By Dave Weatherall
When first-year English student Theresa Paplinskie arrived on campus, she knew that her research skills did not quite meet the expectations of university professors. However, since completing an innovative pilot project in her blended learning English 1100 class, taught by Professor Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr, Paplinskie’s confidence in her research abilities has soared.
“I’d just never been taught research skills before, certainly not university-level skills,” Paplinskie said. “But the Blackboard module taught me how to research properly by using the uOttawa library online, as well as databases that allow me to access information specific to my topic and field of research.”
In a post-truth era, where false information circulates just as rapidly and prominently as accurate news, research skills that allow students to differentiate between the good and the bad, and help them find credible sources for their academic work, have taken on increased importance.
“I was also not aware of what a scholarly article was until this module,” Paplinskie said. “With that information, I can now distinguish scholarly articles from those that are not [scholarly].”
The sessions on research skills offered at the library don’t reach all students, said Arts librarian Ann Hemingway, who developed the Blackboard BiblioExpert module with fellow librarian Nigèle Langlois, as well as David MacDonald from the Teaching and Learning Support Service and Professor Bradley-St-Cyr.
“We know students are busy and often don’t have time to attend the workshops,” Hemingway said. “That pushed us to develop a tool that could be seamlessly integrated into their online learning. We realized we could create something that any professor could incorporate into their Blackboard environment to help students improve their research skills and produce higher quality assignments.”
For Bradley-St-Cyr, whose essay writing class includes a research skills component, making the BiblioExpert module a mandatory assignment for marks was a natural fit.
“I can teach some research skills myself, but the librarians know the terrain so much better,” she said. “I've always had a librarian as a guest speaker in one of the lectures, but three sessions plus the online module is much better because the information is too much all at once in one lecture.”
In addition to completing the module, Bradley-St-Cyr’s students published blogs to share lessons learned with their classmates.
“The reaction from the students has been overwhelmingly positive,” Bradley-St-Cyr said. “They found the first session so useful that they got launched into thinking about their final research paper right away, even though the session was in September.”
Student Kimberly Basco appreciated learning how to take notes from scholarly sources and how to reference using APA style.
“I learned the different ways to cite sources (paraphrasing, summarizing, et cetera),” she said. “And while writing the blog, I think I learned the most through reflecting on the process of writing. I would definitely recommend that students complete the module, regardless of their faculty or discipline. It will help in articulating ideas, and writing coherent and concise sentences.”