This morning I took advantage of the last-day-of-class-before-Spring-Break quiet to read “How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace,” a Project Information Literacy Research Report by Alison J. Head. The report was excellent. I highly recommend it for librarians and anyone in higher education with a particular interest in preparing students for the workplace.
I won’t give a complete summary here (because you’re going to go read it, right?) but I was struck by a couple of the findings:
- The most difficult challenge that graduates said they faced was a “setting that radiated urgency and pulsed with unrelenting deadlines.” This makes me question how students viewed deadlines in college, if workplace deadlines are so noticeably different. Are college deadlines soft?
- Students found the lack of instructions and directions for finding information to be “disorienting” and “scary.” They crave a right answer. Ambiguity in both the process and the result unsettles them. Our desire to provide students with the tools (instructions and rubrics) to be successful (perform to the parameters of the assignment) does not serve them well in the workplace. I really liked an assignment described by one the participants: In an upper level chemistry lab, the professor gave an assignment which left out the procedure necessary to solve the problem. The assignment was to solve the problem, not follow the steps. I’d love to do something like this someday.
- Students do not recognize that the world of information available to them extends far beyond the boundaries of Google. This goes past the “two journal articles and a book” research paper prescriptions. They do not believe that there is important, worthwhile information that is not online. Their lack of understanding of how the internet works, and the motivations of the people and organizations who put stuff online fundamentally blinds them to the realities of the information landscape. I talked about this very briefly a while back on the blog, and it is also something that I have noticed among our students. This report specifically emphasizes “team communication strategies,” in other words, consulting co-workers, but I see this problem extending further. I work with many students on Capstone research, and they almost universally balk when I suggest that a particular piece of information is found best by talking to an expert in the field rather than fruitlessly combing endlessly unhelpful scholarly articles.
On a positive note, the graduates credit their college experiences for turning them into “critical evaluators of information.” Also, although the employers interviewed identified several areas of weakness in the information seeking behavior of recent graduates, they were not dissatisfied with their hires. They recognized that these new employees will grow into their positions.
The particular issue of understanding that all information has strengths and weaknesses – that there are reasons why it is nearly impossible to find examples of hotel crisis management plans in the scholarly literature – is one that I’m hoping to partially tackle as I redesign our English 101 library instruction.