Beyond Googling on the Job

We’re big fans of Project Information Literacy here at the SMCM Library. For those of you not familiar with PIL, it’s a nonprofit research organization led by Dr. Alison Head that seeks to understand the research habits of college students and recent college graduates. From the PIL website:

Our goal is to understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and “everyday life” use and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age.

A few weeks ago PIL released a new report: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace. It’s a part of a series they’re calling The Passage Studies,¬†which examines the research behaviors of young adults at major transitional moments in their lives. In this new study, PIL researchers investigated employers’ expectations for new hires’ abilities to solve information problems and new hires’ information seeking practices and accompanying challenges on the job.

The big take-aways from this report:

  • We aren’t doing our students any favors by giving them highly structured research assignments.
    Although I think we’d all agree that students in lower level courses need the kind of practice that structured research-based assignments provide, at the upper-level students do need to practice some higher-order thinking skills. Telling senior students to include a set number of certain kinds of sources in a specific length of a research paper doesn’t prepare them for the the kind of open-ended, problem-based research they will be doing in their future jobs. Recent grads routinely mentioned that on the job, research tasks were assigned with little structure or direction but with a much tighter deadline.
  • Recent college grads experienced difficulty synthesizing information.
    One interesting finding from this report was that new hires with master’s degrees were, in the eyes of their employers, better able to solve work-related information problems because they took a “deep learning approach” which included “researching and understanding patterns, relationships, and implications of a particular issue or topic.” Employers did discuss that often new hires wanted to find an answer as quickly as possible, instead of taking the time to explore different research avenues and make connections between the information they found.
  • Research is social, but recent grads are often used to forging ahead alone.
    Employers were surprised at new hires’ attitude of “computer as workspace,” their reluctance to engage in team-based research, and their inability to do simple “old-fashioned” research tasks like picking up the phone to call someone for information. Recent grads also discussed having to learn to rely on coworkers or supervisors as research resources when they were so used to starting at a computer to fill an information need.

This report is a fascinating read. It’s definitely worth taking a few minutes go over it on your lunch hour.

Happy reading!