after they’ve located books and database articles (especially when preliminary research on the Internet can be so useful for topic development and more)? Shouldn’t evaluation of sources happen at all steps of source location? Shouldn’t it be stressed that the process is iterative? Also, and this is what has been keeping me up at night over break: Where does writing come in? Doesn’t it have a central place within the research process?

When working with students writing research papers, I’ve noticed that they typically approach research and writing completely separately. The daunting task of research comes first and, only after locating all the sources (that they think they need) does the actual paper writing begin. I tell students that it takes some research to begin writing and it takes writing to discover what (else) to research—that the two go hand in hand. I tell them that they likely will continue their research well into the writing of their paper.

My latest version of “The Research Process” lecture includes some pre-writing strategies, specifically outlining. I’m not sure where creating an outline would fit most perfectly into the process but it occurs to me that it should happen early on, near the first step of topic development. Having students create a short outline of what they think their paper is going to cover would greatly assist them in knowing what direction to research and what areas of their outline need additional sources.

Do any of you intertwine writing into teaching the process of research? What writing or pre-writing strategies do you include? Have any of you encountered cool “Research Process” lectures, guides or infographics that you use? Please enlighten me!


Open Educational Resources and the Community College

OER (Open Educational Resources) is the new buzzword whizzing around college campuses these days.  The term was “born” at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on Open Courseware, where it was defined as:

“…teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.  Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work.”

So what does this exactly mean for a community college? It makes total sense for community colleges to really look at OER as a way to make college even more affordable for our students.  Recently, my school was lucky to have Marilyn Billings, who is the Scholarly Communication Librarian (my dream job) at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She came down to talk to us about how UMass has really invested in this initiative, and the joys and pitfalls they encountered along the way.  She shared with us some statistics on the cost of text books that were pretty startling:


According to the BLS, the cost of textbooks have risen 802%. As a librarian, this isn’t really new “news.”  How many times do students walk into your library looking for textbooks because they simply can’t afford them?  I just had a student the other day walk in looking for a psychology book for her PSY 101 class because it was $265.  Most of our students at community colleges simply can’t afford these really expensive books that have no buy-back value.  The worst offenders are the professors who order custom text books.  They have zero buy back value from our book store.

UMass Amherst decided they wanted to seek out cheaper alternatives, so in 2011 they launched a pilot program for faculty to redesign their courses using only OER.  At the end of this program, Billings shared her results with us:

  • Over 30 faculty participants, 44 courses (Gen Ed through Graduate level)
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Sciences
  • Professional Schools
  • $39,000 invested, over $1 million in savings for more than 5000 students

The feedback was positive, with comments that student grades had actually increased.

Some of the pitfalls were:

  • Time consuming to find high quality OER resources
  • Time consuming to create OER
  • May lack prepared tests/quizzes that commercial  textbooks offer
  • Student preference for reading offline
  • Longevity of file formats
  • Lack of knowledge by faculty
  • Resources
  • Licenses, copyright
  • Support

Here at my institution, we also started a pilot program with faculty.  It involved the librarians, distance learning team, and instructional designers. Out of the group who were interested  at our initial informational meeting, only a handful actually completed the turn over to OER. Many found it was simply too time consuming, and some were not comfortable having their syllabus turned over to the “public domain.”  Another drawback is that students still like to print everything out.  We see this with our on-line courses and the PowerPoints professors use.  Also, many of our students receive book vouchers.  This means that if an instructor wanted to use a textbook from Openstax  for their text book, to print it out would be $70. This is cheap by text book standards, but not so much if you are a student who relies on a book voucher. You could download the PDF for free, but as I wrote previously students tend to want to print it out, establishing more of a cost burden on them.  We will be running another pilot program soon, but this time following UMass Amherst’s lead by having faculty apply (instead of a free for all) and having them in cohorts.  This seems to be the better practice when facilitating a pilot like this.

I also should mention as a librarian to brush up on your copyright knowledge. There are a lot of great resources out there and MOOCs. I just took a fabulous course run by Duke University, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Emory.


Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER)
a joint effort by individual community colleges, regional and statewide consortia, the Open Courseware Consortium,  the American Association for Community Colleges, the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges, and many other educational partners to develop and use open educational resources,  open textbooks, and open courseware to expand access to higher education and improve teaching and learning.

OER Libguide from Bristol Community College adapted with permission from Umass Amherst:

OER Libguide


The following guidelines are excerpted from the Conference Report to the 1976 Copyright Act. They apply to classroom copying in a non-profit educational setting.

Keep them coming in by reaching out

In the October 2014 edition of CHOICE, Mark Sandler has written a wonderful guest column called Coffee’s for Closers: Spilling the Beans about Library Customer Acquisition.  It is a renewed wake-up call to librarians about the importance of retaining and expanding our user base, and using business practices to help us.  I feel this article particularly resonates with community colleges, whose ever-changing student base makes academic librarians’ jobs even more difficult.

