My ongoing collaboration with Dr. Anne York on her ECO 320 course (Gender and the Economy) has been enjoyable and rewarding on several levels. Some of that is due to the subject matter of the class’s research assignment. In my pre-librarian life, I pursued a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in economics, largely because I was inspired by the potential of economics to shape government policies that would benefit the general public and address societal inequities. So: an opportunity to help students research issues related to gender inequality in the economic and business worlds? Yes, please!
But I also liked how Anne thought outside of the box when devising this assignment. Rather than writing a traditional research paper or delivering a presentation to the entire class, students develop a poster (comprised of sequential slides) that summarizes their research. On the presentation days, students give multiple, semi-informal presentations of their findings to small groups of classmates who circulate around as their audience, just like with poster sessions at academic conferences. This format influenced me to devote more time during my research instruction session to sources that would foster engagement with a poster audience, from eye-catching graphs of statistics in the library’s Statista database, to feature stories in magazine articles about particular women’s experiences that could personalize the issue for listeners.
Anne and I talk each year about ways to enhance the research instruction, and ensure that students are taking a deep dive into the best sources. When Anne expressed concern about students not differentiating between fact-based news stories and opinion-based commentaries, I developed an in-class activity in which students analyze several potential sources about parental leave policies (with both news and opinion pieces included). By comparing these sources, they start to recognize the unique value contributed by both types of articles, while realizing that the lines between them are increasingly blurry!
She and I also co-developed a “research log” worksheet that students are required to fill out as part of the assignment. They use this spreadsheet to document their entire search process, including the places they searched, the search statements they utilized, and the citations of the best sources they found in each place. Not only does this encourage good “paper trail” habits and guide students to be more intentional about their search process, but it also provides Anne and me a rare window into student searching behavior that is normally invisible in a finished student research product. We can review these logs carefully to see whether students are on the right track, and adjust our instruction the next year accordingly.
It’s such a pleasure every year to attend the students’ poster presentation days and see firsthand the amazing things they do with our library’s resources!