Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Instructional Strategies for Digital Reference: Methods to Facilitate Student Learning

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Instructional Strategies for Digital Reference: Methods to Facilitate Student Learning

Article excerpt

In today's climate of accountability in higher education, most colleges and universities--and therefore academic libraries--consider student learning the cornerstone of their missions. Reference service is one area in which libraries can demonstrate their commitment to support student learning. Are librarians using reference service to teach students? Or are they letting teachable moments pass by? This study identifies eight instructional strategies librarians can apply in digital reference transactions and analyzes the presence of these strategies in digital reference transcripts. The results suggest that librarians use a few instructional strategies, but could learn and employ several more in their efforts to create information-literate students. The authors hope that increased training in the use of these eight instructional strategies will allow librarians to maximize their impact on student learning. Portions of this article were presented at the RUSA Reference Research Forum at the 2009 ALA Annual Conference.

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In today's climate of accountability in higher education, most colleges and universities consider student learning the cornerstone of their institutional missions. Many academic library missions mirror this focus on student learning. Traditionally, the primary library service associated with the mission to increase student learning is information literacy instruction. However, the increased emphasis on accountability and assessment in higher education provides libraries with an opportunity to revisit other library services to examine their potential impact on teaching and learning. Reference service is one area in which libraries can reinvigorate their commitment to support student learning. Are librarians using reference service to teach students? Or are they letting teachable moments pass by? This study identifies eight instructional strategies librarians can apply in digital reference transactions and examines librarians' use of these strategies in one university's instant message (IM) reference service.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Many authors have underscored the instructional potential of reference service in both face-to-face and digital modes. For example, Moyo identifies the integration of instruction into reference service as a "growing need." (1) Beck and Turner point out that in-person reference transactions occur at the user's time of need, when they are most open to learning. (2) Elmborg describes instruction provided via reference service as "'authentic' in that the student has a specific project underway and has specific questions regarding how to proceed." (3) And Avery emphasizes the importance of identifying teachable moments during reference transactions. (4)

A few authors have focused their studies on the potential instructional value of digital reference services. Although some studies acknowledge perceived barriers to instruction in the digital reference environment, many researchers believe that librarians should "take on the role of teacher" in digital reference. (5) Some studies have attempted to estimate the amount of instruction that occurs during digital reference transactions. For example, Johnston found that 60 percent of the University of New Brunswick's digital reference interactions had an instructional component; Mayo found 82 percent at Penn State University; Desai and Graves registered 83 percent at Southern Illinois University Carbondale; and Ward reports 90 percent at the University of Illinois. (6) Previous studies classify instruction in the digital reference environment in three main ways: (1) user requests for instruction, (2) the general nature of questions users ask, or (3) the specific information literacy content addressed by librarians (i.e. suggestions for database selections and keyword terms or the Association of College and Research Libraries' Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education). (7) However, the existing literature does not identify specific instructional strategies librarians can employ to transform any reference transaction into an instructional episode, although Desai and Graves call for more research in this area. …

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