I agree that it is hard for librarians to think in terms of business.  In my experience, it is often counter-intuitive to what we have been taught.  We do all we can to protect our consumer’s identity and preferences, rather than prey on them.  We tend to not think in terms of ROI, as our investment is information and product is knowledge, which can be difficult to measure.  We feel that our existence as the collector and mediator of information is an important one that should not be overtaken by a for-profit mentality.  We don’t feel it is our responsibility to find ways to “drag people in off the streets,” as Sandler says.

However, times are changing rapidly.  We are now competing for the role of information purveyor.  Students are used to paying for servicea few dollars here or there for apps or music, or for a monthly fee for a streaming service.  It isn’t hard to make the leap to a few dollars per month for access to articles or books in the comfort of your own home, without passwords or complicated download options.

Community college libraries can be particularly vulnerable.  As enrollment can fluctuate with the economy, budgets are also in flux.  As books and journal database costs rise, there is often little or no budget appropriated for projects outside of the library.  I have worked in four different types of libraries (special, corporate, private college, community college) and none has had any type of comprehensive marketing plan or substantive marketing budget. Outreach has generally consisted of sporadic attempts at programming, with varying results.

For community colleges, what can be done to get students into the library time after time?  How do you get the new students to see the library as one of the primary supports to their success?

Sandler has some great ideas, including pushing for budgeting, training personnel in successful “selling” and promoting library services, partnering with publishers, using social media, and learning about your users. For some libraries, such an investment may not be possible.  To start small, I would suggest the following:

  • Make a general plan for social media, programming, and attending events.  Know when the crucial times in the semesters are, and work early in each year to begin developing a comprehensive plan to stay on task for the whole academic year.
  • Go where your customers are.  This could be virtually or physically.  Partner with faculty to offer free extra credit for attending a webinar or viewing a video tutorial.  Go to classrooms or areas of the college with an iPad or laptop and provide reference services during busy research weeks.
  • Talk up what you have to faculty and administration.  Just sending an email or posting a poster with information on a new database or service is not enough.  Go to a department meeting, ask to speak at a board meeting, go to a Student Senate meeting, make an appointment with the president of the collegeget the idea of library outside the building and back into the consciousness of the other support systems for students.
  • Attend as many community college functions as you can that promote the college’s services to the students and community.  When attending each event, make sure to showcase the resources that best support that event and show off your library’s excellence and librarians’ expertise.

None of the above can happen in a silo. Each requires relationship building with various constituencies and the development of goodwill. They also require a commitment to persistence and consistencyyour customers should get used to seeing the library and its resources outside of the library, providing high quality support in meaningful ways.  You may also notice that the cost for applying these tactics is minimal.  A small printing budget, time to plan, and personnel are the biggest expenses.  Finally, the one major element that we can bring is our customer service talentsthat personal touch that often is not available from a large, offsite company.

As Sandler notes, by keeping our services and outlook status quo, we are hurting future generations of librarians and students.  Recognizing the need to move beyond the expectation of simply providing information and expecting them to come, we need to consider how we can prove our worth by reaching out to keep them coming in.

“Don’t just present it…Ceph it!”

To piggy back on my previous post, after analyzing the data from our LEAP value rubric assessment project we have decided to not only change the way we do our instruction but to also incorporate new methods of learning for the students. A few weeks back  I had a class lined up for a mini session on database searching with a follow up on citation. So I decided  to try  the Cephalonian Method I read about on the ALA Thinktank Facebook group. A colleague of mine who also teaches at University of Rhode Island LIS program told me they use this style of instruction with some really good results. This method was developed by Cardiff Univeristy (who coined the phrase “Don’t just present it…Ceph it!) and works great with not only specific sessions (database searching, web site evaluation) but working with our CSS students, aka College Success seminar. (The College Success seminar is a one credit course geared towards incoming freshman to teach them basic study skills.)  I find this is a fantastic way to introduce new students to what the library has to offer and what our roles are as librarians — No, really, we don’t just shush you!

I decided not to use the “color coded” system  Cardiff uses as this class was just looking at databases. I created eight questions and numbered them so as the class moves forward I can keep the questions in a progressive order.

They are:

What is the difference between a database and searching Google?

There are way too many databases out there and they all look the same to me. How do I know which one to use?

Can I access this from home?

What is the difference between scholarly and  popular?

What is peer reviewed?

What is an abstract?

What is a citation?

How can I work with a librarian? (This one is to promote our Book-A- Librarian initiative — I’ll write more about this later.)

Feel free to use these questions if you feel inspired . . . No copyright here!

I  found a cool template from PowerPoint and then laminated them for reuse. The feedback was very positive. It helped to break up the monotony of me blabbing for 20 minutes (remember this was a mini session) and it ensured I wouldn’t forget to mention key information. I plan on using this again during our new student orientation next week to highlight our services.