Each year, incoming first-year students at Davidson College take a series of courses called Davidson 101. In 2012, the program went online for the first time and included a survey and short assignment. This academic year, the Information Literacy team decided to revamp the program and develop our own survey instead of using a proprietary one. The new survey and assignment were designed to efficiently assess student research attitudes, experiences, and skills. We believe the changes were successful and hope to build on them and repeat the survey this semester with the same students. This, together with the results of previous semesters, will allow us to see trends and developments in the student population.
Going forward, our plan is to fully evaluate the research skills and experiences of the students and to share the information we find (anonymously, of course) with the Davidson community and interested parties within higher education. This data could help shape how we approach research for first-year students as well as upper-class students.
To give an idea of the potential within this program, I would like to examine one of the survey questions. We asked students to identify a scholarly source from a bibliography of five sources, only one of which was from an academic journal. Thirty six percent of the students chose a source that was not scholarly and eighty five percent of those students indicated that they chose it because it was published by an academic journal. As a part of the assignment, we asked the students to find scholarly articles on their own. Ninety one percent of the students were able to do so. Getting the question wrong on the survey did not indicate that a student would not be able to find a scholarly source on their own. Furthermore, there was no significant correlation between a student’s ability to select a scholarly source and a student’s attitude about how challenging it is for them to determine which sources are scholarly; most students say it is easy or pretty easy regardless of which source they identified as scholarly. One interesting indicator, however, was educational background. Students from private high schools were slightly more likely to choose a non-scholarly source.
Clearly, this example examines only one question and aspect of student research skills and should certainly not be used to typify the first-year students at Davidson. But, the example is a useful illustration of the kinds of information we are gathering. Keep an eye out for an announcement – we are excited to share our findings with you!