Too often students struggle to use the expensive library information systems that most universities in the UK have deployed.
Educators, seem to make two mistakes about students’ IT literacy.
The first mistake is to assume that, because students spend so much time on Facebook, Youtube and other social media sites, and have grown up with computers, they are familiar with IT generally and take literacy with academic systems for granted. But, the success of these systems is testament to how little IT literacy is needed to use them, the IT is almost invisible. Moreover, users can come to these popular systems with relatively unstructured knowledge.
The second mistake is to assume that, because students received an induction to university systems in their first week, they see the relevance of developing skills using the IT systems and that they can make connections between the subjects they study and the practices needed to use and exploit the IT systems.
As a result of the lack of IT literacy, educators who want their students to read tend to package the material, providing photocopies of articles and chapters, placing electronic versions of the same in document dumps on Blackboard, WebCT, Workspace, Moodle or similar. This solves a problem of access and reduces friction to students reading, but it does not help students develop the ability to interrogate, classify and evaluate knowledge in their subject and more generally. It also reduces considerably the serendipitous discovery of sources and feeds a culture that knowledge is to be acquired, not explored.
To address the second problem, we need to help students make better links between the categories of knowledge they acquire in their studies. To address this we need to consciously set tasks that require students to gain familiarity with the systems as their progress through their studies (i.e., from finding an article from the reading list through to identifying appropriate articles that extend their knowledge of a subject that have not been included on the reading list, perhaps deliberately).
I struggle with this issue as well and have for a while tried to ease my own students into using the systems. Rather than provide document dumps (which in any case is probably against UK copyright law), I provide links to the journal articles on the university systems. This should ease access and facilitate core reading, while helping students gain expertise in the systems, so that they might use it for assignments and dissertations. However, even second- and third-year, and masters students email to ask how to access these systems off campus (evidence, perhaps, that they have not needed them in earlier studies).
To help demonstrate how quick and easy these systems are no use, I created a short video.
Command-click (on Macintosh or Ctrl-click on Windows) the expand button (diagonal double arrow line) and the video should play full screen.
Of course, it is not a great piece of film-making, but hopefully it will convince a few students that the online journal repositories are an aid to knowledge discovery rather than something their professors should be accessing on their behalf.
That the video took only a couple of hours to make (using software I had only used once before) is also testament to how easy some of these technologies are to use.