Collaboration as a Model: Co-Teaching a Graduate Course; Embedding a Librarian in the Classroom Helped Students Understand the Value of Information Literacy and the Place of the Literature Review in Their Research-And Ultimately Made Them Better Researchers

By Garson, Deborah S.; Mcgowan, Eileen | Information Outlook, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview

Collaboration as a Model: Co-Teaching a Graduate Course; Embedding a Librarian in the Classroom Helped Students Understand the Value of Information Literacy and the Place of the Literature Review in Their Research-And Ultimately Made Them Better Researchers


Garson, Deborah S., Mcgowan, Eileen, Information Outlook


Sources of knowledge and strategies for information retrieval are multiplying exponentially, confronting doctoral students with increasing challenges in finding and managing resources to create literature reviews for their dissertations and qualifying papers. While many students are embracing the opportunities inherent in this information revolution, they are wrestling with integrating this new mindset into the traditional world of academe and struggling to operate in an environment that is transitioning from traditional research strategies to a digital platform.

These developments provided the impetus for the authors to begin co-teaching a literature review class at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Specifically, a doctoral student who had been denied access to a literature review class (because of over-enrollment) appealed to Eileen, the faculty instructor, to offer another section and to include a research librarian in the course structure. Based on this conversation, Eileen approached Deborah, the head of research and instruction services at Gutman Library, and together we conceived the idea of co-teaching a seminar.

Designing the Course

First, we informally surveyed a number of doctoral students and found they shared a feeling of frustration that stemmed from trying to integrate evolving research questions with an effective research strategy. The students complained that a single library session did not address the wide range of challenges they encounter when conducting research for their literature reviews. Moreover, even when students scheduled multiple library appointments, their research strategies remained isolated from their scholarly development. In response to these concerns, we wrote a course proposal and received official approval from the school's academic administration.

In preparing our course, we identified several literature references and anecdotal accounts confirming that doctoral students in all research areas struggle with creating a scholarly and comprehensive literature review. As documented by Boote and Beile's study (2005), the literature reviews of many doctoral students in education are "disjointed summaries." Their research showed that most doctoral candidates are not "On the cutting edge of current research in their field" and have not "learned to critically analyze and synthesize research in their field." As a result, the candidates' dissertations do not contribute new and informative ideas to the educational community.

In addition to the inherent challenges in creating a rigorous literature review, we found that students in the field of education, like other doctoral students in the social sciences, face difficulties with interdisciplinary research. This manifests itself in very concrete ways. Interdisciplinary research demands that doctoral students grasp the latest research search strategies (which can differ according to the particular discipline) while simultaneously making the rigorous intellectual decisions that accompany the task of locating and articulating a precise research question. Indeed, we believe and continue to argue that it is essential for research skills to be an integral component of critical thinking skills, whether investigating a field of literature of constructing a body of literature.

When we began to look for models on which to build our course, we came to realize that while doctoral students face increasingly complex challenges in conducting a scholarly and relevant literature review, the standard response by the library and academic communities has been to offer distinct, standalone solutions. Current instructional approaches to the literature review process range from "how to" documents to dissertation boot camps, online tutorials, in-class explanations/discussions, literature review rubrics, information literacy workshops, and recommended books/articles. Yet academe continues to disparage, through articles, conference presentations, and Web postings, the quality of dissertation literature reviews. …

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